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On time and £500k within budget

The Guardian: De-risking an enterprise-scale Agile programme

Our programme management of the redevelopment of Guardian Unlimited set up effective Agile governance of this enterprise-scale programme, delivered resoundingly on business objectives and established a sustainable basis for continual improvement.

COMPANY BACKGROUND

Guardian News & Media Limited is the publisher of theguardian.com, and The Guardian and The Observer newspapers.

The challenge

The Guardian launched its network of websites, Guardian Unlimited (GU), in 1996 and has repeatedly won the prestigious ‘best online newspaper web site’ Webby award.

Guardian News & Media’s (GNM) commitment to remain the best online newspaper website required strategic investment and a complete redesign and redevelopment of its online platform and content management system, containing 1.5 million items. GNM set out to relaunch its GU portfolio of websites and web services as guardian.co.uk.

Following the strategic decision to redesign and redevelop the GU web service, it was clear that the GU platform was limiting opportunity to deliver content and services to readers. A first-cut site development was undertaken with GNM’s technology partners, Thoughtworks. Although successful from a technical perspective, there was concern within the Executive Management team at GU that there was insufficient control of the development.

IndigoBlue was asked to undertake a review of the project, resulting in a recommendation that programme management should be strengthened to ensure that further investment was appropriately planned, managed and delivered. Following this review, IndigoBlue was asked to provide the programme management needed to underpin business confidence in the strategic investment and steer the full programme of work towards a successful outcome.

Our approach

An IndigoBlue consultant was appointed Programme Manager. He worked with Guardian senior management to determine critical success factors and business change priorities that were then used to guide decision-making during the planning phase. Next, he managed the intensive planning phase with weekly senior management validation of decisions and options. Within six weeks, this resulted in a plan with clear business logic, costs and milestones sufficient for board approval.

Taking an Agile approach to the programme, a series of major business milestones were defined at intervals of no more than eight weeks. To achieve this schedule the project team was scaled up from a core team of 16 people to a team of 100. This was achieved through the evolution of Agile development teams which transferred their knowledge and propagated new teams over the first five months of the 18-month project. While this was challenging and reduced productivity during the early months, it was a critical strategy for meeting the early completion target.

The programme scope covered all aspects of development and delivery, including business change. It involved parallel but synchronised schedules for technical development and business preparation for launching sites and services. The technical teams delivered a release of incremental functionality every fortnight and each development iteration was aligned with business dependencies.

Additional IndigoBlue resources were applied to the programme to strengthen the team in key areas of Business Analysis and Team Leadership.

The outcomes

Guardian.co.uk continued to beat aggressively ambitious opposition as measured by number of pages viewed and unique site visits by reversing the decline and achieving significant month-on-month increases.

The user experience was enhanced dramatically through new design, new navigation, better content referencing, improved search, multimedia content, interactive services and many other new features.

GNM achieved a competitive edge through development of its own content management system and toolkit. Flexibility was built into these so that the content and the toolkit could develop as innovative ways of delivering information and services emerged.

Guardian content became easy to find, multiple routes could be pursued through the content, readers could engage far more collaboratively, and advertisement content became far more flexible.

In order to achieve sustainability of development and delivery as the programme ended and external resources were no longer needed, internal technical resources were professionally developed in a planned way while working alongside those external resources. This enabled a rapid reduction in team numbers from 100 to 24 over a three-month period while maintaining a strong internal knowledge base and capable team.

Continuous improvement of the sites and services continued to be achieved while implementing a complete replacement of the content and web service platform. The programme delivered to budget, to schedule and to business satisfaction.

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