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KDDI Corporation

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Introduction

atWare Vietnam Co., Ltd. has been a long-term partner of KDDI Agile Development Center Corporation in the agile development of KDDI Corporation's in-house products since its establishment in July 2020.

In May 2023, we have participated in a project to develop a front-end web system for KDDI Corporation's corporate customers and successfully released the first version of the system in August.
In November, about two months after the release, we interviewed the project’s Product Owner(PO) and Scrum Master(SM).

Product Owner(PO)・KDDI Corporation Product Division(Planning department)  Mr. Shogo Amaya

Scrum Master(SM)・KDDI Corporation Information System Division(Development department)  Mr. Keiichi Yanagisawa

​Interviewer atWare Vietnam Co., Ltd. Takashi Makino

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Mr. Amaya

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Mr. Yanagisawa

Project Overview and Agile Development Background

- Makino
Thank you very much for your valuable time today. 
First of all, could you give us an overview of this project? 


- Mr. Amaya
This project is a web application product to be used by corporate customers and our internal operations department for a new service we are providing to corporate customers. The service itself is for KDDI customers to use the products provided by our partners, with the convenience that only KDDI can offer for their original products.
 
- Makino
We have participated in this project together with KDDI Agile Development Center Corporation(KAG) on the premise of agile product development. What was the reason for adopting agile development for this project?


- Mr. Amaya
This product is based on the premise of using the API provided by the partner, but we knew that the API would change frequently. To begin with, the provider's product itself is also frequently updated. Of course, it is important that both our service and the product that uses the API be able to respond immediately to these changes, which is difficult to do with the traditional waterfall development style where requirements are clearly defined. We thought it was necessary to develop the product in an agile development style, so we consulted with the development department.


- Mr. Yanagisawa
The development department mainly develops software for the company's mission-critical operations and services, so it was a traditional waterfall development style, and it also took a very long time to start a project. However, in today's business environment, it is not only such a case, but it is also necessary to deal with minimal projects. This project was positioned as a model case for launching and implementing agile development in a short-term period with KAG members who are skilled in agile development.


- Mr. Amaya
On the other hand, the business strategy was to launch the product by the end of August, and there were concerns about whether agile development could be developed in a limited time period. 
From the management's point of view, it is good to work in an agile manner, but it is important to know what to do by when. Therefore, when making a decision, it must be clear when it will be done and how much it will cost, and it must absolutely be achieved. 


- Mr. Yanagisawa
We in the development department felt the same concern that there were very few cases of agile development being launched in the Information Systems Division in a short period. Since we had a fixed deadline, the pressure to meet it was intense, and we were troubled by it. Since there was no precedent, there was no base for reporting within the company. So I had to coordinate with each of them individually and get their approval. 
 
- Makino
Does that mean that there is no Gantt chart to show that the work has been completed up to this point or that it is on schedule?
As is characteristic of agile development, we will provide software that works from the early stages. 
 
- Mr. Amaya 
Yes, we have been showing that we have working software within the company. We would say that we have already reached this point or that we are trying to create something like this. 

Project Kickoff

- Makino
As we were bringing our Vietnamese team members to Japan to begin development in May, we asked the team to gather in the office every day for the three weeks they would be there. With remote working at home being used in combination at your company, we took the time to gather at the office and spend a long time sharing the objectives of the project, team building, and preparing for the start of development.


- Mr. Amaya 
I am glad we did this before we started.
Not only members of your company, but also members within KDDI and KAG were all meeting each other for the first time in this project. Through the various initiatives and opportunities to go out for drinks during this initial period, I was able to learn about the backgrounds and motivations of the members, and to get to know their personalities. In addition, by discussing working agreements across national and cultural boundaries, we were able to agree on standards for proceeding with our work, which gave us a feeling of safety.
 
- Mr. Yanagisawa
I am glad that we were able to speak frankly. I was in favor of gathering in person, but if we wanted to invite everyone to an event, we would have to ask the business people, including stakeholders, to take time off, and some people would have to coordinate with internal meetings at fixed times, etc., so we had to think about a lot of things. 


- Makino
I think I was able to ask for the impossible because of the restriction that I was only visiting Japan from Vietnam for this period of time.

Looking Back on the Project

- Makino
August came quickly, and we have successfully completed the first release of the product. How do you look back on the past three months from the perspective of the business side of the product?
 
- Mr. Amaya
The last month of August was almost exclusively for testing, and the first three weeks were kickoff and Sprint Zero, so we actually had two months to develop the product, and I think we did a great job. I have been in the corporate product planning department for a long time, so I have heard about the failures of other projects, for example, the blurring of velocity at each sprint that never got filled. I didn't want this project to be like that, so for the first three weeks or so, I tried to interfere too much, showing up at various places where the product owner probably wouldn't see that much, and asking questions. When velocity stabilized, I felt confident that we would be able to release the product at the end of August, and we were able to proceed with the business design that would make the service possible outside of the product development. 
 
