Adopting agile delivery for broadcast projects

Above image: Camilla Brown Project manager Sony Professional Europe

In the fast-changing world of business, where demand for a more agile way of working is rapidly gaining momentum, it comes as little surprise that project management is undergoing a transformation.

A cultural shift within businesses to adapt more quickly to change, coupled with desire from stakeholders and top management to see faster and more effective results, has prompted project managers to rethink the way they deliver their customer’s solutions.

This is certainly the case for a number of Sony customers, who are increasingly moving to file-based technologies. An aim of these projects is to improve the sharing of content as well as automating some processes to free up valuable user time for core production activities.

When approaching a new software-based project with a degree of feature and workflow customisation for a large media company, Sony Professional Solutions Europe embraced the growing trend among businesses to eschew the more traditional project management approach in favour of less linear methods with the adoption of the PRINCE2 Agile methodology, launched in June 2015 by AXELOS.

Camilla Brown, project manager for Sony Media Solutions, says: “Technology and markets change so rapidly that the waterfall method does not always meet the needs of the client.

“Increasingly, companies are recognising that it can be virtually impossible to have a perfect understanding of the solution at the start of a project, and therefore the concept of agility allows them to benefit from being able to change and amend deliverables throughout the course of the project.”

Traditionally, the initial phases of a project involved a lengthy design phase, followed by delivery and then deployment of software six months after the project has been agreed, but the time lag means certain requirements have changed. After completing the initial infrastructure and base functionality aspects, customers are making the decisions to continue with the project, but requesting the option of greater scope.

Commenting on a recent project, Ms Brown says: “After seeing the initial benefits of the project across its European operations, the customer wanted to develop enhanced features and services, but in a way that would allow them to select their next developments as the project went along, while also ensuring their needs were continuously assessed.

“Processes and technology transformation were driven by the need to realise the benefits of the true end-to-end file-based operation and key to its success was breeding a culture of continuous improvement.”

Yucel Timur Head of project management Sony Professional Europe

Yucel Timur Head of project management Sony Professional Europe

Designed around consultations with project management and agile practitioners, PRINCE2 Agile has been hailed an extension to PRINCE2, tailored to forward-thinking organisations and individuals. It promises to combine the flexibility and responsiveness of agile with the clearly defined framework of PRINCE2, in what Yucel Timur, head of project management at Sony Media Solutions, describes as a “win-win situation” for both provider and client.

Sony has been running projects in the broadcast and media industry for many years using the PRINCE2 methodology with its clients, to deliver predominantly hardware/software application solutions. While there are many benefits to this more established approach, Sony quickly realised they needed to use something else to satisfy the needs of companies that have a fast-changing operation. Sony knew it needed to rework how it identified agile-based opportunities and felt PRINCE2 Agile would be the perfect fit for what clients wanted.

Mr Timur says: “We have a growing number of customers who are opening up to the approach because it reduces the need for big up-front design effort and allows business priorities to be adjusted during the project”.

The methodology allows software to be delivered much more quickly and iterations made at pace, without the need to raise big change requests or seek top management approval.

Ms Brown explains: “From our perspective, PRINCE2 Agile has allowed us to better manage the change being delivered to the customer. We knew from our conversations with the team that end-user feedback was crucial to the success of the project and they were extremely keen to have monthly deliverables that would allow for changes to requirements.”

Agile methods provide businesses the opportunity to deliver the benefits of functionality and products while they are still in the development phase, allowing for continuous improvement. By using an agile approach, Sony was able to road test new functionality among key users before it moved to the next stage, allowing for changing requirements over time with minimal disruption to the project.

“Getting what was absolutely needed for the customer has been much easier to achieve with monthly code drops. Once you receive feedback on new functionality, you can incorporate those changes quickly and in the very worst-case scenario, the wait would be one month. We feel this is a highly beneficial approach for customers, who wanted the opportunity to reprioritise future software deliveries on an ongoing basis,” says Ms Brown.

Sony’s in-house development teams follow a process based on scrum principles and say one of the key elements is organising work into a backlog that is prioritised in order of business value. This suited the needs of customers, who have a commitment to creating a culture of continuous improvement, and helps make projects a success.

Ms Brown notes: “Our customers, who have experienced these types of deliveries, were fantastic in recognising the benefits of using an agile-based methodology in delivering exactly what was needed. Ultimately, our aim as project managers is to support the acceptance of the delivery right across the organisation.”

With more and more businesses recognising the need to stay agile in today’s fast-moving world, the PRINCE2 Agile methodology looks set to grow in popularity

But as with any new approach, Mr Timur concedes that adopting the PRINCE2 Agile methodology brought with it a number of lessons to be learnt. “We initially took the view that we needed only our project managers to be PRINCE2 Agile-aware of the approach, but it quickly became clear that our wider organisation needed to adapt as well. It was vital to get everyone from account manager to sales, bid, architects, support, legal and procurement teams involved.”

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges Sony faced was addressing the legal and commercial terms of engagement, and ensuring the right approach was taken to allow the project to run smoothly. However, as the list of successful completed projects grows, Sony believes the use of PRINCE2 Agile has proved a resounding success.

And with more and more businesses recognising the need to stay agile in today’s fast-moving world, this latest methodology looks set to grow in popularity.

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