How to Get the Real Value from Agile Methodologies – Part 3

timeboxIn part 1, we established the premise that getting the real value from Agile (or other methodologies) takes more than learning the terminology and mechanics of Scrum, Feature Driven, DSDM, or other specific methodology. It also takes an understanding of the concepts behind the techniques coupled with the ability to apply them in the real world. In part 2, we looked at how Agile documentation differs from traditional documentation. More importantly, we discussed the purpose of documentation as it relates to customer satisfaction.

Today our focus is how to get the real value from Agile scope management. As a starting point, let’s examine how Agile scope management compares to traditional scope management. Traditional scope management emphasizes documentation and up-front approval. Traditional scope management handles changes to features or requirements with a formal change control process. There is typically a change control board that has representatives from the project team, the customer, and any governance body that exists within the customer’s organization.

Agile scope management primarily differs from traditional scope management in that change is planned into the process and is handled in an iterative fashion using pre-determined time periods for each iteration. The first iteration typically aims to produce a scaled-down version of the ultimate end-product, including a subset of the prioritized list of requirements. Subsequent iterations add more functionality based on the prioritized requirements, which are expected to change over the course of the project. A key concept in each iteration is timeboxing. This means that the time period for completing an iteration is fixed. Requirements are dropped or added based on the progress of the team within the available time allotted (aka the Timebox).

What’s so great about timeboxing?

Timeboxing may sound to some like just another way, among many, of managing scope and limiting scope creep. Two of the aspects of timeboxing that may not be apparent to most, but are significant include:

  • The timebox helps break down a project into smaller more manageable chunks. This takes Parkinson’s Law into account. Parkinson’s Law suggests that work will expand to fill the amount of time allotted. A compressed period of time requires prioritization and acute focus.
  • The timebox also creates an arbitrary deadline, which takes advantage of the Student Syndrome. Think back to school and those times you crammed 10 weeks’ worth of studying into the night before the test.

What underlying concepts contribute to the value of Agile scope management?

Above, I described some aspects of Agile scope management and why they work, but diving a little deeper, what fundamental concept lies beneath? There are a few underlying concepts that have to be understood and applied to get the real value from Agile scope management.

  1. Frequent and meaningful communication with the customer. Frequent communication with the customer or designated representative enables a team to keep up-to-date with any changes in priorities and prevents a large gap in expectations from developing.
  2. Focus on priorities. A continuous focus on priorities helps ensure that what is delivered to the customer provides immediate value.

I hope you got some value from this series on getting the real value from Agile. There is plenty more we could cover on the subject, and if there is enough interest, we may feature other series in the near future.

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