- Mr. Amaya
I was also grateful that the development members asked purely, "Why are you doing this? When I am caught between various conflicting demands, I am not sure who I am trying to create this feature for. In those situations, they asked me straight out, so I didn't have to go down the wrong path. 
 
- Makino
I think that agile development has led to the development of things that are always of the highest priority and value.
Our development members have experienced many failures in past projects. We were not close to the product owner, and we just made what the product owner requested, but the reality was that the product was not used by the customer at all. I believe that the learning from this experience was that all the members were very aware of the reason why they were developing this product. However, there was also language barrier (Japanese language ability), and I think there were times when people wondered why we were asking such questions. 
 
- Mr. Amaya
Yes, sometimes I thought so, but I was grateful because it seemed to take me back to the beginning. 
 
- Mr. Yanagisawa
As for my concerns about agile development, they were dispelled after the first few sprints during the three and a half month period, when the most important inquiries and other features began to be created.
On the other hand, as a development department, there are rules that must be followed before launch, such as security audits and performance evaluations. The key point was how to incorporate these into the tasks of agile development and how to plan for them. We had a rough plan. Based on that, we would create specific tickets, such as internal procedures and associated applications, at the right time and include them in the sprint planning. In parallel, we also worked on tasks other than development, such as establishing work flow and responding to failures. We also asked development members to create and check documents for applications.


- Makino
Our Vietnamese development members lacked such non-development experience to begin with.
They are very diligent and try to do what they are asked to do correctly, but they do not understand what the purpose of the document is, so they only know literally what to write and cannot guess it. I thought that if they knew the purpose clearly, they could do it a little more efficiently. In addition, as much as possible, the Scrum Master Task took over these non-development tasks, and the development members were grateful, but felt frustrated because they could not see the overall situation. 
 
- Mr. Yanagisawa
There was a desire to see the Scrum Master Task in retrospect. I was aware that they wanted to do so. 
We might have asked development members to do a few more non-development tasks. However, I think it would be difficult to share all the internal procedures, etc. and do everything together because we are on the same team.
 
- Makino
In this project, we did not assign specific responsibilities within the development members, but instead had everyone take charge of development tasks in a full-stack approach. In many other projects, each member has their own strengths and weaknesses, so for example, who is in charge of front-end development, who is in charge of infrastructure, and so on. For that, maybe we could have taken a similar approach. As you mentioned, there may be some tasks that would be difficult only for Mr. Yanagisawa or your company's employees. 
 
- Mr. Yanagisawa
That's right. I understand that they want to be able to see that and understand what kind of things we are doing.

Project Outcomes and Problems

- Makino
What do you think about the quality of resulting products and deliverables such as documentation?
 
- Mr. Yanagisawa
I think the quality of the product is rather high. There are not many features yet, so there is not much to evaluate, but there have been no major problems, and no mistakes occurred. 
 
- Mr. Amaya
Since this is a product for corporate customers, I believe that what is important for the product is not the design or UI, but the UX. As the product owner, I don't think it's a good idea to use PowerPoint, which is not an appropriate tool, to create a UX blueprint. I was very happy that the development members made a UX blueprint with Figma at the beginning of this project. Although there are many people who give their opinions on the UX blueprint made by the product owner, there is no one who can make the first blueprint for us. I was able to show the department in that state.

- Makino 
For this project, the development members were left to decide what kind of technology to use, and we used Serverless, Node.js, Typescript, and a cloud-native architecture that actively uses AWS services.
 
- Mr. Yanagisawa
Since few development departments today adopt these new technologies, we wanted them to choose new technologies for this project as well as the development process. As a result, we believe there were no problems with that. On the other hand, we were concerned about whether the new technology would be suitable for the security policy of the development department, but this time we were able to break the ice. In my company, there is an opinion that the conventional long term development style is not suitable for the changing environment and that we need to launch more and more services in a short period of time. I had hoped that this project would be a good opportunity for us to explore such a way of doing things.

This project was also meant to accumulate knowledge. I have no experience in working on a project of this scale from the true beginning, as I did this time, so I think I can make use of this experience the next time. I summarized quite a bit on the project portal site, such as how this kind of thing failed, what documentation was needed, what was to be done at the kickoff, and what was needed for internal procedures, even for an agile project.
These efforts were appreciated, at least on the development side.

- Mr. Amaya
The business side also said that we did a great job because we said we would get it done and we did. It was thanks to my boss who gave me the opportunity to take on the challenge.
The release of a new service is often delayed. Sometimes it is delayed for a year, and often it is delayed for about two months.
 
- Mr. Amaya
The product itself we developed is small, but as for work other than development, it is a new service, so it is not easy to organize internal procedures and operations, as well as having to create terms of service for users. In order to make it work as a service, we have to develop the product, make the terms of service, conduct security audits, talk to the accounting department about how much the service is worth, and then create sales materials.
 
