World Cup: An Agile Loss for Optus?

The streaming of the World Cup to Australian viewers should have been a boon for telco Optus, however repeated glitches have us pondering: Was it an Agile loss?

Whilst being a nation of mainly oval ball footy fans, it’s fair to say that Australians also have a deep appreciation of the round ball game too and none more so than at World Cup time.

So when Australian viewers were unable to access its live stream of the FIFA 2018 World Cup thanks to several technical glitches, the legion of Australian soccer supporters truly found their voices. Optus found itself in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons as they felt the ire of unhappy fans who had signed up specifically to access content previously broadcast on free-to-air SBS.

As an expensive deal hot on the heels of its broadcast of the English Premier League season, Optus quickly found itself in an uncomfortable media storm after investing heavily in its streaming services to gain ground as a content creator and broadcaster.

But the question we have been asking is can a ‘technical failure’ really be the only explanation here or is there an underlying problem in how the project was delivered and is Optus’s recent embrace of Agile delivery techniques a contributor to the overall failure of their FIFA World Cup debacle?

A Recap: What Actually Went Wrong?

The exact reasons for what went wrong for Optus have been somewhat elusive, ranging from a glib ‘we didn’t realise so many people would want to logon at kick-off’ (a clear case of poorly defined requirements gathering if ever there was one) to the realities of investing in new technologies posing unexpected risks, to the more technical explanation that a critical part of its Content Delivery Network (CDN) failing.

The CDN failure was identified fairly early as a critical failure between the encoder and packager.

It was, by all accounts, both a ‘technical and reputational fail.’ However Optus was quick to explain that it did not agree it had cut corners on its back-end infrastructure and that it didn’t under cater in any way, shape or form. Nonetheless, the problem was not fixed quickly and on-going broadcasting failures via its streaming services for the next couple of days from the issue first being reported meant that Optus decided to re-engage SBS to broadcast the remaining World Cup games to pacify fans.

Was It Fit-For-Purpose?

It’s easy to be an armchair critic when you are not privy to the commercial realities. However, we’ve been in the game long enough to recognise that well-executed projects should always cater for the risk of a technical failure and have a mitigation strategy in place to ensure that customers aren’t affected for long.

When implemented correctly, the backup plan has to kick into play fairly quickly but in this instance despite early promises from Optus the fix never came.  Which begs the question was the platform being used actually fit-for-purpose? This issue was called out by Trevor Long, a technology commentator, who pointed to the design of the Optus streaming network as a ‘systemic’ problem, rather than a failure of mobile or internet networks.

“There’s no effect on customers who aren’t interested in the World Cup,” Mr Long said.

“But if you are looking for the World Cup and you’ve signed up to this Optus sport package, the way they’ve designed their network to deliver that television to mobiles phones, tablets and screens around Australia has failed.”

Despite the Optus chief executive blaming ‘unprecedented demand’ as a contributor to the technical failures, Long was forthright:

It is the biggest sporting event in the world and anyone could have checked previous    TV ratings to see how many people would tune in,” he said.

Was it Technological or a Methodology Fail?

As an organisation, Optus has positioned itself as an agile leader, and while we can’t definitively point to an agile project failure in this instance, we can ponder whether there was a flaw in how its technical project delivery was designed.

Like many organisations, Optus has embraced agile ways of working and this is made clear in their project methodology as to how they drive transformation and customer projects. A guiding principle of Agile is to steer away from a waterfall methodology, which dictates a more rigid approach to project delivery – a single, robust design centred on delivery of a full set of requirements and a full testing cycle at the end of a single build – which should include load or volume testing.

Agile delivers very differently to a traditional waterfall methodology, focusing on continuous delivery, improvement, and feedback from users.  The benefit is that teams can quickly adapt and align services with user needs in rapidly changing environments.

So we wondered: The environment was not a rapidly changing one; in fact, one could argue it could not have been more static. There was the need for a single set of critical requirements to be met and – ideally – rigorously tested before kick-off.

Could this be where the issues began? An Agile approach to hosting the World Cup would have possibly added the risk of the potential for piecemeal requirements gathering and a detailed design unfolding over many iterations and potentially undergoing less robust testing.

We may be drawing a long bow here, but there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that if it was an Agile project, Optus may have been better served instead to follow a more risk adverse waterfall delivery approach with its tried and tested, one-time detailed design and full testing life-cycle (integration, regression, volume testing and UAT, for example).

We may never know the full extent of its challenges, but what we can be sure of is that as Optus continues to push into content creation and media, they’ll be likely doing things quite differently in the future. No doubt the Post Implementation Review (PIR), if one is conducted, will be interesting reading before the next big event rolls around.

As project specialists, we develop fit-for-purpose strategy and project assurance.  Contact us here to find out more about how we work with your teams or call 02 9098 6300.

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