Telecom is exploring increased use of agile software development techniques to complement the traditional waterfall technique it now uses for most of its development.
Waterfall development proceeds chiefly in a single pass from requirements definition through design, coding and testing, with limited opportunities for revisiting a previous stage, while agile techniques use a lot of rapid iteration through development cycles on small manageable parts of the total system.
The shift emerges from “capability maturity studies and technical research”, says Tina Hammond, general manager of shared capability. With a 40% growth in its project management and development staff numbers in the past year and another 40% projected for the coming year, the company has been hiring “people with a different [non-traditional] outlook”, she says. Telecom decided it was time to re-examine the one-size-fits-all approach it has been taking to date with its software projects, she says.
Newer members of staff with a preference for the agile style include Steve Hilson, who spoke to the Computer Society earlier this year on the techniques required for agile development. Hilson was contracting to Telecom at the time, but is now permanently employed as a project director.
He and people of a similar outlook will be key to deciding the role to be played by agile development within the broader Telecom mix of techniques, says Hammond. Current thinking favours the waterfall technique for infrastructure developments, which are large-scale, long-term and complex, says Hammond. Agile techniques might be used, for example, for a new calling plan and the management and marketing surrounding it.
Telecom has experimented with combining agile and waterfall techniques in one project, Hammond says, but to a limited extent, with the agile development confined to the prototyping phase. In the future there could be scope for combining the techniques in one project “perhaps using agile in the IT stack and waterfall in the network.”