CoreMedia, Ufinity, SPH and www.razor.tv – running against a fixed deadline
From Martin's Blog
On a recent trip to Singapore I had the opportunity to look behind the scenes of www.razor.tv and meet some of the people responsible for Singapore Press Holdings’ latest online service.
RazorTV is a brash and engaging video and live TV service for the web, enriched by latest social media features for audience interaction. It was developed in a very short timeframe on top of the CoreMedia CMS by Ufinity, one of our partners in Singapore. The project not only had the unique challenge of combining the latest in CMS technology with live video production, but also an extremely fixed deadline: just in time for Singapore's National Day Parade 2008.
Whilst it is easy to get excited about project management theories, it remains hard to deliver software solutions in practice, especially under these constraints.
Therefore I was curious about the "story behind the story", in this case: how did Ufinity deliver this solution? During lunch with some of the team members I asked Felix Soh of RazorTV and Sau Loon Tong of Ufinity how they had managed the project. I was hoping for insights of the "secret sauce" kind. Here is what I learnt:
The SPH team and Ufinity had adopted an agile approach, something I am somewhat wary of, as it is much-hyped and easily misunderstood as "more hacking -less thinking and planning". However Ufinity had taken good measures to counterbalance this:
- On site engagement: A large part of the team worked on site at SPH, thus allowing for rapid turnaround of ideas and decisions. The SPH team was also extremely engaged, thus actively shaping the project regularly. In fact, I could literally sense their level of joint ownership when I visited the studio. Everybody exhibited a "can-do attitude", a key factor which I would attribute to the team leadership on both sides.
- I had the impression that Sau Loon had always kept an overview of the overall target and the level of progress. Moreover he had managed to convey the level of progress regularly to everybody involved, thus effectively mitigating the risks inherent in agile processes. The method he used for this is deceptively simple: Ufinity had structured the project into 2 week sprints and … installed a rigid inspection of the deliverable after every sprint. This is how everybody on the project practically felt the progress (or lack thereof) and adjusted pace, priorities and focus.
So why are there are many "iterative and agile" projects with progress tracking based purely on reporting by issue tracker and routinely missing the mark? Because software engineers are quickly drawn into the hype and the voodoo talk of "newer, faster, agile" project methodologies and lose focus of the things that matter. Everybody does the right thing and still nobody "gets it" when it come to the fundamental question of a software project: are we on track or not?
This is what the Ufinity and SPH team did not lose sight of. Progress reporting is a poor substitute for truly measuring progress in a solution as it grows from increment to increment. Inspecting the deliverable regularly is so fundamental it transcends all project methodologies. And it decidedly helped the RazorTV launch for National Day 2008.
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