For the most progressive and forward-looking news agencies, software development is shifting from something they pay to get done to something they do themselves. This is especially true for Nikkei, one of the largest media corporations in the world and a leader in digital-first news in Asia. Originally founded as a market news provider in 1876 in Japan, Nikkei now owns 37 foreign editorial bureaus, having acquired the Financial Times in 2015, and employs over 1,500 journalists worldwide. It launched Nikkei Online Edition in 2010 and currently has 800 thousand paid customers on the app.
The gateway to Nikkei’s digital-first offerings is its authentication ID platform, Nikkei ID. This platform provides access to Nikkei’s diverse news offerings and is the first point of contact for its contractor marketplace, Nikkei Seeks, and other services. Ensuring it is easily accessed and used is crucial.
Until relatively recently, Nikkei outsourced its software development. Projects followed the Waterfall methodology, where Nikkei outlined goals and requirements along each step of the development process, fully completing and approving each step before moving on to the next one. When Nikkei moved development in-house, it moved in a big way: the company now employs about 80 software engineers. But Nikkei continued to follow the Waterfall method.
Working in GitHub meant there was an opportunity to enhance internal workflows and productivity by using an integrated tool. The tool needed to be clear, easy to use, and provide powerful insight without requiring a lot of heavy lifting. Zenhub provided the combination of features Nikkei needed to accelerate and enhance its digital-first approach.
Moving from Waterfall to Scrum methodology
Shortly after moving development in-house, Nikkei wanted to adjust its development style.
“The Waterfall approach is very methodical, but it meant delays of a few months to half a year between project inception and release,” explains Nikkei ID Product Manager Yuya Urano. “In terms of structure, there was this push to be agile, with smaller plans and smaller delivery at more frequent intervals.”
But there was little in-house experience with Agile frameworks and practices. Without that well of experience to draw on, the internal team was largely only using Kanban boards to manage tasks. “We weren’t looking at aspects like how to properly estimate story points or how to use that information to plan our next project. We weren’t really using any reporting capacity,” he explains.
The slow but steady approach to development was further delayed by the technical debt that had accumulated on Nikkei ID, which is currently over 10 years old. Technical debt was slow and complicated to resolve without an easy way to assess the codebase and coordinate fixes.
Ensuring team members can effectively coordinate and collaborate is always essential in software development. But COVID-19 took that to another level. With many engineers working remotely, ensuring that everyone on the team knew the goals and what needed to be done to accomplish them was crucial.
And for team leads, sorting out what was working, what wasn’t, and how processes could potentially be improved was difficult, if not impossible. Teams were having difficulty closing pull requests from the GitHub repository, and it wasn’t clear why. If Nikkei wanted to improve its velocity and ensure Nikkei Online Edition was operating smoothly, its development teams needed the ability to question and evaluate their processes.
Enhanced reporting, estimation, and remote collaboration improve development processes
The team originally started with Trello as a free service but found it complicated to use and limited in function. When Software Development Engineer Satoshi Okami joined the team in 2019 he brought a few years of Zenhub experience and a recommendation with him. “It’s easy to use, the reporting features are solid. And the UI is connected to GitHub seamlessly,” Okami says.
As a tool that’s purpose-built for Agile, Zenhub brings a lot of inherent assumptions about how teams work best with its framework. This proved crucial for Nikkei’s development teams as they integrated Scrum into their workflows and moved away from the Waterfall methodology. “It naturally became a textbook of Scrum development,” Urano says.
Zenhub and the Scrum format have since spread from the Nikkei ID team to other teams in the company, and Zenhub’s ease of use has greatly facilitated that. “There’s nothing we really need to teach,” he explains. “Just by using it, you understand it. This has not only made it easy for other teams to pick up Zenhub quickly and easily, but onboarding new team members is very straightforward.”
But beyond its structure, Zenhub also offers a suite of features that Nikkei’s software development teams were able to take advantage of. The robust reporting capabilities have greatly improved information management and transparency, letting team leads and scrum masters assess their teams’ progress and velocity much more easily. And planning poker has made estimating story points easier and more accurate without requiring teams to meet in person.
Okami is especially partial to how planning poker encourages more honest, focused discussion: “That way, once everyone has their own estimate put in, there can be a fruitful discussion about where a task should truly land,” he explains. “But it also helps before that discussion happens. If other members of the team have questions or comments for the scrum master or team lead before estimates are shared, you can change your score behind the scenes if you change your mind.”
Previously, using the planning poker method of story point estimation required teams to use Whiteboards. When the team at Nikkei started working remotely, planning poker in Zenhub became not just a valuable feature but a critical one, making remote collaboration not only feasible but easy. “Remote work for us is enabled by that feature,” Urano says.
Velocity prediction was also greatly improved. With access to historical data on story point estimates and sprint duration, it became much easier to assess the validity of a given estimate and perhaps refine it if necessary.
Accelerated and refined development enables the launch of new projects
This faster and more targeted productivity has enabled Nikkei to tackle new projects and enhance its digital offerings. One of them is improved authentication for Nikkei ID.
In the modern world, authentication is a dull but critical necessity. Most modern applications rely on passwords backed up by multi-factor authentication, often a text message, to confirm identity. Modern tech giants have begun looking at passkeys, which are digital authentication credentials stored on a device. They’re something Nikkei has wanted to work on, but they represent the sort of large-scale enhancement that was impossible in the previous working structure.
But by integrating and leveraging Zenhub to improve workflows and transparency, project developers are able to push forward. The use of passkeys promises enhancements not only to the user experience but to the platform’s security. Users can more easily access the content they pay for, reducing the friction involved in using the platform. They can also enhance security for users because passkeys are harder to steal or phish than passwords and aren’t vulnerable to redirections to scam websites that imitate the target site.
Nikkei has also been able to tackle a longstanding and thorny issue: pull requests. Using Zenhub’s control chart helped the team get an overview of their pull requests, and by using labels they were able to identify which kinds of pull requests were proving problematic. “This actually led to the creation of pull request guidelines,” explains Urano, “which cut the average time to close a pull request down to less than 24 hours.”
Zenhub also offered powerful tools to track and evaluate the development process without adding costs or requiring a cumbersome setup. “I really like the ability to use simple, yet fleshed-out reports by default, without needing to work through complex settings to enable them,” he adds.
Simplify and streamline workflows with Zenhub
Zenhub offers the tools and workflows that teams working in GitHub need. It’s the only industry tool that lets you manage your team’s work across both public and private repos. And it makes it easier for all team members to communicate with each other, set goals, plan with more transparency and participation, and ship releases more predictably.
With powerful automation, planning, and estimation tools, Zenhub enables any team, whether new to Agile or long-time veterans, to easily integrate Agile practices into their workflows. Try Zenhub for free and start integrating more streamlined, simple, agile processes into your team’s workflow.