New business solutions call for flexible software developers
AgileWorks OÜ is a software development company that relies on the principles of agile development in its work. Contemporary technologies are used to flexibly offer software solutions to customers depending on their needs. The company’s services are meant for local and foreign customers alike, and such prominent enterprises and organisations as Tallinna Vesi, Estonian Centre for Standardization, National Audit Office of Estonia and EES-Ringlus are among its clientele. Software developers and company leaders Karel Golberg, Arni Leibovitš and Juri Annikov talk about the advantages of agile software development and how they came to own a company.
Software development company AgileWorks was founded by three young, ambitious and experienced software developers in 2010, but it has actually operated for the last year and a half. Arni, Karel and Juri are also the members of a development team that has grown from a large and well-known Estonian software development enterprise. Experience showed the young men what the bottlenecks of the field were, and there came a moment when they realised that the three of them could make things better. This was how the idea of setting up their own company was born.
They found the incubator while searching for office space. “We like the opportunities here, for example, the support services which you don’t have to worry about. We are also in the midst of other starting companies that create a supporting environment, and various events are organised for them. We feel that we are welcomed here,” Arni lists the benefits of the incubator.
Passion for challenges and tangible results
Software development is a great passion of the guys. The work that may appear routine to onlookers is not that at all: new challenges are to be faced every day. “We do not see ourselves as businessmen but rather as software developers. The company is just a way to legalise it. We like creating something one can touch,” company managers state unanimously. Taking the agile development principles into use requires more from developers than mere programming skills. Agile developers need to be multifunctional, result-oriented and always ready to respond to changes. Continuous development and learning is essential.
Customers benefit from agile development already in the process of work
Traditional software development implies that the customer turns to the developer with an idea of creating a certain system. Then a large list of requirements is made; they are analysed; documents are prepared, and only then the programming part starts. The whole project is completed and then handed over to the customer. However, software development is a creative activity that often cannot be planned ahead. This is why the majority of the projects where the traditional approach is used go over the budgets or fail to meet deadlines, and often the desired objectives cannot be achieved or they will have changed by the final stage of the project. On the contrary, agile methods are empirical and consider the fact that not everything can be planned ahead. AgileWorks uses the agile approach to reduce the customer’s risks by means of short development cycles, which allows regular and prompt feedback to be provided to the customer in the form a working solution completed as the result of a certain stage of work so that the customer can give information about any changes necessary at any moment and it will still be in good time. As the result, the whole development process is more transparent and takes better account of the customer’s business needs.
Arni draws parallels with the construction sector to better explain the daily work of software developers. “Imagine that a major construction company wants to build an amusement park. It can design one huge project: the construction will take several years, and a large amusement park as a complete solution will be made in the end. But they will not earn anything during these several years. The goal and preferences can change during such a long project; for instance, the company may not want this particular amusement park anymore, which will mean the project has failed. However, if the rides and attractions are built one by one, the park can be used; it can earn profit, and the owner will be able to see what it will look like and whether it meets the expectations; the risk of failure will be lower as well. This is exactly how we work piece by piece.”
Agility creates an advantage for entering export markets
What makes the approach of AgileWorks to software development different from the Estonian market participants today is the fact that it uses the agile development process. This approach is not exactly widespread in Estonia at the moment, and the reasons for that might lie in lack of experience or competence and the attitude: often people just hold on too tightly to the traditional ways they are used to. In many western states, the agile approach has been popular for a while by now, so service flexibility is an advantage for entering export markets.
“Selling the agile approach to customers in Estonia is indeed the biggest challenge for us. Still we try to implement our methods and principles even if we offer a job at a fixed price. If a customer wants to change the solution we have agreed upon when the work is in progress and we have established the price of the project, providing flexibility is complicated. Unfortunately, this is often the case, and then we either need to work more or reach another compromise,” Arni describes the bottlenecks of their work.
A dream of the future: build up the best team and develop our own products
The objective as such is not just the idea of expanding the company, but it is rather growing in the direction of providing quality and better value to customers. “We are recruiting at the moment and one excellent developer will join our team as soon as next month,” Karel mentioned as he was striding to the meeting room. The company plans to hire at least two new software developers each year although the lack of professional software developers with sufficient experience impedes growth in the IT sphere.
According to the software developers, the most challenging project is always the sweetest: the more complicated the logic, the better; the more fascinating technologies can be used, the more interesting it is. “We are also moving towards mobility: we have made applications for tablets and mobile phones (for example, the mobile version of the National Audit Office’s web page). The idea of our own product is also brewing. This product will be meant for small-scale companies and export, but it is at the initial development stage at the moment, and we would not like to talk about it publicly. Ideally, we would rather like to focus on developing our own products, and we plan to expand to the Nordic countries as Finland and Sweden seem to be an attractive market,” Arni sums up future plans.