As the Product Development Director for software delivery, Ken Delcol had a fundamental problem. His software team was struggling to deliver in a repeatable fashion. They had some success; however, it came with great effort. In addition, the company suffered a bad reputation for its software usability, installation, and bugginess. Ken was looking for a way to overcome these issues quickly to implement a very important project.
He met Jim Highsmith who discussed the discipline of software development with Agile/XP. Ken realized Agile is not about technology, it’s about culture and challenging the barriers that exist in your own organization. He liked what Jim said, in particular demonstrating fully-tested software every two weeks.
Ken knew he had to try something different. He met with the Cutter Consortium, a strategic IT research and advisory firm, and was referred to Industrial Logic as well as an independent consultant to establish metrics and measure the before and after. Together with Jim Highsmith, Joshua Kerievsky and team began a wonderful working relationship with Ken and Sciex.
Ken and his team initially wanted a Testing & Refactoring Workshop. The feedback was extremely positive, so a second class was scheduled. But Joshua discovered that managers were not letting developers implement what they learned. More needed to be done to initiate change, in particular getting full management support. An initial assessment highlighted the following challenges:
Industrial Logic laid out a plan for a full Agile/XP transition. The initial project involved a 6-8 month plan that started with assessment, chartering and release planning for 3-4 days.
Tear down the cubicles and build an open space with commons and caves. Create a safety zone (non-threatening environment) to successfully spread Agile/XP across the company.
Deliver team-based training with everyone working together in their new open space, followed by 12 weeks of coaching.
Ken wanted hard data to confirm the culture change and pair programming was working. He hired Michael Mah of QSM Associates to measure four essential metrics of the project: timeline (end-to-end), team size (to calculate effort), size of backlog (number of requirements delivered), and defects found and fixed. The data would then be compared to the industry average based on lines of code, coming from Michael's database of over 12,000 companies.
"At the end of the day, not all features are that important. Agile/XP forces you to make choices. If an organization is willing to embrace that, the benefits are astounding." Ken Delcol
Industrial Logic helped MDS Sciex become excellent at delivering software safely, on-time and within budget, with the right functionality for their customers. And the skills the team acquired almost a decade ago have stuck. Today, the software delivered by Sciex (formerly MDS Sciex) is a major reason the company is the global leader in mass spectrometers.
Code: As Ken’s boss said, “The only truth is the code.” The team learned to only develop code where you need to develop code. Refactoring helped to ensure that their software can and will support changes in the future.
Michael Mah analyzed data from 2 projects done in the current method, followed up by three projects with the new Agile/XP method. The graph shows the astounding results. Defects were reduced by a whopping 75%.
“By listening to guidance from Industrial Logic, mission critical software applications similar to what Sciex develops can anticipate reducing defects in their software by a factor of 4.”Michael Mah
Requirements: Working together with the technical marketing representative, tech writer, and usability people helped to build a product that delivered what the customer wanted. People learned how to write good stories, how to write good FIT tests, how to do test-driven development and how to do evolutionary design. And demonstration of the software to users avoided late surprises.
Process: Big “Ah hah”: They learned to build the architecture and requirements along the way. At each iteration, they could deliver the next set of requirements that were two iterations later. The team gave demos every two weeks, allowing them 2-3 options to solve a problem and discover which one was the best for the customer.
Environment: Creating an open office space and introducing pair programming allowed people the environment they needed to work together. They had permission to fail and an escape hatch if the experiment didn’t work. The team learned chartering and had a clear idea of the vision and mission of their work.
The teams did so well that Industrial Logic was asked to help with a third project involving legacy code for their flagship product. The results increased the safety of the code, finances, employee retention, and customer happiness.
The project’s only focus was automated testing, refactoring, and fixing bugs for months - no new features were introduced, and the team practiced continuous integration. Pair programming was a key factor, helping a group of depressed programmers feel safer and more in control of the process.
When the product finally shipped, Ken and team received letters from customers thanking them for the most stable product they had in years. By focusing on the reliability and safety of the software, they were able to delight their customers who realized they didn’t need new features. Stability rocked.
"If you are delivering software for demonstration every week or every other week, you've got to know what you are doing." Ken Delcol
Why did the transition in software methodology stick at Sciex, and in fact, is thriving?
“The Industrial Logic approach really fostered leadership growth within Product Development organization. As a result, we had new leaders emerge and the overall Product Development organization became stronger.”Gary Walker
By the end of the project, the team was feeling very comfortable and confident with the new process, and hoped they would do the same on the next. Teams using the old software method spoke up and wanted to learn, too. Soon, the entire software team converted to Agile/XP.
The teams at Sciex today continue to practice the safe software development techniques learned a decade ago, and continue to delight their customers. In fact, Sciex is ranked #1 globally and continues to release breakthrough technology. They received the Global Market Share Leadership Award in 2013 for innovation and continuous improvement.