Why Agile is here to stay

Changing the game posted on 13 Aug

Last week Tufan, a Delivery Manager, spoke to us about his involvement in software development at Sky and working with Agile principles.

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When I joined Sky in 2005 it was about the same time that we were starting to embrace Agile software development. Traditionally, software was mainly created using the Waterfall working method. This technique would see software flowing downwards through concept, analysis, development and testing before being released to customers. Although it was widely recognised in the industry, it was slow to deliver and there was little collaboration between analysts, developers or testers. The pace of innovation was increasing much like it is today. And it was clear that Sky was outgrowing the waterfall principles.

New and old projects were converted to Agile which is based on the idea that software is developed through collaboration between self-organising and cross-functional teams. It also encourages software to be released as quickly and regularly as possible. Converting to Agile wasn’t easy. It involved significant changes to attitudes and mind-sets and the removal of well-known processes. I was personally involved in introducing Agile into Broadcast Services’ Air Time Sales Team and over the years have worked with many Agile groups.

I now oversee five Agile teams in NOW TV and each one of them works in a different way, releasing software at different intervals using a variety of tools or processes. What brings them together though is that every Agile team has a collaborative approach and an openness to try new things; attempting to learn what works, what doesn’t and then improve.

The hardest balancing act however has been with Agile’s fourth principal - “Responding to change over following a plan.” The business often gives us a fixed deadline which requires a plan to deliver, but at the same time we have to be adaptable to the organisation’s changing requirements. We’ve found that the only way to achieve this has been to build a simplified version of a product, with only the minimum set of features that a customer would expect. This helps us to bring the product to market much quicker. Once the product is launched we would then periodically add new features to it. Structuring projects this way has allowed us to hit our target dates and still adapt to change.

The speed of change at Sky can be relentless, but we’re always positive and challenged. As you might have seen last week, developing the Xbox One NOW TV application was not only a technically complex project, but we were also under a lot of time pressure. So, we routinely held “Retrospective” meetings to review our wins and losses and got together to decide on our next steps before the following meeting.

Now, thanks to Agile techniques our software is better than it’s ever been and we’re always trying to improve. What’s great is that the very principal of developing software in this way means that we can always be more agile. So as we start work on the next platforms for NOW TV we’ll continue to learn from our past experiences, collaborate and deliver as quickly as possible.