Framework shaves development time

When software company Kinetiq began developing the next generation of its customer management product PV2, it was keen on improving its project management.

When software company Kinetiq began developing the next generation of its customer management product PV2, it was keen on improving its project management.

The Auckland-based Kinetiq, formerly known as Weltech, adopted the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) and says it is now shaving project time and producing better quality software as a result.

PV2 is used by power companies to manage industrial and commercial customers, and complements software systems from companies such as Gentrack and Peace which are aimed at the mass consumer market, says Kinetiq chief executive Gavin Mitchell. The product is in continual development, he says. Apart from quarterly updates, the company is working on a major release – the last was four years ago.

When work began on the new release in February this year Kinetiq began looking for a methodology or framework which would speed development and cut costs. Kinetiq had used the classic waterfall and iteration project management methodologies. With the waterfall approach, once the IT team has closed a stage they proceed to the next without ever going back, otherwise the process is never-ending.

That is acceptable for projects of less than six months, says operations manager Ad Blankestein. "But with long projects, you have to be able to go back and revisit, because requirements may have changed. The waterfall is very rigid and assumptions made at the beginning might prove to be false once you get to detailed coding."

With the iterative approach the project team works in a loop, but issues arose around how to manage the process because control is lost with each loop. "We were looking at these methodologies and thinking how do manage deliverable, quality and timeliness?" says Mitchell. "How do you manage scope creep?"

Team leader Jonathan Brown suggested MSF, which he had used in South Africa. Microsoft created MSF in 1994, based on best practices within its product development and IT organisation. It combines the waterfall and iterative methodologies and is an interrelated series of models and best practices that form a foundation on which to plan, build and deploy technology projects. "MSF lets you break a big project into small parts which can be monitored on a weekly basis," says Mitchell.

Small groups of peers share equal responsibility for the project. Roles include product manager, whose goal is to satisfy customers; programme manager, responsible for delivery within the project's constraints; developer, who must deliver to product specification; tester, whose goal is to release after addressing all known issues; user educator, who aims to enhance user performance; and logistics manager, who is responsible for smooth product deployment.

Through its training provider Auldhouse, Kinetiq had someone brought over from Australia to train five key staff for five full days. About 13 staff are now using MSF.

"It's difficult to quantify return on investment," says Mitchell. "but we now have better visibility of the project, more cohesiveness, better quality development, speed and improved knowledge transfer between team members." Problems solved by its adoption are resource planning and timeliness of delivery, he says.

Blankestein says initially there was some "culture shock" mainly around getting people to work more cohesively as a team. "Before people would just take ownership for their piece of the process," says Mitchell. "Now there's overlap and overall responsibility all the way through."

Mitchell says ideally MSF is suited to large projects and he wouldn't recommend it for anything less than three months.

He says as far as he knows Kinetiq is the only local company in New Zealand to have formally adopted MSF but he would be keen to hear from any others.

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