AMWA aims to accelerate projects

In the previous newsletter, Brad Gilmer, executive director of the Advanced Media Workflow Association (AMWA), described the work of the association to advance standards for media file wrappers and in the area of SOA. This week, Gilmer addresses the time it takes to develop standards.

Many media folks complain that standards bodies take far too long; however, the AMWA has made some recent moves to accelerate standards development.

“It is a valid compliant, that it takes too long,” Gilmer said. “First, it takes longer to collaborate … The root of the problem is that we are a best-effort organization. It had gotten us a long way for a long time, but it was time to change.”

At a recent board meeting of the AMWA, a couple of initiatives were proposed that would make that change: one regarding funding and resources, and the other about the move to agile project development.

Funded project development

“At a top level, we are looking at moving from a best-effort organization to one that has dedicated resources and allows for development with dedicated, funded resources,” Gilmer said. In the past, the association has relied on the good will of members offering staff resources. Inevitably, the demands of business meant that AMWA work often got low priority.

As media organizations look to optimize their file-based operations, there are many impediments to designing efficient workflows. Interoperability is a particular problem, but it could be eased if new standards could be developed and adopted by equipment vendors.

Were a standard to be available sooner, it is possible that the cost savings would warrant the commitment of funds to the AMWA to expedite development. Several members are in situations in which the benefit to their business may be more than cost of resource to develop a standard.

“We are looking at the impact of requiring people to come in with resources to fix a problem,” Gilmer said. “The plan is to appoint a project management officer (PMO). The PMO will keep projects on track and monitor progress.”

Although dedicated resources will go a long way to contracting project timescales, the association also looked at the development process. The current timescales can be a year or more from the initial statement of requirements. The technology of the media business is moving so fast that a specification is, in all likelihood, going to be out of date 12 months down the line, according to Gilmer. This method, dubbed waterfall, has disadvantages, one of which is dealing with ongoing changes to the specification.

Agile project development: SCRUM

An alternative to the waterfall method is agile project development, often called SCRUM. This is a discipline that focuses on delivering the most business benefit in a project as soon as possible. It started out for managing software development, but has evolved to be applicable in general program or project development.

In agile or iterative project development, frequent reviews rank features by business benefits. Each stage of development focuses on delivering three or so features that can be deployed to immediate advantage by users, rather than waiting for one large release that addresses the original requirements in their entirety.

By this iterative process, if the requirements change, and with that the priorities, then a benefit can be seen in a short space of time, not the year or so of conventional development.

“This will result in a different style of working,” Gilmer said. “The thing that is tricky is deploying (SCRUM) across a diverse set of resources, rather than within a single organization. This method absolutely does work within the commercial sector: huge project plans, with very complete budgets, all quickly being replaced with agile project development.”

“Can you think of a project that ran for a year where you didn’t learn something new during that year that would have affected how you set up that project at the beginning? Would that be a success?” he asked. “With advanced project development, new ideas are encouraged that may change the direction of the project.”

Gilmer added, “I’m very excited about this; it is potentially a powerful tool. In fact, some of our members have already used it in their own organizations.”

The AMWA believes that this move to funded projects, as well as agile project development, will lead to an acceleration of standard development that will facilitate interoperable file-based operations. Most of us remember plugging together composite analog video equipment with 75W BNCs; using these strategies, exchanging media files may become that simple.