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Wednesday, 15 June 2011 20:57

Enterprise Australia gets Agile


Ten years after the Agile manifesto was written, the approach has become mainstream with enterprise Australia with organisations including NBN Co, NAB, Telstra, Allianz, Bankwest and Suncorp all climbing on the bandwagon.

A record 675 delegates have signed up for the third Agile Australia conference currently being held in Sydney. According to Alistair Cockburn, co author of the Agile Manifesto and a keynote speaker at the event, large enterprises should be very careful how they scale up their Agile initiatives.

'I have seen a two person project become a 100 person project in three countries that would tank because management never changed their thinking and strategies,' said Dr Cockburn.

Rob Thomsett, director of Agile consulting firm Thomsett International, who has been working with NAB on its Agile programme said the migration to the approach had been forced on enterprises which were grappling with ever narrower windows of stability.

He said that while until the 1980s business might have enjoyed four-year long periods of stability, that had now shrunk to less than three months in many cases. That he said meant that traditional waterfall approaches to software development were no longer valid in many cases.

The need for a fast turnaround was what led to NBN Co adopting Agile for much of its development.

Michael Bromley, general manager of portals and online services at NBN Co is in charge of developing the company's website, intranet and ordering customer portals. 'We have to deliver quickly and iteratively - you can't have a network if you can't order and provision it,' he said.

'You just couldn't do this in a truly waterfall fashion. We can't wait six months to be up and running.'

Mr Thomsett however said that Agile should be considered as just one of the tools available to enterprises and that there were still some areas where waterfall development made sense. 'For low risk use waterfall, for high risk use Agile,' he said.

The speed at which organisations now had to change their product suite was reinforced by Nigel Dalton from Lonely Planet, who was until recently leading a large team of Agile developers at the company. However the BBC, which now owns Lonely Planet has recently announced it was shutting the Australian development arm, and relocating development to London in part because of the high $A and its impact on salary costs.

Mr Dalton said that in the past Lonely Planet books enjoyed a four year lifecycle. 'Now some iPhone apps last two days before they sink into the mire of 13,692 travel apps (on the Appstore).'

While Mr Dalton and his team are now looking for work, it's likely they will be scooped up quickly with a number of CIOs attending the conference explaining good Agile skills remained scarce.

Jeff Smith, CEO of Suncorp Business Services, said that this year the financial organisation intended to hire 55 local graduates onto its largely Agile team. He said that the strength of the $A also made it economic to look at hiring graduates from the US, and that Suncorp was putting out feelers to attract graduates from Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and Berkeley.

'I think we can create a secret sauce and inject new thinking,' said Mr Smith.

Disclosure: The author was sponsored to attend Agile Australia by Slattery IT.


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