Agile SAP in action: Project Dragon, the Project Manager's update - introducing Gateway

9 January 2012

Tom Jayne

Tom Jayne

Consultant

Following the success of last year's Project Santa, Bluefin Solutions is running another internal graduate project with the aim of improving its internal systems through the use of SAP technologies and giving the graduates invaluable training of working on a project with ambitious objectives and tight timescales.

The project is an SAP BPC implementation to build a Resource Management solution. This will be further integrated with actual resourced data in order to generate detailed reports for use by our Management team.

Since my first update in December, the team has had its fair share of curveballs and challenges which have stretched us in terms of our ability to cope with change and all manners of the unexpected.

In the week running up to Christmas, the team was working hard on the build of the SAP BPC component of the solution, to ensure we left for Christmas at a comfortable point which would enable two things;

  1. The solution is fully formed enough for our team in Kuala Lumpur to be able to work with it over Christmas
  2. The development is at a logical cut off point to be returned to after a week of drinking mulled wine.

This proved no easy feat, and we had a few spanners thrown into the works along the way. The most prominent of these was a proposal to change the architecture of the mobile aspect of the project.

Introducing Gateway

This proposal involves the installation of SAP Gateway on Bluefin Solutions' internal systems - a wonderful platform for the future of mobile applications at Bluefin Solutions, but a significant amount of work for us.

The benefit of Gateway is clear - the technology is exciting for good reason. Using Open Data Protocols, it can connect SAP systems with 3rd party software which has huge scope for mobility and user interface development. However for the objectives of Project Dragon a Gateway implementation would be both time consuming and difficult for relatively little output. The solution? A small scope change and an agreement to prioritise our more important goals before focusing on Gateway.

How are we getting along with Agile Methodology?

Now that development has begun in earnest, the Agile approach the project team has taken is in full swing and all the work put in earlier has ensured we are building towards a solution that is tailored to the business needs.

A significant amount of time during the design phase was spent on developing detailed use case diagrams and defining individual user stories. This gave the project team insight into the end-user perspective and got us to think in terms of user experience instead of just producing functionality. For Bluefin Solutions, a company which prides itself on its Customer Focus, this method of thinking is invaluable.

The process of writing these user stories is a good exercise in itself, as a developer has to be able to quantify and articulate the reasoning behind any piece of functionality. If the rationale for a user story cannot be articulated, then it is time to question whether it should be included at all. This prevents cluttered and unnecessary features, improving solution quality and lowering development time.

One of the big features of a project using Agile Methodology is a daily scrum - a 10 to 15 minute meeting every morning where everybody discusses 3 points:

  1. What did I do yesterday?
  2. What do I plan to do today?
  3. What problems stand in the way of what I hope to achieve today?

At the beginning of the project, we struggled to get this right, and with interruptions and inevitable discussions arising from people's points, the scrums ballooned out to nearly half an hour. Nowadays, they are efficient enough to be completed in less than 15 minutes for 8 people, and serve as a great platform for everybody to be updated on where other people stand which helps identify potential sticking points early. They also function as a great tool to touch base and have everybody in the same room at least once a day before we scatter to our respective tasks.

What now?

There are two weeks remaining until we hit our scheduled User Acceptance Testing phase, there is a lot of development to go on until we are ready to begin this but a lot of the back end work is now nearing completion. One of the most time consuming areas of the project - the configuration of SAP BPC 10 to our needs, is getting close to complete. By next week we should be able to concentrate on the fun stuff - polishing the functionality, creating the Web Intelligence reports that the management team will use, and setting up SAP NetWeaver Gateway on our systems.

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