At a business breakfast a earlier this year I had the good fortune to meet Peter Vile, the CEO of Augen, a bespoke custom software development house. I was fascinated to find that Peter’s firm is spread between New Zealand and Vietnam. There are many benefits of doing business in two countries, and it’s a suite of Microsoft tools that make the job smooth. (The company is a Microsoft Gold Partner.)
I understand the benefits of outsourcing and off-shoring but was curious about how he managed such a spread-out full-time workforce.
‘It’s much easier now we use the agile process to develop software,’ he said.
If you’re a software developer you will probably know what ‘agile’ means, but the process was new to me. Our worthy source of all knowledge, Wikipedia says this: Agile is a set of principles for software development in which requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams.’
Peter explained that the traditional way to develop software has been the ‘waterfall method’, where the consultant is the lynch pin between the client and the developers. A few of the problems with that are:
a. The communication chain is slower – instructions normally go via the consultant or business advisor managing the project. Only occasionally do the developers and the clients talk directly.
b. It’s heavily regulated and micro-managed.
c. Because it’s slower, often up to 50% of a project can be obsolete by the time it is completed.
d. It’s more costly to produce software with this method.
At Augen, using the agile method, they now work in sprints (or smaller chunks) so things can be altered swiftly.
Some of their techniques and benefits:
- Because the work is done in chunks it’s far easier to alter something, instead of the old way of development completion, roll-out and then fix-ups.
- Daily stand-ups (meetings). All parties concerned, including the client, are involved with the daily update on progress. Progress is visible to all, whereas in the old way it wasn’t. It’s surprising how often this quick review can save people disappearing down fruitless rabbit holes and wasting many hours and a lot of money. Formerly, instructions would be passed down the line and the developers would just work away on what they were told to do.
Now, for example, a developer might say, in response to a discussion: ‘We tried that on another project and such and such were the problems’.
- Because they have people in different time zones they’re able to work on client projects 15 hours per day. This also gives cost efficiencies for the client, with a better pricing due to the lower cost of staff in Vietnam.
- The Team Foundation Service (TFS), a Microsoft tool, records the main decisions and the source code. Photos can be taken of the whiteboard and sent to the team in Vietnam for their daily meeting some hours later.
- Progress is recorded on 3M post-it notes on the whiteboard – bottlenecks show at a glance.
- As they progress the individuals on the project move their sticky note. This is surprisingly motivating.
- The entire process is transparent and visible to the client, who is usually at the daily meeting. In fact, some clients locate themselves for the duration of their project at the Augen office. The big benefit is that it levels the playing field and communication is easy.
I asked Peter how the firm converted to this way of working, for it required some adjustment by all parties.
‘We hired an external consultant. People used to think in a much more individualistic and isolated way. Now they’re forced to work in teams. Some IT people don’t like to talk much – they’re rather be coding. Now they have to engage!
‘Also, some clients initially found it a bit challenging. They were used to talking with just one business advisor, whereas now they might have 15 people in a meeting. This seems an expensive resource, but in fact we complete development far faster and more cost-effectively than using the old ‘waterfall’ method.’
Just one example of the kind of software this innovative company has created was for the Auckland District Law Society. Up until nine years ago the Law Society used to mail more than 700 CDs to law firms who were subscribed to their legal forms business, each time there was an update to a form. Augen wrote a SAS product which transferred all that information into an online environment. Forms can now be downloaded, which keeps everyone current and saves enormous amounts of both time and money.
You might not need a software developer but every business can adopt some agile processing – it’s commonsense, don’t you think?
A version of this article also appears in Robyn’s regular NZ Herald Online column
Robyn Pearce (known as the Time Queen) runs an international time management and productivity company, operating from New Zealand. Get your free report ‘How To Master Time In Only 90 Seconds’ and ongoing time tips at www.gettingagrip.com