LHOTSE is the internal code name for our project to re-develop www.otto.de in-house, based on open source software and using agile methodologies such as Scrum and XP. LHOTSE went live on 24th October 2013 – three months before schedule. Although it took us roughly two years to develop, with a team of more than 100 experts, getting LHOTSE live was practically a „non-event“. So, why did everything work out so well? I believe a lot of it has to do with how we do agile software development. Let’s dig into some of the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto to find answers:
We delivered working software right from the beginning. We had a basic working version of our online shop very early in the project. In 2012 this version was available to all employees on campus to test and use. In February 2013 we decided to release an „alpha“ version for selected customers (see this article on etailment.de and our first blog post on LHOTSE In May 2013 we released our „beta“ version to a wider range of customers. From then on we gradually increased the automatic distribution of customers from our old platform to our new platform, always measuring and testing if the new platform is keeping its promises concerning our main KPI s. For example, to test the performance and stability of LHOTSE, we diverted 80% of our real users on a high traffic day to the new platform and added another 40% of artificial traffic from load test generators. We made sure under way that our requirements were met. Finally, on 24th October 2013 we switched all our customers to LHOTSE. Unsurprisingly, this was only a small step.
"Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project."
One of the major organisational changes we introduced with LHOTSE are our „functional teams“, aka feature teams. Each functional team covers a certain domain, e.g. product or order management, and has all skills needed to deliver working software: project leads, product managers, lead engineers, usability experts, designers, devs, ops, QA, etc. All these people work and sit together. Questions, e.g. between developers and business or QA can and will be answered in seconds. Our functional teams are also considerably stable. We do rotate and change team members, but we also try to keep teams stable so that people get to know each other and learn to work really well together.
Here’s a quote from one of my favourite songs:
„Technology made it easy for us to stay in touch while keeping a distance, 'til we just stayed distant and never touched. Now all we do is text too much.“ (Sage Francis – The Best Of Times)
Different context but certainly transferable. In LHOTSE the whole team of roughly 100 people sits together, in one building on one floor, reducing personal distance to a bare minimum of a few metres. Our internal developers as well as freelancers and other companies we work with, are required to be physically on campus, at OTTO, in Hamburg. Working from home is possible but it’s the exception not the rule. Having everybody in talking or walking distance makes decision making much easier, increases reaction times and team spirit. When talking about conveying information face-to-face, we also pay attention to team sizes. The ideal number of software developers in a team is 6 – my personal opinion. Less can make things tough if people are on holiday or on sick leave. More team members exponentially increases the communication path between team members and inverts the advantage to a disadvantage.
"Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter time scale."
Our sprint length is two weeks. That’s the maximum time frame before we deliver a new product increment. And that’s where we started two years ago. Since then, we've considerably increased our ability to deliver software into production. On 24th October 2013, besides going live, we subsequently pushed 7 deployments live. That’s roughly one live deployment per hour. Quite a step, considering the monthly „feature releases“ we were used to and the two-week increments we started with. So, what in terms of software development did we do for that? Here’s ourrecipe for velocity:
All these measures give us a lot of security that we can go fast without making a mess!
Did I mention that we've just finished sprint no. 56? Did I mention that going live was practically a “non-event”? Can you imagine what we are doing now. Correct: sprint no. 57. Constant pace is about two things. First, follow our recipe for velocity mentioned above. Second, don't try to reach your sprint goal by staying at work until 3am every two weeks before the end of the sprint. Constantly measure your average velocity of the past 5 sprints. Use the average velocity to forecast what you will be able to deliver next sprint and to plan ahead. Once the team is up and running, keep the velocity constant. If that's not enough, consider adding people to the team, but keep Brooks's Law in mind. If that's still not enough, consider setting up a further team, but make sure to do that early enough in the process to actually make that effective. And, last but not least, find those pain-points in your software and your process that make you slow. A good Scrum team will be quiet at the end of the sprint, working normally – not frantically bug fixing. And that will make people enjoy their work for a long time without needing a long recovery from a chaotic project. And that's what I would call constant pace.
BTW: I was wondering if “sprint” is the right word to use in this context?
If you want to find out more about the architecture of LHOTSE, check out our previous blog post or our article published in OBJEKTspektrum In a nutshell, the main concept behind the architecture of LHOTSE and how we put business domains, corporate organisation and software architecture together, is “divide and conquer”. A very old and very new and very “en-vogue” concept – and a very powerful one. So how does that fit the principle heading this paragraph? Well, sort of semi. On the one hand we have a macro architecture designed up-front and imposed on all teams. Does not sound agile? OK, here's the pros: The macro architecture is very basic, very short and mainly focusses on loose coupling to make software modules, business domains and teams independent from each other. That's the law. That's not discussable. For each independent business domain and software module, however, there's maximum freedom. That's our micro architecture: Teams can chose their programming language, their data base system, their frameworks, their coding-style and design patterns. And why? Because the teams know best how to fit business and software together. OK, to be honest, we do have a rule that requires common base technologies, e.g. Java as programming language, git for version control, MongoDB as database, etc. We don't deliberatly make things as diverse and complicated as possible just for the sake of it. However, the point here is, that this is discussable.
That's it... at least from me in this post. Perhaps you've noticed that I only covered half of the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto. That's deliberate. It leaves room for further improvement. It leaves room for a sequel to this blog post. And it also symbolizes that it takes much more to make a project like LHOTSE successful.
Nice article, Stephan. Regarding the word "sprint", in our project we dropped it in favor of "iteration". Well, and then we switched to Kanban, in order to achieve even higher agility.
[…] gedacht und erforderte viel Disziplin. Erschwerend kam hinzu, dass unsere Patterns während der agilen Entwicklung im Projekt Lhotse noch nicht stabil genug waren und oft noch mehrfach angepasst werden […]
cooler Artikel, werde ich in eine meiner Präsentationen einbauen :-)
[…] ich als Interaction Designer im eCommerce von OTTO angeheuert. Zur gleichen Zeit nahm das interne Projekt „Lhotse“ Fahrt auf, in dem bis zum erfolgreichen Launch im Oktober 2013 die komplette eCommerce-Plattform […]
[…] Successful Mountaineering – Reaching the Summit of LHOTSE with Agile Software Development http://dev.otto.de/2013/12/09/successful-mountaineering-reaching-the-summit-of-lhotse-with-agile-sof… […]
[…] ich Ende 2011 im eCommerce-Bereich von OTTO als Interaction Designer angeheuert habe, nahm dort das Projekt „Lhotse“ fahrt auf. In diesem wurde die vorher genutzte Intershop-Lösung durch eine komplett inhouse […]