Agile development methodologies, transparency pay dividends for NYSE

A chief digital officer's bullishness on Agile development methodologies and transparency led to NYSE Euronext's Web success.

Robert Kerner doesn't waste time. The senior vice president and chief digital officer at New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) Euronext believes that in this fast-paced, technical world, slowing down might as well be stopping. For him, it's a world that demands Agile development methodologies and transparency. Those not on board should be prepared to step aside.

"Running a Web shop or a digital shop as a waterfall democracy, you're going to be swallowed up and lose," Kerner said. "To be successful in this space, you have to be able to move where technology is going very quickly, and to do that, we have an Agile development environment."

To be successful in this space, you have to be able to move where technology is going very quickly, and to do that, we have an Agile development environment.

Agile development methodologies were not the practice of choice in 2009, when Kerner came to NYSE Euronext, a global security exchanges operator and maker of trading technologies based in New York. That lack of agility left the organization's Web presence in a dire state. One of the first things Kerner did was talk with his team and ask questions.

"A question might have been, 'How do you add a submenu to a menu?' [on one of our websites], and the developer on the floor told me it's possible, but it was very difficult to do," Kerner said. "I asked him to show me exactly [how it was done], and I ended up going through five levels of management before I got to someone who could track the change. I knew at that moment this wasn't the way I wanted to run my shop."

What he wanted was the ability to track changes quickly, to react on the fly to what worked and what didn't. Kerner turned to his CIO, seeking millions of dollars for a multiyear Web development project – and anticipating mounting a major defense for his proposal. Instead, he was told "do whatever you need to do" to get off legacy content management systems (CMS) and develop new websites to meet internal and external users' needs.

Prior to Kerner's arrival, NYSE Euronext had already spent significant money and two years on a Web content management platform that failed to meet business needs. They were looking for change that worked, and replacing a longstanding waterfall development model with Agile development methodologies was a place to start.

Agile methodology meant major culture change

Getting the go-ahead was the easiest part, Kerner said -- far easier than the cultural change that had to follow. About 100 people, mostly contractors, were let go.

"It's really difficult to teach a team of that size to think agilely and get the bureaucracy out of their minds," Kerner said. "I had to change the culture to one of transparency and collaboration with the business and set the processes accordingly."

Moving to 100% transparency proved particularly challenging given that metrics that tracked individual team members' day-to-day progress were established and displayed publicly.

"For a lot of people, that kind of transparency is too much, so they leave," Kerner said. "But I told the business, if they want to look at a line of code, they're welcome to it. They can look at any level of detail. I have nothing to hide."

And those who chose to stay? Kerner came to find that they were superstars.

"Only the really best people decide to stay and work in that environment because they love transparency. They want to show off what they can do," Kerner said.

Many happy returns (on investment)

A review of the previous team's process for selecting a new CMS under the old waterfall method showed it had spent six months and likely plenty of money measuring the pros and cons of each system -- and still came to the wrong decision, he said.

Kerner and his team spent about three days doing due diligence and making phone calls to select a CMS.

"If I was going to come to the wrong decision, I didn't want to spend that much time doing it," Kerner said. "We built failure into the plan, so we were allowed to fail. Failure in an innovative space is a good thing. If you're not failing, you're not innovating."

A Drupal open source Web content management platform was selected, and Kerner promised that new capabilities for its Web-based services would be out in 30 days. In less than a month, a new corporate blogging platform called Exchanges was up and running. Two months later, new versions of NYSE Money Sense, a consumer-facing educational website, and NYSE Connect, a social site for NYSE-listed companies, were overhauled and re-launched.

"I wanted to continue going linearly, but there was so much pent-up demand around the business for a Web presence that everybody and their brother wanted something," Kerner said.

In retrospect, the company might have taken on too much: Kerner admits, if he had to do it again, he would have gone for an approach emphasizing linear over exponential growth. Nevertheless, he's pleased with having successfully re-launched 40 customer-facing and internal sites in a year and a half.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, Features Writer.

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