FNB Codefest and Agile: Collaboration

FNB Codefest is an Innovation contest run annually by FNB which includes a 48 hour coding marathon during which developers build innovative solutions to business problems.

Three codefests have been held, two in 2015 and the third one in October 2016 which attracted over 250 participants who created over 30 working prototypes.

A total of three hours of interviews were broadcast from within the venue as Youtube Livestreams, one hour during the 2nd event and two hours during the 3rd event.

Developers, partners and stakeholders were interviewed about codefest and current research is reviewing the transcripts of these interviews to determine if any principles from the Agile Manifesto emerged.

This is interesting to understand because although codefest was not intended to drive Agile in the bank it was observed that correlating concepts did emerge during the planning and implementation.

One of the four values of the Agile Manifesto is “customer collaboration over contract negotiation” which is reinforced by the principle “Business people and developers must work together daily.”

This does not mean that business requirements and specifications are not required in Agile, or that development teams must not commit to deadlines.

It is important to document a design and also for customers to have some planning assurance but the collaboration that supports those outcomes is more important.

Also it is through this collaboration that the best quality documentation and calculation of timelines is likely to emerge.

Collaboration also cannot be once off but must occur “daily”, implying that even with agreed designs and plans, changes occur and ongoing collaboration means teams can adapt through mutual agreement.

FNB Codefest occurred for only a few days in an artificial and competitive working environment so it is expected that collaboration would occur under such circumstances.

“between business and the technology guys it was such a collaborative effort … it was an equal effort and it was just something that was so amazing to achieve what we had”Aneesa Razak, COO FNB Cash Investments

However, an important observation was made that policies and processes might actually be what affects an organisation’s ability to normally achieve such customer collaboration. Although it was easy to remove these at codefest because of its temporary, non-core nature it created a picture of what was possible.

“codefest – totally different, it’s just illuminating what’s next from an IT perspective, and really I’m enjoying the fact that you’ve taken all the bureaucracy out and put business together with IT and making magic happen.”Daniel Robus, Account Executive, iFactory

This observation was taken a step further, ie that it could actually become the norm for how teams should work. Business value should drive the way teams are physically organized and if it is possible at codefest, even just for a period of time, accordingly it should be possible on a permanent basis.

“what we are doing at codefest is absolutely at the core of what we want to do as a business and should be doing as a business in fact I would love us to do this on a daily basis, get all our techie teams like this together the whole time.”Lezanne Human, CEO FNB Cash Investments

Large organisations of thousands of employees often occupy multiple buildings, often in different cities.

People are also grouped into different organizational functions to improve their utilization and efficiency, so it means co-location of multiple functions around common objectives requires doing something different from the normal corporate construct.

The most valuable IT solutions for large companies also often require the combination of multiple components from different organizational areas.

It is thus precisely because of this that Agile not only aims to bring business and IT together but also “techie teams” from different areas.

Although the research is ongoing, these observations indicate that FNB Codefest achieved a level of Agile collaboration that offers some insight for how software projects could be set up during business as usual.

“when we leave here and we go back to the office … we should do it from … this type of a perspective … let’s huddle around … and actually get our work out, it’s a lot faster and it’s a lot more agile which is the awesome part”Vaughan David, FNB Cash and Investments

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