Agile – giving the business options back

January 11, 2010 at 11:23 5 comments

When they hear ‘agile software development’, a lot of people think that this is somewhat of a geeky thing. While there might be admittedly also a lot more fun and fulfillment in agile projects for software developers, there are BIG benefits for the business as well. In this blog post, I’ll have a look at agile projects from the business’ / sponsor’ point of view.

I believe the key to many advantages for the business is the following: The solution is being implemented in executable increments – you get a slice more of your solution with every sprint. You can review and give feedback all the way through. This implies a lot more transparency – rather than pouring money into a black box and waiting for months until you get a glimpse of the final result, you get it from early on, piece by piece. Plus, the most critical, highest priority requirements are implemented first.

Sounds nice? It gets better when you think it through: It gives you options back!

A few examples: You could go to market earlier, when you think you have generated enough value to offer to your customers. Or, you could stop the project, if you discover risks EARLY in the project that would make it too expensive / late / whatever.

It also facilitates informed cross-project prioritization and trade-offs: Imagine you’re a few months into a project, and another high-priority project comes up. In a waterfall environment, you might just be mid way through the implementation phase – a lot of design and implementation efforts have been invested, but no result is there yet. It may be prudent but very painful to stop the project at this point.
Now imagine you had run the project using Scrum or another agile framework: At this point, you would probably have some of the highest priority requirements implemented already. So even if you decided to stop the project (i.e., not implement remaining, lower-priority user stories), you would still have generated business value!

And b.t.w. – Net Present Value (NPV), a common method for financial project/investment appraisal is a great fit with agile approaches! But that’s the topic for my next blog post…

Entry filed under: Agile, Business and Change, Project Management, Uncategorized.

Reading Tip: Lean and Portfolio Management The Myth of Managing Change, part II

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mike Belch  |  January 14, 2010 at 23:44

    Interesting theory. Do you have any examples of companies that have applied Agile to non-software projects?

    Do you need a traditional program management approach to manage progress of all those small steps towards the end “big goal”? i.e. how to you ensure that the total is the sum of all the parts?

    Do shoot me down if I’m asking this because simply don’t understand Agile and point me to a book which will answer my question.

    • 2. Susanne Bartel  |  January 15, 2010 at 19:34

      Yes, agile can be applied to all sorts of projects, though it mostly seems to be used for some form of product development. I heard that one of the ‘role models’ and first adopters is the company Patientkeeper which sells an integrated health care solution. I also read about a computer circuits manufacturer but can’t remember the name. Toyota is actually applying a lot of agile and Lean principles!
      Ooh and a few articles / books I recently read suggest that a PMO (or whatever you call that body that does Portfolio / Programme Management) could or even should itself be agile. Interesting right?!
      Agile frameworks like Scrum do not give any prescription re. the field of application – there is nothing in there specific to software development, though this seems to be the area where it’s most widely used. Maybe because the pain with waterfall approaches was so big there ;)

      I’m not sure about your second question. Do you refer to one agile project? This is in itself ‘glued’ together by a ‘Product Backlog’ (PBL) which lists all requirements (in their order of priority) for the respective projects. It is owned by the Product Owner. The PBL is a very living and breathing document, but the pieces that get picked for every ‘sprint’ (one development iteration, 1-4 weeks) are then absolutely cast in stone.

      There are a lot of great books around. For a start, just go to YouTube and search for ‘Scrum’ (the most common agile framework). See also the link in one of my earlier blogs. The introductory book I read is only available in German, but just have a look at amazon. Mike Cohn is one of the ‘godfathers’ of agile. And a new book from Roman Pichler is just being pusblished I believe. I have the book ‘Agile Estimating and Planning’ by Mike Cohn, and it is very comprehensive and exceptionally well written.

      Phew, that was quite a long answer. Maybe this would have been worth another post ;) HTH!

  • 3. rainwebs  |  January 25, 2010 at 00:53

    Try the new book by Mike Cohn “Succeeding with Agile: Software Development Using Scrum”. It’s even better than the two others. Seems to become the new Scrum bible ;-).

  • 4. PM Hut  |  January 28, 2010 at 19:06


    I’ve actually published an article about the agile PMO early last year.

    Now about Agile in non-software projects, I don’t think it has really proven itself yet. Additionally, Agile is irrelevant for construction projects, for example, where mature PM methodologies are tested and proven.

  • 5. Susanne Bartel  |  February 4, 2010 at 13:09

    See part 2 on Net Present Value:


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January 2010

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