by Mahesh Sharma

NBN Co leveraging ex-Telstra Agile skills

Sep 16, 2010
IT ManagementProject Management

The people tasked with developing key customer portals for NBN Co will tap Agile methods honed in their previous roles at Telstra.

NBN Co general manager portals, Michael Bromley, and solutions development manager, Tony Christensen, have told the Agile Australia conference in Melbourne about their difficulties introducing Agile project management practices at their former employer, Telstra, and how it compares with problems at their current employer.

The pair left Telstra several months ago, after they implemented a new business customer portal which, the pair claim, has since delivered millions in additional revenue to the telco.

This major project at Telstra was completed in five months due to several constraints and will inform the work they do at NBN Co, the company charged with wholesaling access to the National Broadband Network.

They pair were tight-lipped about specifics but Bromley said the prospect of using Agile in an environment with no legacy systems was both “very exciting and very scary”.

The blank canvas at NBN Co still comes with its share of problems, he said, including having no safety net of legacy systems and processes and the internal perception of the Agile methodology, which has been described as a “nice science experiment”.

“You have lots of problems, but you don’t have any legacy to fall back on, whether it’s a process or system,” Bromley said.

“To put in legacy systems while working out a strategy that all needs to extend to enterprise, while trying to deliver real time results is a real challenge, plus with very little resources because you’ve had little time to hire.

“It’s a massive undertaking; think of a typical start-up trying to become an enterprise overnight, so there’s some growing pains. You’re stretching and trying things and innovating because you don’t have the resources or systems in place.”

The freedom is anathema to the “rigid” way of doing things at their former employer Telstra. At the telco, the pair was responsible for delivering the ‘all 4 biz’ portal, which provided a consolidated view of a business customer’s services and added a loyalty plan, which rewarded users with credits when they added services to their account.

The portal incorporated 2500 business processes across the organisation and, when it went live, the project delivered millions in additional revenue, according to Christensen.

“It was designed to cement loyalty in the business,” Christensen said.

The goal to meet the original go-live deadline was very impressive, considering the 18 month project was already two-thirds of the way through when Christensen was brought in by Bromley.

“On my second day on the job I was told about a project that was 12 months old and struggling to get any traction,” Christensen said. “There was very rigorous business documentation, solution design phase, and the estimates showed it would take 18 months to deliver but they wanted it in five.”

The five-month turnaround was achieved after Mr Christensen convinced management to allow him to use agile methods to deliver the project, and also by breaking up the portal into two parts, with key features delivered first followed later by the additional functionality.

Bromley said the agile methods meant they were able to get some quick wins to get the business on side and start to break down the “rigidity”.

“When you join an organisation that’s over 100 years old and has entrenched policies practices and procedures, it becomes a rigid organisation,” he said. “So what we had to do was find a way to work within the existing structures but change pieces little bits at a time so we could then change the way we do things and the way people perceive us.

“Agile allows you to do short iterations and, with a showcase, we were able to show the relevance of what we were doing and how we were doing it very quickly and, slowly but surely, start to break some of that rigidity down and build trust.

“The rigidity is something people lean back on, when they don’t trust you. But when they trust you they say that’s not how we do it but we can find a way to work it in.”

He said Agile is now being used in parts across Telstra.

“There are a lot of good people, there’s a lot of good work being done; it’s just a lot of slow work to turn a very big ship, but it’s definitely happening.”