Agile project management concepts applied to the OMSI development

  • Agile project management concepts applied to the OMSI development

  • Pinfold Pinfold

    August 2, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    Traditionally project management has been done by the waterfall method. Waterfall project management maps out a project into distinct, sequential phases, with each new phase beginning only when the prior phase has been completed. Typical sequential phases in the waterfall method are1 requirements analysis, system design, implementation, testing, deployment, and maintenance.

    As Information Technology (IT) projects grew larger and more complex this approach became unwieldy. For these projects requirements were often ambiguous and expected to change during implementation, issues and dependencies in implementation unknown during system design, task times implementations difficult to estimate before work started. The rigid waterfall structure often leads to cost overruns, delays, and project failures leading many programmers to believe that traditional project management methods were too cumbersome for software projects.

    A group of these programmers met at the Snowbird resort in Utah in 2001 to discuss lightweight development methods. They proposed a new philosophy and published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development2.

    Agile Manifesto is based on 12 principles3:

    1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

    2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

    3. Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

    4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

    5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

    6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

    7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.

    8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

    9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

    10. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.

    11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

    12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

    Figure 1 shows the iterative nature of agile, with sprints, and the burn-down of features/tasks that are required to be completed. Sprints continue until the project is completed.

    Agile is iterative and incremental in nature. Agile development methods break tasks into small increments (typically two to six weeks). Each iteration involves an integrated team working in all functions: planning, requirements analysis, design, coding, testing, and release. The team “burns down” the overall number of tasks/features by completing a sprint. At the end of the iteration, a working product is sometimes demonstrated to stakeholders. This minimizes overall risk and allows the project to adapt to changes quickly. It also enables a user to provide timely feedback to the team and add or modify features. Agile executed correctly provides planning and documentation where and when it is needed. This effort can be part of an overall program or project that follows the Project Management Institute’s methodology.

    This agile approach is essential to successful development and deployment of the community operating system. The operating system will need to deploy early and then support periodic releases that add features and functionality. These new releases will need to support new systems, devices, sensors and services as they are added over time.

    Propagation of Agile

    Over the last 20 years the software content in everyday products has grown rapidly. As an example the Boeing 787 launched in 2009 with 27 million lines of code while the new F150 truck has 150 million. This increasing software content is in turn revolutionizing these products making them both more advanced and more adaptable. The Tesla sends out over the air (OTA) software updates every 16 days, on average. These updates improve the software and add new features from the ‘Dog mode’ introduced in February 2019 to the latest full self-driving preview.

    Tesla has applied agile software development to automotive manufacturing5. This has been revolutionary and has allowed Tesla to deliver exciting and innovative products in an industry that is otherwise in decline. The approach takes in new requirements as “user stories.” These don’t attempt to describe how functionality works, but instead take on the challenge of describing how the functionality will be used and what the actual customer needs. These requirements flow into the project management process throughout the product’s life.

    Application of Agile Project Management to OMSI Construction

    Traditional construction projects have an initiation/planning phase, a design phase, a construction phase, a testing phase, and a turnover to the user phase, followed by project closeout. There are more elaborate models with multiple phase gates and bid phases, but the main point in common is the sequential nature, with user input happening primarily in the planning and or design phase. During the construction phase, another sequential work plan is put together, typically in a project schedule, built up by trade or geographic areas (e.g., floors, buildings, etc.).

    OMSI however is not a typical construction project. OMSI’s vision describes how the institution will put its mission into motion over the next 20 years. In collaboration with partners, OMSI will ignite a regional educational transformation at the intersection of science, technology and design. The intention is to forge a thriving innovation district into the fabric of Portland, with the goal of spreading opportunities across the Northwest.

    This project is not simply a construction project that can progress successfully without the context of the regional partners, the educational objectives and the district in which OMSI is situated. This context is evolving and a successful project needs to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities and challenges that emerge. A rigid plan will struggle to meet evolving community needs. This fact was illustrated early in the master planning process in a simple question, “how much parking should we build to replace the nearly one thousand surface parking spaces currently available?”. Since all these spaces are used at peak time today and our plan is to bring new business to the development it can be reasonably assumed that the answer should be greater than one thousand. The traditional project approach would be to establish this number in the planning phase. There are however uncertainties in this number (1) the newly completed OMSI station at the eastern foot of the new Tilikum Crossing bridge is the first step in a community wide effort to reduce single occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips by encouraging active transportation, including walking, bicycling and transit, as well as the use of carsharing and carpooling. (2) there are changing attitudes to car ownership, while only 28% of boomers believe they could meet their transportation needs without a car 55% of gen-x would agree5 (3) autonomous vehicles will accelerate these trends away from car ownership reducing the need for downtown parking space over the next 20 years. An agile approach to parking would adapt much more effectively to this changing need.

    When the OMSI project is re imagined as a project to “ignite a regional educational transformation at the intersection of science, technology and design and forge a thriving innovation district into the fabric of Portland, with the goal of spreading opportunities across the Northwest.” It can only be achieved by following the 12 principles of agile development. Traditional waterfall methods may be necessary to help traditional contractors perform well on individual construction projects but treating the larger OMSI will perform better under agile management.

    1. Agile project management concepts applied to construction and other non-IT fields.

    2. Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

    3. Principles behind the Agile Manifesto.

    4. Agile project management concepts applied to construction and other non-IT fields.

    5. Tesla Has Applied Agile Software Development To Automotive Manufacturing. CleanTechnica (2018).

    Figure 1: Iterative nature of agile4

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