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Moving to Agile – Lessons from Intel

  • 09/12/2009
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Over the coming days, we will be adding blog reports specific to EuroSTAR 2009 from a variety of different contributors. The article below is from Eamonn McGuinness of Brightwork, Ireland.

At EuroSTAR 2009 in Sweden Ray Arell an Intel veteran gave a good talk on … “Moving to an Agile Testing Environment – What went right, What went wrong”

Intel has roughly 10,000 software engineers.  A pretty serious software operation for what looks like a hardware company.  Prior to the move agile Intel had a standard waterfall model – with many, many milestones.  Lots of the usual checks and balances.  Perhaps too many according to Ray.  Many, many teams involved in the development of the Intel software that goes into a PC.  Some of the software products needed 5 years to get to market.  This of course in conflict with Moore’s Law (also an Intel vet) that explains that major changes occurs every year to two years.

The waterfall process locked down the requirements so early that innovation is actually stopped very early in the cycle, according to Ray.  Andy Grove, Intel’s founder, in his book, “Only the paranoid survive” explains, – “There is at least one point in the history of any company when you have to change dramatically … “.  Intel felt that waterfall was too rigid and that they needed customer involved throughout so they changed to agile.  Interesting enough Ray figures that the name Agile does the approach a dis-service as some folks see it as an excuse for “cowboy coding” or “wagile” (which is really waterfall dressed up as agile).

Ray sees the agile nucleus as requiring three aspects (i) Customer focused, (ii) Culture (trust, just enough process, etc.) and (iii) Work processes.  Ray explained the “product backlog” at Intel as follows:

• Owned by a product owner
• Formal list of requirements written as stories – that contain acceptance criteria
• backlog is re-prioritised at the start of each iteration
• defects are tracked on the backlog

On Ray’s team they went cold-turkey – switched over a month from Waterfall to Agile – shut down shop and trained everyone in that month.  It was not all plain sailing!

• the customers were confused – “why do they keep asking me questions!”
• the team were not sure if the “agile trust” was real – as they felt they were being “checked” every day in the Daily Stand-ups

Intel do now use personas with the agile approach, e.g. “Edward the Application Engineer”.

However Intel came through the change and the results are very good.  There is no going back according to Ray.  The customer is happier.  The teams are more productive and more satisfied.  95% of people said team collaboration was better with agile.  90% said Scrum was a better and more Challenging Work Environment.

Ray’s final thoughts:

• you need to iterate your processes just like your product
• don’t fall into Wagile / Scrumfalls!

Ray is a confident and engaging speaker – a person passionate about his topic and a person that has a passion to communicate.

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