Before I started work on a recent project, I was asked if Agile methods could be applied to a systems integration project. Naturally I said yes, (responding more from instinct rather than first hand knowledge) – but as soon as I got a chance I typed ‘agile‘ and ‘systems integration‘ into the Google search bar.
Normally this is a pretty fail-safe approach (used by consultants globally) but I was a bit disturbed by how little information related to this activity. Apart from one excellent post and subsequent discussion – there was little to go on.
As I got further into the project I found there were some significant challenges in applying Agile methods to a large systems integration project. Below is a summary of the challenges faced for this project in utilising an Agile approach.
The project involved a major upgrade to the transportation (rail and ship), materials handling (conveyor, stackers/reclaimers and stockpiles) and logistics planning systems for multiple port facilities. The customer had the opportunity to undertake a upgrade of the existing systems and planned to eliminate some legacy systems and to improve the overall functionality.
Historically, the customer had managed projects using a methodology based around PMBoK but realised that benefits exist in leveraging Agile methods to reduce delivery timescales and risks. Unfortunately, the customer had no experience in executing a project using Agile methods.
Challenges and Strategies
One of the first challenges was to increase the general understanding and awareness of how Agile methods compare with traditional project execution methods like PMBoK, that are much better understood by the customer. I found The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility by Michele Sliger and Stacia Broderick and excellent resource – especially the mapping between Agile methods and the PMBoK processes.
The other challenges are identified in the table below, together with the mitigation strategies.
|System Integration Challenge||Agile Risk Mitigation Strategy|
|Difficult to progressively replace a collection of tightly integrated legacy systems with other systems whilst maintaining service levels||
|Customers require certainty around project scope and cost||
|Geographically separated vendor teams operating under potentially different contractual terms||
|Customer is time-poor and key users may be unable to participate in team meetings or find adequate time to review system||
|Customer requires smooth transition from as-is to to-be business processes||