Overcoming Extreme Customer Environments with Agile

“Agile is key to overcome difficult customer environments”

José Luís Ferreira, Partner at Pessoas & Processos (P&P), took the audience through a voyage to Africa, and shared his adventures in delivering a custom Facilities Management System for Sonangol, the largest oil company in Angola.
JoseLuisFernandes.jpgSonangol had just created a new division called DMI to manage a brand new building that would be used by several companies and divisions of the Sonangol group. What P&P found when they got there was a new division, with a new building to manage, with a new set of challenges every day, and with no past experience – from a IT project perspective, this meant dealing with an extremely fuzzy (not to say non-existing) and evolving scope.

José described Sonangol as a paper-based company – a very hard to change mentality. In fact, even after delivering the new Facilities Management System (called ANGELS), many employees still print out screens and reports for their daily processes and tasks!

The ANGELS system has so much functionality that is impossible to describe in this post. It includes Budget Management (including contracts and suppliers); Organization Management (for over 700 people at DMI); Asset Management (including equipment inventory); Work and Personnel Management.

In a country where the term Agile has not found its way into the business lingo yet, José went on to describe what he calls an Extreme Customer Environment:

  • The customer is 6000Km away from P&P’s office. It might not seem that far, but you need to realize that it takes 2 weeks to prepare a request for a Visa, and 2 more weeks to (eventually) get it. That’s 4 weeks just to be able to get on a plane!
  • Angola’s capital, Luanda, is one of the most expensive cities for foreign business people. Having people stay there for long periods of time would blow away all the project’s budget;
  • Communications are a daily challenge. Being able to do something so trivial as a Skype call or sending a file via email is really a matter of luck. Too often it doesn’t work!
  • Finally, getting the hardware you need is a crusade! In one case it took them 15 days to get a computer (not a server in the data-center… a regular PC to use for development!)

So how did P&P use an agile approach in such adverse business conditions?

They had to dilute the time-line… instead of using the tradition 2-3 week sprints they decided to have 2 months sprints, for a project time-line of 1 year. “This is certainly no a candidate for an Agility Award project right?” José teased.

Surprisingly, enough, agility was the most important value, the one differentiation P&P had to rely on to ensure success:

  • It allowed them to cope with undefined and constantly changing business requirements;
  • Most questions emerged during demos, where they could get real end-user feedback;
  • The project was time-boxed. They had to deliver the solution in a well defined time-frame;
  • It provided a framework to continuously negotiate scope for every sprint, and ensure the solution was addressing the right business needs.

According to José, using the OutSystems platform was critical for the successful delivery of the project, because of its support for change and distributed development teams.

After every sprint demo, they immediately corrected all issues and implement the requested changes – they would only leave the country with the list of new features to be implemented in the next sprint… and start working on the new visa for the next trip in 2 months time!

About the author

Michel Ozzello

Although he's been working in Marketing for the past decade or so, Michel is still a geeky Software Engineer at heart. He tries to fit technology in every bit of marketing activity he does - from SEO to websites and digital advertising.



This was an interesting story because I remember Jose Luis asking a question of a presenter last year at NextStep 2009 – about sprint frequency in a very difficult geographic/cultural situation – and that he wasn’t completely satisfied with the answer…how cool that he came back a year later to present his own findings on the issue!

Leave Your Comment