When agile came in, cubicles went out

Progressive Medical was so pleased with the agile process, it hired more IT staff

PALM DESERT, Calif. -- In January 2010, Progressive Medical began a move to agile methodology and realized an almost immediate improvement in development time. The takeaway metric is this: When the pilot project began, there were 40 people in the development team at the Columbus, Ohio-based company, but by September of last year, there were 70.

After the cost management services provider saw that the agile development method could cut project development cycles by 25% to 40%, it decided to invest in more development staff.

The reason, said Ben Blanquera, vice president of IT at Progressive, is that the CFO, CIO and other top company officials wanted to clear the development backlog "and position ourselves for growth."

It was "a pretty big vote of confidence" for agile development, Blanquera said.

Adoption of agile has grown in IT shops, replacing what's called waterfall methodologies. With waterfall, the development team collects project requirements from the business over a period of time, codes and tests it, and then gets business feedback.

The problem with waterfall development, said Steve Naylor, director of IT at FHLBank in Topeka, Kan., is the length of time involved with the process. While the developers are working on a project, business requirements may change.

Naylor, who also uses agile development, said it is a process that includes frequent rollouts of new functionality, "so if there is a change, you are catching it early in the process, which is less expensive."

Agile also requires a more collaborative approach that involves continuous feedback. It's a change for both the development team and the business.

"This is a really big buy-in by the business -- they are committing to significant hours where they didn't before," Naylor said.

It is also why Blanquera needed backing from the CFO, CIO and others in the company to make the change to agile. It was a big move -- not just for the business, but also for the development staff.

Agile brings dramatic change, which Blanquera illustrated with photos he displayed at Computerworld's Premier 100 conference. The level of collaboration required by agile removes walls, literally.

Once the decision was made to embrace agile completely, Progressive eliminated cubicles and instead created an open work environment to encourage constant collaboration and communication.

"If people are used to having a personal space -- when you don't have it, that's a big change," Blanquera said.

Kevin Summers from Whirlpool chats with Johanna Ambrosio at the Premier 100 event about why its "Bring Your Own Technology" initiatives for employees have helped improve productivity at the appliance maker. Part 1 of a 2-part discussion.

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