It’s time to challenge traditional thinking within the Oil and Gas sector and create ‘islands of opportunity’ where changes in both the business and users’ needs can be reacted to quickly.
Over the past 20 years I’ve worked across many industries and have seen the highs and lows of delivering projects - it’s been an interesting journey. I’ve worked on small, medium and exceptionally large projects, usually operating within a traditional ‘waterfall’ delivery approach because that has become the norm. Whilst it’s been like wearing a comfy pair of old slippers, I’ve often found myself questioning why?
This has become more resonant recently whilst working with Oil and Gas clients where the sharp decline in the oil price has had a huge impact. I am now seeing senior managers clamouring for deep insights into their financial data so they have transparency on costs and can make those hard but well informed decisions and react quickly to market conditions.
I also see a real sense of pain and frustration. They realise the data exists but it will take an age to make a change to their existing systems and reports to access it. Or, they have to go through a lengthy procurement process for a new IT solution only then to be faced with a prolonged implementation before they even get to cast their eyes over the data. In reality this could easily translate into a 3-12 months lead time but the CFO needs that information now!
Is there a quicker route through this? Can we still deliver a quality solution in a quicker timeframe, more suited to what the end user actually wants, thus adding further value? I think there is. I think it’s time for the waterfall die-hards to ditch the old slippers and step into a more agile frame of mind when it comes to IT project delivery.
What’s so wrong with wanting to wear my old slippers all the time?
If everything is working well then the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” has its place. But this is not the case in the Oil and Gas industry at the moment, those comfy slippers are not delivering what’s needed.
Let’s have a look at how an Agile approach stacks up against Waterfall.
Waterfall is very linear and is broken into distinct phases. Typically this is analysis, design, build, test and deploy for many IT software projects. We know the approach can deliver a great solution but at what cost?
- Budgets and quality – clients expect their projects to be delivered on time and within budget, even if requirements change. When both time and money start to run short it’s towards the later phases of the project and this tends to put strain on the Test phase. I’ve seen many a project get creative and put a ‘squeeze’ on testing, and the quality suffers. The downstream impact can be significant if the solution doesn’t work when it goes productive.
- Project visibility – the actual working solution isn’t realised until the end of the project which means you don’t know what it looks like in its entirety until it’s completed.
- Testing – testing the design at the tail end of the project can have risky consequences both in terms of time constraints and quality.
- Fit for current business requirements – the solution that’s delivered at the end of a project may not be fit for purpose. On large programmes, which can take years to deliver in some cases, you find that your original business users and sponsors may have moved on, the financial environment has changed or the processes have been altered. By the time the solution is delivered it doesn’t meet the business’s current needs. As a result, projects get canned or deployed and not used!
- Clients realising their vision… eventually – some clients can’t visualise what they want until they actually touch and feel the solution. Only once they get their hands on it do they realise that they ‘now’ know what they really, really want.
So how does an Agile approach stack up against Waterfall?
- Budgets and quality – Agile turns the Waterfall approach on its head and focuses on continuous activities. It is typically timeboxed so the budget is well controlled. Analysis, design, building and testing are continuous so there is no ‘squeeze’ on the delivery phase.
- Project visibility – the delivery of the solution is iterative and so the software/solution is built/configured from the start of the project providing visibility of the solution from the onset.
- Testing – there are no nasty surprises at the end of the project as a result of repeated testing.
- Fit for current business requirements – the development is a process of continual improvement so it starts off simple and is added to as the project proceeds. This means it is constantly evolving making it easier to make changes and refinements to meet the client’s needs.
- Clients realising their vision… eventually – plans adapt as the project progresses and a fundamental element is that the scope for what was originally envisioned can change. By fixing the time, the budget and the quality, because we are continually testing, then the flex is around scope and that can be very positive if there is a high level of flux in the organisation.
An Agile approach for IT projects ticks the boxes as it recognises that users often can’t articulate what they want up front so they are more involved and work more closely with the project team to define the requirements through visualisations and user stories. Development is prioritised, adapting to environment changes and influences. As a result of the iterative nature of the development, changes can easily be incorporated. This means users can regularly feedback on the functionality of the solution and refine. Quality is improved due to continual testing and discreet packages of functionality are delivered quickly, driving value and realising benefits faster.
Putting this into the context of my Oil and Gas clients, where there is a need to react quickly to economic conditions, it’s not too challenging to see that their IT teams and support partners also need to be flexible and can no longer rely on traditional approaches. This is all about being ‘nimble’ and rapidly delivering tangible value to the business users.