Saturday 3 October 2009

I think you might have it backwards

The most common criticism I hear about agile is also the most common mistake teams make in their early adoption of iterative practices - not fixing any certainty.

One of the benefits of managing projects using, for example, SCRUM is that you're not burdened with having to define all the requirements up front and plan out all the tasks and times for all the resources for 6, 12, 18 months. Trying to precisely define everything a project needs up front and trying to plan for every dependency, holiday, resource issue, structural or strategic change over a long period of time proves again and again to be an impractical task.

Enter agile.

Suddenly we don't have to worry about the detail of every change and every movement over an entire year, and we're introducing a whole bunch of flexibility. Where it goes wrong is not fixing any certainty in the delivery process at all.

Agile is about certainty and detailed planning, just detailed planning over a period which is possible to predict. Who knows what'll happen over a year, but you at least have a fighting chance of planning out the next 2-4 weeks will some degree of accuracy. Beyond that you can keep plans and requirements fluid and high level, netting you the right balance of fixing doable deliverables and keeping flexibility.

Software delivery needs certainty to happen - you have to be able to rely on some requirements and some resources over some time span in order to make progress - and agile isn't about not having any, it's about having it on terms you can foresee.

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