The true DNA of an agile project (exploding the myths)

Ignore the new vocabulary and you’ll find nothing new in the concepts.

If you have heard me pour scorn over some of the claims made for agile, you may be surprised to know that I’m an agile practitioner with some considerable experience and not at all adverse to the approach.  That said, I always repeat the words of my agile mentor Keith Richards (no not him silly) when I asked the obvious silly question. He said ” It’s horses for courses.  When you turn up for training we assume a certain level of education, intelligence and experience”.

OK so what is the big noise about. Well the underlying promise of agile emerged back in the seventies soon after the first Standish report when some of the industry leaders cooked up an alternative to the waterfall way of wasting money.
The theory and indeed the practice is totally valid when followed with a level of honesty.  You tell me how much you can spend, or how long you have and I’ll guarantee you a working system.
Note the difference from waterfall where you have two options: fix both budget and time and have a failure nine times out of ten, or fix  just one and reduce the odds by 2/3.(MSF).

Agile delivers on the promise when billed honestly and executed  honestly.
Here’s the metaphor.  Say you meet with your co-directors and agree that right now the thing that will  accelerate you to your goals is an very large extra table  in the boardroom with a tiny door and spiral staircase and you have only £n  to spend, or n months to deliver it. I will discuss your needs at length, then I will come back with a proposal that looks like this.

The minimum required to make this work is a top and thee legs. You don’t need four to make a table work, though I agree it would be nice.  It can’t be bought and even the top has to be constructed on site.
The legs are standard things and fundamental so I will order three of these and have them delivered.
We will start making prototypes using scrap wood  for legs and sticking planks together until we have a table that is just stable enough and functional enough to meet your needs.

This we are confident we can achieve within your constraints, if we have extra time or budget, which I expect we will have, we can add a fourth leg, or smooth it over, or add a coat of varnish. You can decide when the time comes, which is more important. That’s it. No miracles, no free lunches, just less pontification, more action and a product that is fit for purpose, if not always entirely pretty.

 When you wouldn’t use agile.

You would never use it to build a space shuttle. That type of project requires a right first time approach.  I shouldn’t joke about a tragedy like that. There can never be a serious consequence of getting it wrong first time. You shouldn’t use it unless you are bought in fully to the three legged table, if your mind is set on four, stick to what you know. If you are buying in the team either as contractors or a service company, it is risky, because highly competent  people is a prerequisite.
If your main motivation is to be involved on a day to day basis as opposed to making a decision up front. It is poison, keep away.

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