A View from the Top

Recently I had the opportunity to listen to a full day of presentations from what could possibly be Swedens largest software development project, the New Ladok project. The New Ladok is Sweden’s new national student information system, which will serve about half a million users when fully implemented.

In the SISU project we follow the preparations for the implementation of the new system, from what could be called a bottom up perspective. It was thus very interesting to hear about this huge project from a top down perspective–from the actual development project.

Project Leader Johan Sjödin stated that the initial development backlog was estimated to have started at 60000 hours of pure coding/development. While one major effort has been the prioritizing of the backlog a project of this size is not just coding. Adding requirements elicitation, testing, validation, documentation, learning material etc. the project so far amounts to over 400000 hours of work. That is the equivalent to more than 50 PhDs.

The presentations included high level perspectives from Mauritz Danielsson and Johan Sjödin. There were also more in depth presentations: Catherine Zetterqvist commented on backlog, the technical setup was described by Staffan Ekstedt and Anna Åhnberg talked about the concepts behind the learning material being developed. Malin Zingmark said a few words about success factors for local implementations and the new web site was presented by Rebecka Guzman.

Interesting were also Jan Winkle’s presentation from Malmö University, which has formed the avant-garde by being the first larger university to implement the new system. This was nicely contrasted with the presentation by Karim Andersson from Lund University, which will form the derrière-grade and implement the system in 2018. So far the implementation at Malmö University seems to have been successful and that must indeed have been very positive for the project as a whole.

Still this huge project no doubt has many challenges ahead, both on the project level but also on the level of local implementations. Starting with the latter there is a huge undertaking at each university relating to the conversion of legacy data and the adoption of routines.

On a project level, there are of course the usual challenges related to running huge IT-development projects. I could note two principal challenges that the project has to deal with. One is the fragmented customer base. There are many differences between universities and colleges, but also within institution there are many structural differences. As the new Ladok will have a monopoly there will have to be a one size fits all for the end product, and no doubt this will be better for some then for others.

A more intricate problem relates to the overall orchestration. The project is now in a critical phase where it is simultaneously implementing the system, keeping implementations stable and developing new versions to meet the more complex requirements that have to be supported. At the same time the higher education system is very cyclic, and the project has to adapt to the academic year leaving little room for quick adjustments.

All in all, it would seem that the new Ladok would be a perfect example for the hype curve. At the beginning there seems to have been rather unrealistic expectations. The project has since worked hard creating a focus and in a sense lowering the expectations (at least for the first version). There will no doubt be a rise towards the plateau of productivity. The question that remains is whether the project already has hit rock bottom and is working towards that or if the large scale implementations ahead will be a cause of concern. It will definitely be interesting to follow this huge project as it proceeds and I hope we could gain further insight into the development project as such.

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