How the ‘Agile Project Management’ methodology has been applied to IBA, by our colleague Gianluca Liberato

The agile Project Management (Agile PM) methodology is becoming increasingly used in the project management world.

In this blog, we will discover how Gianluca Liberato, BI consultant at Cubis, put this methodology into practice to ensure the success of one of his projects?

We will discover some characteristics of the “Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM)” which is a proven framework for agile project management to deliver a solution effectively and faster.

About the project

Gianluca had the opportunity to manage a project for the customer “Ion Beam Applications (IBA)”, a company based in Louvain-la-Neuve. They are a world leader in particle accelerator technology.

They design, produce and market innovative solutions for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other serious illnesses, and for industrial applications such as the sterilization of medical devices.

The goal of the project was to migrate their existing system BW to BW4Hana.

To speed up their migration, they chose a flexible approach ‘shell conversion’, by copying/pasting their old BW system to BW4Hana, with the conversion tool from SAP.

The process

During this project at IBA, they developed and delivered the solution iteratively and incrementally, by module following the prioritization required.

The project process, as shown in the figure below, has 5 main steps:

Source: IBA Kick-off Presentation

  1. Preparation: At this step, the project managers (PM) ensured that only the right projects will start, and that they were set up correctly, based on clear requirements.
  2. System Provisioning: The PM and team leader checked if the project is feasible from a technical point of view, and if it is cost-effective from a business point of view. The team leader also identified how development and delivery of the solution will be managed to a high-level.
  3. Build: At this step, the team leader made the project evolve by following the Solution Development Team practicing iterative development and timeboxing (see next chapters explanation). He made sure that the deliverables met the business needs and were built in the right way from a technical point of view.
  4. Test: As they were working per sprint, the Solution Development Team developed incrementally and iteratively and tested continuously the solution as they moved forward.
  5. Deploy & Support: At this final step, they get the final solution, or a subset of the final solution to be released. And during their weekly meeting, the PM agreed if the solution could go live/no-go live. Then they put the solution into operational, by transporting it into the live (production) environment.

Roles and Responsibilities

To manage a project, it is important to ensure all team members are empowered to take decisions, by defining their roles and responsibilities.

Before starting the project, clear roles and responsibilities were defined:

      
Source: Agile Project Management Handbook V2

At the ‘project level’, there are:

  • 2 project managers (PM):
    • 1 PM from IBA: The ‘Digital Transformation Project Manager’ from IBA provided high-level leadership to the Solution Development Team. He was responsible for the project timeline and the IBA budget.
    • 1 PM from Cubis side: Gianluca Liberato, ‘BI consultant’ from Cubis, focused on managing the working environment for evolving the solution and he was also responsible for tracking the Cubis budget.
  • Business Sponsor: At IBA, the ‘Chief Operating Officer (COO)’ and ‘EVP Digital Solutions’ were the 2 people high enough in the organization to resolve business issues and make financial decisions.
  • Business Visionary: At IBA, the ‘Data Factory Director’, was responsible for providing a clear vision and strategic direction. He ensures that the delivered solution meets the needs of the business.
  • Technical Coordinator: At IBA, the ‘Infrastructure and Personal IT Director’, made sure the project is technically feasible and coherent.

At the ‘Solution Development Team’ level, there are:

  • Team Leader: This role is handled by Gianluca from Cubis who was also responsible for leading the Solution Development Team and the technical part of the project.
  • Business Analyst: At IBA, the ‘DS Business Analyst/SAP BIBO’, was in charge of facilitating relationship between business and the technical team. He was checking the Webi reports to make sure that the final report pointing to the new connection BW4Hana queries were working fine.

This business analyst was in collaboration with the internal developers from IBA, if there were any issues for migrating the report, to ensure a correct solution.

  • Business Ambassador: At IBA, the ‘DS Business Analyst/SAP BIBO’ was also responsible during the foundation of the project to provide input for the prioritization of the requirements. And during the development phase, he made sure that all day-to-day requirements from the business were in line with the development.
  • Solution Developer: From Cubis, there were 2 developers (Gianluca included) who were worth one FTE. And from IBA side, there were also 2 developers representing one FTE.

