In the mid-1990′s, I worked on a great team (which included three members of Rally’s current technical team) as a consultant and eventually as a Director of IT at US WEST Communications in a part of the IT organization that became known at the Global Village Labs.
You can read about some of our early Intranet work in this 1995 Fortune Magazine article. In addition to being filled with great people, we had a great leader by the name of Sherman Woo (great profile on ZoomInfo), who was a complete rebel.
Sherman, a 25-year veteran of the Bell system, was rebelling against slow IT services in the age of the 1996 Telecommunications deregulation act. To meet the rapidly changing needs of open network, he built this amazingly agile organization that leveraged Mosaic and then Netscape browsers to screen scrape mainframes using ORAPerl.
We used these agile teams of 5 to 10 people to build tools for customer service representatives and field technicians. These were typically simple tools that bridged a couple of mainframes to build compound views that could answer really tough questions.
These questions were hard because each role was only trained in a limited scope in limited mainframes and that full training took 24 months. So we used early Internet technology to open the access and bridge that gap with simple tools.
We made it into Fortune Magazine because our time to market was measured in months and our ROI was 1000%. In our agile model, we delivered our first working increment to the business on test servers in a fixed time box of six weeks. If these solutions showed value and promise for 5 users, we would run another 6-week time box and then roll the application to 50 users. Successful projects then went on to 500, 5,000 and then up to 20,000+ users following this 6-week time box approach. Marginally valuable applications got tabled at the end of the 5 or 50 user-demonstration time-box.
As a result, we grew the group from the initial 10 folks to the 150 person organization in IT in just 18 months. (See the internal brochure we used to drive business to our group – (BTW, this was really fun to research on the Internet – such good memories.)
50% Faster Time to Market OR 50% Less Staff?
It was all about Time to Market (TTM) for GV Labs and for most folks adopting Agile in this decade. However, now with the cost-cutting focus of these turbulent times, we see many organizations trading off some of the TTM for cost savings. As a result, they will use fewer Agile teams on a project and deliver a lower throughput per agile, time-box cycle. In many cases they are using fewer people, because they have fewer people due to staff cuts. (If you have not taken staff cuts and are wondering how to do that and maximize your Agile success, read an earlier article of mine on TechTarget – Cutting Your Way to Increased Agility and my post on Israel Gat’s Social Contract for Agile Software Development)
Of course this is a continuum of speed and these savings exist in either getting done faster with more or getting done slower with less. You and your organization should be careful to consider the total cost and benefit of the project when right-sizing the team size to completion date. There is an optimal range for most projects and with true agile project teams you get the benefit of adjusting this based on actual performance over short time-boxes.
To gain these benefits, you have to actually become Agile and not just adopt some of the practices. Agile means dedicating you and your team to learning and continuous improvement. We did it at US WEST in the 90′s and QSMA shows how many of our customers are doing it today.
If you truely become agile in these times, you can accelerate out of this downtrun smarter, stronger and leaner.