So Far, So Good in Massive Transition to Agile, SAP Says

Enterprise software giant SAP is about halfway through what may be the largest conversion ever to Agile development practices and it's going well so far, with product release cycles taking about half the time previously needed, according to a recent interview with Co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe.

"We're about halfway through the transition," Snabe said last week in an interview with Fortune Magazine. "Our innovation cycles are down to six to nine months instead of 15 months."

As reported here almost exactly one year ago, Snabe updated the audience at SAP's Sapphire Now conference about the move to Agile. "I promise you we'll write a book about how to do it," he said of the massive effort, involving some 14,000 developers.

While there's no book yet, he told Fortune that "We see better products built by smaller teams than in the past. And customers are totally excited that we invite them in to be part of the process."

In March of last year, Snabe told PC World that about 20 percent of the company was practicing Agile, having begun the transition in 2009. The company began by having 10-person teams working on different parts of an application in four-week iterations, he told the magazine. "This methodology is not new, but so far it was only used by small companies, and we are scaling it to 12,000 engineers," he said.

The move to Agile was prompted by a review three years ago when Snabe compared the German company's traditional approach to that of the mobile world, where new products "come out in weeks, not months," he told Fortune. He said the transition began with three initiatives: smaller teams with more decision-making authority; involvement of customers at the beginning of the development cycle instead of the end; and the four-week iterations. "This is a methodology known in the industry as Scrum, but it's typically used by small companies," he said. "We have 14,000 developers."

Last year at Sapphire One, on the 100th day as co-CEO, he reported early satisfaction with the move to Agile. "The first impressions are exciting," he said. "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." 

Last week the story was similar, and he seemed optimistic going forward. "We spent a couple of years getting to where we are now," he said. "We can do another two years of fine-tuning."

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.