Friends slashes project duration

Friends Provident has been so successful in slashing the length of an Internet project from years to months that it is adopting...

Friends Provident has been so successful in slashing the length of an Internet project from years to months that it is adopting its innovative new approach as standard, writes John Kavanagh

The insurance and pensions company, winner of the Information Systems Award competition run by the British Computer Society, completed a large online project in just three months to make it the market leader in a new commercial pension scheme devised by the Government.

"This was a project of 15-20 person-years, and when people came on to it they expected to have two or three years to complete it - until the bombshell dropped," says Mike Shapland, systems development manager at Friends Provident.

The team, which numbered 100 people at its peak, was drawn from across the organisation, locking IT and business people away together full-time.

The three months even included training IT staff in Java. Contract staff already versed in the language and in Web development were also used.

"There was no way we could follow the traditional development path of gathering requirements, agreeing the specification, building the system, accommodating user changes and presenting the system at the end," Shapland says. "The short deadline meant we had to work differently."

Finding space for such a big team was a problem - which was overcome by taking over the boardroom.

"We kept it open plan, but it was crowded, with people working cheek by jowl," Shapland says.

"There were separate teams covering different issues, doing rapid application development. The deadline meant users and IT had to work together. They were locked away so that the users wouldn't get distracted by their usual jobs."

The short deadline also caused Friends Provident to avoid a rigid reporting structure. "The project director, who was head of corporate pensions, and two or three other managers met daily but we weren't a steering group as such," Shapland says. "Decisions were needed instantly, and most teams were empowered in any case."

Shapland believes the project has changed Friends Provident's thinking about IT projects. "This was a different way of working for us, and it really will change the way we develop things in the future. We've learnt lots of lessons on how to bring things to market quickly, and we're moving more to user involvement from the start and all the way through."

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment