There are at least two ways to manage a software project. One is what might be called the “traditional” way, then there is the agile way, and Ocado Technology has opted for agile – although the company adds the word “lean” as well.
The traditional development model tends to try and do everything in one big sequential series of steps, as one big project that needs to be completed in its entirety.
The agile system favours incrementalism, and could be said to create lots of mini-projects, perhaps all linked to an over-arching goal, which may well be abstract, or less to do with technology and more to do with business objectives.
In the traditional method, a software developer would document all requirements, then define, plan, build, test and deploy. The basic idea is to deliver the perfect application, fitting all of the requirements.
In agile, those requirements may be divided and sub-divided into many individual micro-projects, which – because of their smaller workload – can be completed and taken through numerous tests and iterations without necessarily affecting other mini-projects within the same development company, or even perhaps affecting the overall business objective.
Ocado may be most well-known as an online grocer, but its plan is to become a technology company – both in hardware and software, which is probably more than twice as hard as only doing software.Ocado Technology adopts lean and agile development practices Click To Tweet
Combining the two seems obvious for Ocado, since it runs a physical business rather than a virtual one – in that it has several huge warehouse across the country, all handling tens of thousands of individual grocery products and fulfilling hundreds of thousands of orders every month.
Managing such a complex business requires software as well as hardware, much of which Ocado bought in from outside companies when it first started in 2000.
Over time, Ocado found that it needed software and hardware that were not available on the market, so decided to develop the technology itself, which is what has led to this point where the company has a significant in-house tech team.
So significant in fact that the company has launched Ocado Technology and Ocado Engineering as two separate business units, in addition to its core grocery business, which is still called Ocado.
Enterprise Management 360º spoke to several key members of the Ocado Technology team. Their comments are in the video above, but here’s a taster of what some of them said.
James Donkin, general manager, says that – for the Ocado’s customers – visiting the website and ordering groceries is simple and straightforward. But behind the scenes, there’s an “incredibly complicated, automated process of software and hardware” that ensures the groceries are delivered and the customers’ orders are fulfilled satisfactorily.
Emily Page, agile coach, says Ocado’s tech professionals are involved in absolutely all parts of the business process – from the website to the final delivery – and always looking for ways to develop new systems which are not only useful to Ocado, but which can also be supplied to other international retailers.
Page is part of a team of agile and lean specialists brought in to help Ocado Technology as a whole to operate more holistically and within the company’s development goals.
Lawrence Weetman, software engineer, says the tech team gets lots of requests from different parts of Ocado to develop something for them, and the agile methodology helps them prioritise what would be the most useful to the business.