Making the new BBC Weather site
I was introduced to the project to deliver a new BBC Weather website in early 2008 and spent the following 12 months running it. It has been an interesting experience!
We took over responsibility for the BBC Weather website in 2007 and began work on a new version of it almost immediately. We had a really clear vision & scope from Weather and a strong set of designs based on audience research and thorough user-testing. For various reasons we decided to run it in a more specifically agile way than had been done in FM&T J before.
We put together a team, including a business analyst who produced a full set of written requirements. The developers, from a broad range of teams within the department, produced high-level timescale estimates from the requirements. This was all quickly prioritised by the stakeholders and a release schedule was drawn up in place of the usual project plan. The schedule just says what we expect to release when, and is easily adjusted if priorities change.
A space was found that the project team could occupy together. We had wall space for all sorts of visual project aids such as the designs, post it notes and 6" x 4" record cards that had each of the high level requirements written on them. These are some of the things that make agile projects work well as you can review the project status quickly with other members of the team and scribble on the designs and notes if necessary. The high level requirements are then used on a weekly basis to plan a few days of work in small increments.
A preview version of the site became available in September 2008. Between then and the actual launch date we continued to work on it, tweaking things and adding more content until we were finally ready to go live in March 2009.
The "agile" life doesn't seem to be for everyone. The little-and-often development process, which requires everyone to think in little bits, can take some getting used to. Perhaps less-noticed is that collocation is not always welcome, sometimes moving people away from such comforts as friends, a much-loved view or perhaps a slightly faster walk to the train home.
However, the effectiveness of a dedicated, collocated team certainly appears to outstrip that of others and easily justifies the cost of making the effort to change. Furthermore, I am fairly confident that the immersive nature of collocation has brought many other benefits. I'm not sure if the term "peer pressure" really applies, although it is used a lot in agile theory - I'd rather talk about "peer motivation" - but there is no doubt that the constant attention of colleagues and the quick verbal exchange of information results in a higher quality of output, both in terms of the coding and the design. This all adds up to project success.
As I write this we are preparing the results of a project review. It is pleasing to note how many agile concepts have been identified as positive factors. There are still lessons to learn but we certainly benefited from the things we did well.
Next up is a series of audience reviews of the work so far while we continue to improve and update the new site and the infrastructure. There are still some old-style pages to be moved, and we will be adding new features and a brand new feeds system. The mobile Weather site will also get a makeover very soon.
Peter Deslandes is Product Manager for Weather in FM&T Journalism.