GSMA Loyalty & Couponing

The not-for-profit GSM Association (GSMA) counts almost every major mobile telephone manufacturer and operator among its membership. The association exists to assist members in negotiating the technological, commercial and other challenges to ensuring harmonious operation of mobile phone networks.

On behalf of members GSMA is working to expand the use of mobile phones into consumers everyday lives. One ongoing programme of work is mobile commerce, mCommerce for short. This initiative seeks to set the specifications necessary to allow phone based technology, predominantly near field communication (NFC), to be used for payments and other transactions.

Some of the previous GSMA mCommerce projects have overrun schedules, delivered late and with less than expected detail. During 2013 association members request the GSMA look at adopting an Agile-like approach to projects.

In July 2014 GSMA contacted Allan Kelly with a requestto review the ways of working in the mCommerce team. Several days were spent reviewing the team and working practices before suggesting how Agile software development methods could be used in a decidedly non-software project. Of several active mCommerce projects _Loyalty and Couponing_ was selected as the one which would most benefit from an Agile approach. In the process the approach was christened “smarter working” to more accurately reflect the means of working.

The Loyalty and Couponing project set out to deliver a technical specification document. The specification would enable interoperability of phones from different manufacturers, on different mobile operator networks, with different retailers – from the largest Tescos and Walmarts to the smallest corner coffee shops – using different payment technology.

The specification and document needed to respect the business models of retailers, loyalty providers, mobile operators, manufacturers and the associated ecosystems of suppliers. In addition it needed to allow new business models to emerge, yet not favour any one entity or sector.

While three GSMA staff were dedicated to the project most of the people working on the project came other companies and had been loaned for part of the week. These resourced were spread both within the UK and abroad including Germany, Israel and Ireland. Document reviewers were located further afield still in South Korea and the USA among other places.

At the start of September Loyalty and Couponing was just about to embark on writing the specification document. An initial kick-off meeting was held to both discuss the work itself and the smarter working approach.

At this point Allan Kelly switched from a “review and recommend” mode to a “coaching and advising” mode. During the next three months he attended most of the weekly meetings with the team and held one-on-one meetings and calls with project and product managers plus key stakeholders.

The team adopted and adapted a number of techniques recognisable to the Agile software development community:

  • A tight deadline of 6 December coupled with a clear goal of a usable specification document.
  • Weekly meetings: part review of completed work, part discussion of technical issues and part planning for the week to come.
  • Face-to-face working: UK based team members attended all meetings in London or Hatfield while overseas members flew in or attended on a conference call each week.
  • Vertical slicing of work items as user stories or use cases.
  • Visual information board: showing work to do, in progress and done. (This needed to be electronic because of the distributed nature of the team.)
  • Strict prioritisation and rigorous removal of work not required for the first issue of the specification. Subsequent revisions would be issued with additional work although what was in later revisions would not be decided until after 6 December.
  • Walking skeleton: in the second half of the project time a walking skeleton was constructed of the completed parts of the system. The remaining time was used to put flesh on this skeleton. In the final weeks draft versions of the document where made more widely available for preview.
  • The project delivered to schedule and into the GSMA’s wider review process which was conducted in a more traditional fashion. Final approval was granted in early January 2014. Unusually the review process found no substantial issues with the document demonstrating the high quality standard the team had held themselves to.

    Not only was the specification released in time for the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona but it was released in time for a demo system to be built for the conference too.

    An end of project retrospective concluded that smarter working had been a success and GSMA should attempt further projects in this fashion and look at how GSMA could align other processes with the smarter way of working.