In total, there were 2 FTE’s for this project working on deployable solution.

  • Solution Tester: This role was handled by the ‘DS Business Analyst/SAP BIBO’ with 2 other financial analysts from functional side at IBA. They performed testing of all final queries created in the new BW4Hana system.

Deliverables of the project

During this project, they described a set of products which are the main deliverables of the project.
Here the list of the DSDM products:

Source: Agile Project Management Handbook V2

  1. From business side (in yellow):
    • Terms of Reference: Before starting to develop the solution, they defined high-level the goal of the project and the architecture elements. They did a kick-off presentation to scope and justify the feasibility phase.
    • Business Case: The directors and managers provided a vision and a justification for the project from a business perspective (e.g. to automate reports, user-friendly reports, …).
    • Prioritized Requirements List: For the query migration, per sprint, they had a list of queries to be migrated by priority.
      • They opted for an agile approach and delivering the solution by Functional Module:
  1. Master Data
  2. Module FI
  3. Module CO
  4. Module PS
  5. Module SD
  6. Module MM
  7. Module MDM
  8. Module QM
  9. Module PP
  10. Module WM
  • If we want to refer to the MoSCoW prioritization technique, in the case of this project, all requirements were a “must have”, because they went from the old to the new system. And the business needs to get all the reports they used in the past.

    2. From Solution Development Team side (in green):
  • Solution Architecture Definition: The team leader, Gianluca, provided a high-level design framework for the solution with an overview on the technical and business side of the solution.
  • Development Approach Definition: The team leader also provided an overview of the architecture and gave a high-level definition of the tools and techniques to develop the solution.

    3. From project management side (in blue):
  • Delivery Plan: The PM created a high-level schedule of the project to be implemented.
    Source: Example IBA Schedule of the project, created by the PM
  • Management Approach Definition: The PM from IBA and from Cubis were following closely the planning and the evolution of the project, to make sure they delivered the solution on time. Next chapter, we will discover how the PM’s managed the project by using one of DSDM’s key practices: the ‘Timeboxing’.

Timeboxing

The free format timebox

The PM used the style of ‘free format timebox’, working per sprint of 4 weeks.

Source: Agile Project Management Handbook V2

They opted for a fixed period of 4 weeks to deliver the product, which is the ideal timing – not too long, not too short – to deliver a solution useful and keep the Solution Development Team focused.

Source: Agile Project Management Handbook V2

Their ‘free format timebox’ started with a Kick-off and finished with a Close-out:         

  • Kick-off: The team leader, Gianluca from Cubis, organized a short meeting with the developers, before each sprint, to agree on the works that will be delivered during this timebox and their priorities. They all analyzed the request to make sure this workload is realistic.
  • Iterative Development: The Solution Development Team worked on the solution and developed iteratively, until the final queries (prioritized for this sprint) were migrated successfully into BW4Hana.
  • Close-Out: At the end of each timebox, they measured the progress by completion of the deliverables.

The Daily Stand-Up

Gianluca, the team leader, also organized a daily Stand-up with the Solution Development Team every day, at the same time (9am), via teams:

  • The goal of these daily meetings was to measure the progress of the project and share information with the development team. If their progress was not meeting their expectations, the team leader got early warning of issues or blockers, and he made decisions in time to improve the situation. But during the day, Gianluca was open to informal communication with all team members if needed to solve any issues, and not just wait till the Daily Stand-up.
  • For the sprint planning:
    • They used the tool ‘Jira’, via a Kanban board: There are several technical tasks assigned to one person, with different status (backlog / open / done). They could keep tracking the team’s progress and work.
Source: IBA Jira tool – Kanban board overview
Source: IBA Jira tool – Kanban board – Example of task with smart checklist  
  • They also used an Excel file, as a working document, with a tracking of all objects migrated to track the progress of the migration in detail.
Source: Example IBA Working document to track the progress of migration, created by the PM

The weekly meetings 

The PM also organized a weekly meeting with the following participants: PM from IBA / PM from Cubis (Gianluca) / BI Managers from IBA / BI internal developers from IBA.

