Research carried out at Aalto University helping Ericsson to adjust to changing business culture
During the past two years, Ericsson Finland R&D has undergone the most extensive restructuring in its history as it has replaced the software production process based on the waterfall model with an agile software development model. The interviews conducted by the Software Process Research Group headed by Casper Lassenius, Professor at the School of Science, in which staff members of Ericsson Finland R&D give their views of the changes will shed light on the impacts of the process. The interview and observation survey will also result in suggestions that the company can use in the development of its operations.
Casper Lassenius points out that from the research point of view the case is highly interesting because little has been written about the introduction of agile software development in an organisation of this size.
According to Christian Engblom, member of the management team of Ericsson Finland R&D, there will be a great deal of discussion between the company and the research group of Professor Lassenius. Engblom adds that cooperation between the academic world and the business world is important:
−The academic world is following what is taking place in companies and gathers material about its observations that universities can use in their teaching. In the future, we will have more and more employees who have already familiarised themselves with the company’s thinking during their studies.
Christian Engblom gave a speech on the theme “From Waterfall to Agile in Global Software Development at Ericsson” at ICGSE 2011 (International Conference on Global Software Engineering), which was held in Helsinki on 15–18 August 2011. Global software development is a major trend worldwide and by moving development work to countries with low labour costs Finnish companies are also increasingly involved in the process.
Agile software development can help to improve communication
Christian Engblom explains that in the waterfall model, the implementation of a process laid out in advance proceeds stage by stage downwards. In the agile approach adopted by Ericsson Finland R&D, software development is divided into projects of short duration (called sprints) in which communication is on a face-to-face basis and the teams work in the same workspace.
− In our old project structure, communication only took place through specific channels. Only specific persons talked to each other, which meant that misunderstandings based on second-hand information were common. In the new model, software development takes place in teams that are in touch with each other, sometimes on a daily basis.
According to Engblom, the agile model will not solve all the challenges of global software development, such as the problems created by different time zones and cultural differences. However, it has the advantage of giving the teams an opportunity to constantly examine their previous sprints.
Furthermore, as Engblom points out, in the agile model there is also a constant debate on how to improve the global cooperation carried out as part of the previous sprint.
Why make a jump into the unknown?
According to Engblom, the adoption of the agile model means that the company management must be able to live with uncertainty. This is because in the agile model, the teams are not provided with a design blueprint prepared in advance as the design work continues throughout the project. There is often resistance to change among the company staff. Many of them may ask why working practices should be changed as everything has been going smoothly and on time under the old system.
− Particularly those with good career prospects were afraid of losing their positions. In many cases, such persons were also familiar with the workings of our organisation and came up with hundreds of excuses for opposing the change, says Engblom.
Why did Ericsson make such a quick decision to take the risk and jump into the unknown?
− Not changing anything is an even greater risk, says Engblom. −The world around us is becoming more and more dynamic each day. What works today may not necessarily work in the future. The company structure should not be inflexible. We must be able to react quickly to changes around us.
Aalto University and Ericsson are partners in the Cloud Software project of Tieto- ja viestintäteollisuuden tutkimus Oy (Tivit Oy). The Software Process Research Group of Casper Lassenius and Ericsson Finland R&D are cooperating closely as part of the project.
Text: Tea Kalska