Fun, Innovation & Delivery

Back in 2009, Simon Bristow presented to the Agile Australia conference on how Aconex had incorporated “Inter-Sprint Breaks” into the Agile process to avoid burning out teams with the pressures of back-to-back sprint delivery. Included in the set of activities that Aconex undertakes in these breaks were Hackathons (one day to work on a project of your choosing that does not have to be related to Aconex and present back to the business what you learnt) and Howhardi Gras (one week to answer “How long would it take to…” question for a selected set of Aconex related projects). Both of these activities were primarily about Innovation and have been very successful except in one thing; very few of the projects were then prioritised by Product to be delivered to clients. Many of the projects demonstrated great potential, but few made it to the top of the queue for development and release.

In the last week before the 2011 Christmas break Aconex undertook a different activity; a “FedEx week” that focused more on delivery. The project criteria still required innovation, challenge and business value but they also had to be completed and delivered, ready for our next external release or immediately available for internal use. The term FedEx Day has been popularised by Atlassian who now offer to help other companies run their own FedEx days.

Engineering drove the project selection process after receiving over 160 suggestions from the broader business. The engineers were then able to pick their projects and form their own teams, giving them the opportunity to work with different people. We ensured that each project had the right skill mix to be successful, so there was some minor shuffling of people and projects before the week began, but most people worked on their first choice.

All seven projects that were selected were delivered at the end of the week, despite numerous technical challenges that were encountered along the way. One project was deployed immediately to production for some beta clients to try, three others will appear in our next major release of Aconex and the other three are available for internal staff to use. Overall it was a very successful and productive exercise, especially as it is usually a quiet week in the office before the Australian summer break.

We did observe some changes in behaviour, with many meetings cancelled and less collaboration between the teams since they were focused on their goal and not the overall goal for all the teams. The user experience team also had to rush the designs of some functionality, there was no time for any user testing and compromises were made due to the strict deadline. Therefore, this is not a sustainable approach to software development.

Hackathon’s and Howhardi Gras still have their place and we will continue to run them but Agile emphasises that business value has not been delivered until clients are using and paying for new functionality. Therefore, the occasional FedEx week is a good way of achieving innovation, challenging and motivating engineers, and delivering business value.

David Chatterton

David has been the CTO at Aconex since 2008.

David led the transition to Agile development methodologies which has seen a dramatic improvement in productivity and transparency of the software development teams. More recently David has been focused on continuous improvement around quality, information security and scalability of the Aconex platform.

Previous David was an engineering manager at SGI and worked on clustered filesystem, trusted operating system and performance monitoring products.

David has a PhD in Computer Science.

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