- Mr. Yanagisawa
There are many things to do other than development, and I feel that it is still difficult to have an internal system that allows agile development and approval. Even if the development members are able to release additional features they have developed in a week, we still have the dilemma of having to make adjustments to the business months in advance to get them accepted.

- Makino
Based on that, from the perspective of the product owner or the person in charge of the product, what do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of Scrum or agile development, apart from what you expected at the beginning? 
 
- Mr. Amaya
The advantages are two sides of the same coin, but it's fun. There is "sense of touch".
In traditional waterfall development, it is fun when we are defining the requirements, but after that, we leave it completely to the developers and just accept the products that are delivered a few months later. We don't feel like we've nurtured the product ourselves. Since the product is for a corporate customer, agile development allows us to grow the product the way we want to grow it, and it's such an fun job as a product planning job.

The disadvantage, on the other hand, is that it takes up a lot of my time. It really is self-directed, for better or worse. In waterfall, we can say we didn't intend it that way, or we can shift the responsibility to other people or make it someone else's problem. Even if you are asked to make a decision as a product owner, it would be difficult unless one has the determination and courage to make a decision. 

- Makino
So it can be both an advantage and a disadvantage for all those who take on the role of product owner.
Would you consider doing product development with Scrum again if you had the chance? 

- Mr. Amaya
Yes, I would like to do it again while I am a player.
One of my supervisors in management said he would like to try it. Before he was promoted to a management position himself, there was no such a system. He is interested to see how it is done. 

- Makino
In this project, we have asked stakeholders to participate in sprint reviews in accordance with the Scrum Guide, and many stakeholders have actually participated.
We also released several updates during the two months that have passed since the first release at the end of August.
Do you have any evaluations or feedback on the product from your stakeholders or customers?
 
- Mr. Amaya
When the head of the sales department participated in the sprint review, he told us that he had always wanted to see this kind of approach in other product development as well.
In addition, as I mentioned earlier, the internal business and operations divisions are not currently in a position to release products on a weekly basis, as is the case with development. However, there is a sense of crisis in the field, and I believe that this project helped to raise the issue that customers are waiting, the service side wants to release the product quickly, but the changes must be properly passed on to all the operators who are operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Expectations for atWare

- Makino
Finally, do you have any expectations for our development team, any areas you would like to see improved, or any areas where you would like to see us take more advantage of our strengths?
 
- Mr. Yanagisawa
I would like to continue to be a good partner.


- Makino
Yes, we would like that too. 


- Mr. Amaya
I was hoping that you would understand the situation in a large company like KDDI, such as what a product owner, who is in the business department, does, and what a Scrum Master, who is in charge of the actual development, does. I did not communicate everything, but it would be very easy if they understood that in addition to their role as a product owner as defined by Scrum, they have to think about these things and do these things in order to provide services. I think you will be chosen by them. It is the same as the common practice that when a person who has been placing orders moves to the order side, he/she understands the feelings of the client and makes it easier for both parties to work together, or when a scrum master or manager who is an engineer understands the feelings of the engineer. That is, a developer who understands the feelings of a product owner and a scrum master. If they also know the product owner who is busy with the tedious application process of a large traditional company, they can understand that it takes time to get approval, right? 


- Makino
As a proxy product owner in our company, we sometimes support a product owner and help increase the value of the product from a position closer to development, but it exists separately from the development members and does not extend to supporting the business side of the company.


- Mr. Amaya
If you can have an advantage there, it might make it easier for a large company like ours that is struggling to launch a product to ask us to try agile development.


- Mr. Yanagisawa
Everyone at your company has very high technical skills, and there are a great many talented people, so I really think that productivity is very high to begin with. They can do infrastructure and development. As Mr. Amaya mentioned earlier, I thought that if they could act as a product owner or a scrum master, they would be able to develop from a different perspective. I think they are probably looking for something more than that.
 
- Makino
We are aware of the Scrum Master's perspective in terms of team growth within the Scrum Team, and we also have a desire to create what the customer really requires. However, we had not yet thought about the role of the product owner, who stands on the business side of the company, and the Scrum Master's perspective of supporting that role and encouraging the company's growth. I recognized that this is an issue that we need to address.


- Mr. Amaya 
I think it is difficult. On the other hand, I would like to be able to understand the feelings of the development side.


- Mr. Yanagisawa
I don't know how the business side feels either. I understand the feelings of the development side very well, but I don't know anything about planning or business.


- Mr. Amaya
It is also something we don't realize until we go through this kind of experience several times. Not only in planning and development, but also in accounting, legal departments and more.
 
- Mr. Yanagisawa
There are things like auditing and security that we don't understand why we have to do. If we could both go to the other side and understand the difficulties, it would probably change our way of thinking a little.


- Makino
I believe that this is the essence of Agile: everyone involved in the product understands each other beyond their own position, and makes efforts to provide a better product and to please the customers.


I have heard many valuable things today. I learned a lot not only for the company and the team, but also for me personally.


Thank you very much for your long time.
 

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