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Contargo is planning its own terminal operating system to optimise operational processes at its container terminals. To develop the software, the company has formed two teams of its own employees plus the personnel of a service provider. The project is being realised with Scrum, a method for the management of agile software projects. Contargo has been using this method since 2010 and has developed many high-performance products with it.

“Scrum” comes from the world of rugby and describes the intense interaction of the teams at close quarters. Similarly, the software developers work as small, self-organised units. The external input simply specifies the general direction of play. It is the teams themselves who determine the tactics for achieving their common objective.

The starting point in the Scrum method is the “product owner” (the customer), who specifies what is required from the product, in what is known as the “product backlog”. Contargo’s approach differs from the usual Scrum method in that there are both specialist and technical product owners. A feature of Contargo’s approach is the close collaboration of the specialist (logistics) employees in a user group, supporting the specialist product owners and contributing their experience to the project. The user group is largely responsible for the function of an application, because every project is preceded by a requirement analysis. This Requirements Engineering team also supports the project throughout the development phase, by giving user feedback on the current version of the project.

The developer teams receive individual work packages in the product backlog from the product owners, every two weeks. The teams are cross-functional, meaning that each contains logistics specialists and technical software experts, developers, supporters, etc. It is very important to Contargo that the developers should consider not only technical aspects, but also the product owners’ specialist vision. In daily meetings, each team decides itself who is working on what, and what problems may arise. Every week a cross-team meeting takes place. Due to the distances involved, various participants at Contargo may take part by videoconference.

Every two weeks, the teams presents its results live in the system to the product owner and the future users. Users’ feedback flows back as an input into the planning for the next work package, and the procedure begins all over again – until a finished product is obtained.

Once all the basic requirements have been met, the software is tested out in in a pilot phase at a small site. Here, more users become familiar with the software and pass on their first impressions from daily use to the developer team. However, even later on when the program is in use at all terminals, it is never finally finished – because it can be repeatedly adapted to changing framework conditions.

This sounds rather complex, but it is not without reason that Contargo made the decision to develop the software in-house: “With central IT systems, it is the long-term security of investment which is decisive for Contargo”, explains Heinrich Kerstgens, Co-Managing Director of Contargo GmbH & Co. KG. “Thus with systems like a Terminal Operations System, we need to have the source code available. A call to tender made it clear that no well-known manufacturer was prepared to meet this requirement. So we decided to develop the TOS software ourselves.”