  • The goals of these meetings were:
    • To track the budget and the timeline.
    • To tackle all resources issues: To respect the deadline, they had some time to find a solution (e.g. hiring new external people and freeing up some time for the internal developers).
    • To tackle all technical issues occurred during the week.
    • To identify the risks to be presented during the steerco.
  • They had detailed planning in an Excel file with the tracking of the progress of all the tasks and the go live. It’s a kind of summary high level where they defined if the objects can ‘go live’ or ‘not go live’.

The monthly meetings

Every month, they planned a ‘Steerco’ on a Friday, the last week before they go live.

  • This meeting was limited to a few people: top managers from IBA (COO, EVP, Directors) and the PM of the project. 
  • The goal was to steer the project in the proper direction by presenting the status of the development and attention points (like the risks or issues) and making some decisions. In the end, the goal of this meeting was to ensure the success of the project for IBA and if they are on time and respecting the budget.
  • The PM and one account manager were running the Steerco with the following topics:
    • PM from Cubis was presenting the plan, activities, and risks.
    • PM from IBA was presenting the KPI’s, issues, internal financial tracking, decisions & actions.
    • The account manager from Cubis was presenting the financial of the resources.

The 8 principles

During this project, we can see that they applied the 8 principles of DSDM’s philosophy.

The project manager (PM), Gianluca, had agile values and guided the team in their attitude and their mindset to adopt, in order to deliver the solution by remaining flexible.

The famous 8 principles are the following:

  1. Focus on the business need
    The PM ensured that they delivered the solution based on the prioritization requirement list.
  2. Deliver on time
    The PM made sure to deliver the solution on time, one of the most important success factors for the customer. That’s why they were developing by priority, working with free timebox (sprint of 4 weeks) and tracking the progress of the development closely on a daily basis.
  3. Collaborate
    During this project at IBA, they were collaborating all together (PM, developers, business). The PM involved the right stakeholders, at the right time, throughout the project, during specific meetings organized.
  4. Never Compromise Quality
    Before each development, the level of quality to be delivered was agreed by the PM. And the Solution Development Team tested their solution continuously and the business analyst was testing the final query as well. The PM made sure that the team developed in quality by constant review.
  5. Build Incrementally from Firm Foundations
    The PM put in place an incremental delivery of the solution and could provide an early realization of the project to the business.
  6. Develop Iteratively
    The PM also put in place an iterative development because the project evolved throughout the process and the changes are inevitable. So, they embraced the changes.
  7. Communicate Continuously and Clearly
    During this project, they insisted on effective communication in different ways, like daily stand-up, weekly meetings, and steerco (see above the detail in ‘Timeboxing’). 

    The PM also promoted visibility and transparency through clear and complete documentations:
    • Via Confluence: They listed all the working documents for the procedures related to the technical development (e.g. all procedures for the connections, changing a connection of an AFO, changing the BO universe by a calculation view, etc.)
    • Via Teams: In teams, they listed all the working documents related to the plannings and presentations for the steerco (e.g. sprints planning)
  8. Demonstrate Control
    The team leader created documents and tracked Jira, with the plans and progress of the solution. 
    On a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, they demonstrated to the wright stakeholders what has been built (see above the detail in ‘Timeboxing’). 

Conclusion

During this project, we can detect the skills needed to become an agile project manager. It is important to have someone who understands agile methodology, with leadership skills, the ability to be flexible, to manage and motivate a team effectively.

Adopting the 8 principles of DSDM’s philosophy helped them to get the outcome of the project successfully. Indeed, with this approach, they could deliver a solution iteratively and incrementally, by ensuring quality, on time and on budget, which is one of the most important factors for a customer.

Camélia Rabyi

Data & analytics consultant @ Cubis