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Tales from the development team: Agile is all!

23 September 2011 No Comment

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Just to round up ‘Tales from the development team’ I’m Andy Prior, Divisional Project Manager at Malvern and I’ve been responsible for overseeing the development of the new Mastersizer 3000. First and foremost I’d like to thank the whole team and everyone who has had a hand in bringing the system to market. I believe we have a laser diffraction product to be proud of and early users certainly seem to agree.

In the beginning

On day one, my first job was to put together the overall development  team for this project and then to convey the vision it encompassed, what needed to be built, and why. I was fortunate in having so much expertise at my disposal. Not only did I have access to experienced Malvern experts but was also able to bring into the team hand-picked specialists in specific areas – people who have what I can only describe as ‘fighting form’.

Scrum master

So how did we work? The foundation stone for this project was the implementation of Agile techniques. The Agile process replaces what are called ‘waterfall methods’  - the step-by-step, top down approach used in classic engineering – with more flexible, vertical slices called ‘sprints’. Each ‘sprint’ is designed to last from only two to four weeks. Instead of working with the traditional idea of an all-encompassing ‘requirements document’, a list of one line ‘wants’ is produced. This sets project priorities and each sprint focuses on the highest priority tasks. During a sprint the specific requirements for the task at hand are fixed while everything below it remains fluid. Each team was self-managing and in my role as ‘scrum master’ it fell to me to remove any obstacles to progress – sometime quite a challenge!

Agile development really is fluid and responsive. By working vertically each step of the process reaches the point where it can be used and tested, with results fed back directly into the design. In enabling this to happen throughout the process, rather than as a big testing block at the end, we actually saved a lot of time.

Personal preferences

I was asked recently what I like best about the new Mastersizer 3000 but the real question is where to start? Our designer Alwyn Cooper did an amazing job on the look of the system and I really like the modern appearance of the software user interface.

The overall ease-of-use of the instrument is impressive as is its in-built method development capabilities, the latter made possible through the addition of the trending tool in particular, to simplify the process of developing  optimum measurement protocols.

Lots of other small things, such as the breadcrumb trail style measurement process and Microsoft Office functional metaphors, for example, add up to ensure a great user experience all round.

And to sum up

The Mastersizer 3000 just goes to show what you can do with a good team, using the right process, centred on a common vision and all pulling in the same direction. I’m looking forward to seeing it in action in labs around the world.

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