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SAP Seeks Agile On A Mammoth Scale

SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe this week reiterated the company's commitment to internal Agile software development and said the company now faces the challenge of scaling the process throughout its huge development organization.

"I promise you we'll write a book about how to do it," Snabe said Tuesday at SAP's Sapphire Now conference in Frankfurt, Germany. Responding to a question during a roundtable discussion, he said the company experimented with Agile methodology last year and has now made a commitment to using it.

"We see that the traditional waterfall model is not agile enough, not fast enough to capture the real requirements," Snabe said. "In fact, in the time it takes from the moment you define your requirements until you have them implemented, the requirements already changed."
Waterfall development also stifled employee innovation, he said, because developers just follow the requirements script when they have ideas on how things could be done better and cheaper.

As with most companies, SAP is using Agile in combination with other methodologies. "We are implementing a combination of Agile, which is typically used in very small organizations, and lean, which is basically scaling the Agile methodology to a 10,000-people development organizations on multiple locations around the world," Snabe said.

So far, so good, said Snabe, who by coincidence was marking his 100th day as co-CEO. "The first impressions are exciting. I see no drawbacks. In fact, you have faster innovation, you get better solutions because we work with customers early. We get higher quality because we get working software every four weeks and not at the end of the cycle, and we get more motivated employees."

Snabe and co-CEO Bill McDermott announced SAP's commitment to Agile during the CeBIT show in March.

With good results so far, Snabe seemed somewhat daunted by the prospect of rolling Agile out companywide. "So now the only challenge is to scale that, and not many companies have that done that to the size of SAP," he said.

Besides scaling, other obstacles to implementing Agile companywide include interconnected and legacy systems, said panel member Wolfgang Gaertner, CIO of Deutsche Bank. "The trick for me is to build the preconditions for Agile methodologies and to really practice them in areas where it makes sense, and from a risk point of view, you can do it."

Even so, Gaertner echoed the need to go Agile. "We have to get there," he said. "The traditional ways are not fast enough, they are too complex and they don't surface the innovation. So that is very clear."

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for 1105 Media.

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