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Does Agile pay off? Well, I would say so … to the tune of $1 Billion for one particular
case. When Nortel initially approached
CoreTek for an acquisition, it was before CoreTek had any proof-of-concepts and
before they faced trials at an upcoming industry trade show. Facing uncertainty, CoreTek took a leap of
faith and adjusted their management style to Scrum, a variety of Agile
management, telling their developers what they needed (in a prioritized
fashion) and released them to do their work without interruption.

As usual, the developers came through with flying colors
(pun intended – CoreTek tuned lasers according to their color). CoreTek impressed their audiences at the
trade show and a bidding war ensued for the company. Nortel ended up spending $1.43 Billion to acquire a company it
initially offered $300 Million.

Before we go too far, Agile is not for everyone. According to Ken Schwaber, one of the Agile
Authors, Agile will not “stick” in a political or organizational/functional-focused
environment. It works great in
organizations that are results-oriented. Some other companies that have adopted Agile include Fidelity Investments
and Federal Reserve Banks. Agile also
works for and has been adopted by small companies, too.

So, What is Agile?, as my reader Dave asked me, and how does
it affect me as a Project Manager? To
answer the former question, let’s back up to the early 1990’s, when CMM
(Capability Maturity Model) was coming to an end and a new process was needed
to fuel the boom of the Internet growth. In 1995, Ken Schwaber presented a paper on Scrum at OOPSLA, based on his
collaborative work with others in the field and some innovative ideas that came
out of his collaborative work at DuPont. XP came out shortly thereafter with Kent Beck’s work at DaimlerChrysler
in 1996. Other project management and
software development models also ensued (Pragmatic Programming, Adaptive
Software Development, etc). In February
2001, the big-thinkers behind XP and Scrum (and other PM/SD models) came
together and formulated Agile, a management and high-level perspective to bring
it all together.

With Agile, a company is broken up into two major
components: management (execs, project managers and the like) who decide what
is needed from a business perspective and development (IT, developers,
graphics, doc writers and the like) who decide which functionalities they can
bite off in a “Sprint” and how they will go about doing it.

Management creates a prioritized list of functionalities (a
Product Backlog) they need in their product. Development then meets with management, gets further understanding of
the functionalities and a settlement is reached on how much functionality will
be completed in the next Sprint. They then
part ways, development left alone until the end of the Sprint (a Sprint being a
focused effort in a defined amount of time [XP uses 2 weeks … Scrum uses 30
days … no more than 40 days] to expand their work internally (into a Sprint
Backlog) and get the work done.

Should a new high-priority feature crop up or an existing
functionality need change, they are added to the Product Backlog and
re-prioritized, but development doesn’t react to the Product Backlog until the
end of their Sprint.

What goes on within the Sprint depends on which development
process you use (XP, Scrum, etc), but you should find that the team becomes
more collaborative and much more productive with an Agile management system.

Agile represents a fundamental “warp” in the traditional
PMBOK process of getting a project done. As I’ve said earlier, it’s not for everyone, but if it seems a fit for
you, dig a little deeper – you’ll find it a simple and powerful way to get your
projects done on time and on budget.

Do you have any project management or high-level
technology questions for me for my next column? Ask away! Thanks to Dave for the great question and
Ken Schwaber for his time.



Agile Manifesto:

Agile Software Development with Scrum, by Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle. [Barnes
& Noble
|| Amazon]

Nortel/CoreTek PR:



About the Author

Jason Purdy is Chief Technologist for Journalistic, Inc, a publishing company in Durham, NC. Jason has worked in the field of Web development for over six years, catching the revolution on its inception and working for both big multi-national corporations such as IBM, Data General, and Trilogy, while also spending more than three years with two small start-ups, Stingray Software and Jason earned a degree with majors in mathematical science and computer sciences, and a minor in chemistry, from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. While at UNC, Jason pioneered several concepts in the field of information dissemination and education over the Internet, such as producing the first online version of the UNC Daily Newspaper, creating the first version of online student elections, UNC Press’s Web site, and co-founding a Java Special Interest Group.

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