Agile do it better?


Agile is not a silver bullet to low cost and do things better at all with the same team you always use for RUP or Waterfall project, or worst with a new inexperienced team, just because “Agile do it better!”.
I appreciate a metaphor that could be our starting point for the discussion:
“Waterfall is like determining where your child will go to college while he’s still in diapers: you hope for Harvard, you save money, lecture the kid on value of a good education but…”
“Agile is like reading age appropriate stories to your child, reading just ahead on childhood development, testing and adapting, rather than expecting and looking for expectation.”
Before you go on, I want to make it clear that if your project have to solve a well known problem, not likely to change with a well defined scope (maintenance is a common example), please stop reading… in this scenario selling or buying agile project for cost saving isn’t always a good idea: I’ll explain because Agile is about lower overall cost but lower overall cost isn’t doing things cheap!.

  • Agile addresses risk in concrete way in case the client really don’t know what he wants or needs until they’re in it (a classic statement is “If I can’t see I can’t decide what I want!”). Otherwise, if he knows his willing and he had the capability to express and communicate his requirements in appropriate way (I have still to meet such this client!), you can do it traditional way!
  • Agile doesn’t aim to be a low-cost alternative at all. In Agile the client pays for the risk reduction that an Agile team provides and, considering only an overall cost component of the project, the unit cost for an Agile project could be higher. But within that kind of project the client get as much ROI as their budget will allow over well-defined periods: shorten time-to-market, increase adaptability and reap greater ROI over the lifetime of a product. Earlyer opportunities to start getting ROI with the Agile ability to sell some critical subset of the features to a subset of your potential users providing a good value to some of your market even if the product lacks some features. Even if a project ends prematurely, the client has something of value.
    The benefits are about revenue, not costs. One more time: if the overall cost is our client only concern, Agile is not our silver bullet!
  • If a company doesn’t matter about quality and defect costs, it ignores a cost component of its project which sooner or later it will pay. In this scenario, one more time, Agile (which takes more effort/work to quality, testing and evolutionary design) will look more expensive on our costs spreadsheet.
    If you want code without automated tests you can do your project in half the time… do it traditional way! But what will cost later? (I hope you’ll never curse the missing of non-regression tests!)
    Or Even more, from a business perspective, I can plan and design everything now but what will be the cost of business/process unknowns and market changes later when I can’t handle it?
  • Early or late some projects are doomed to fail, no matter what method is used to develop them. Earlier you can measure your project success, earlier you can react appropriately and either turn things around or in the worst case scenario re-direct the remaining resources into something else that will hopefully provide ROI. The way Agile works tends to get feedback early and if something if something just isn’t going to work no matter what (technical problems or improvements, market changes, business model corrections).
  • Inexperienced team will be inexperienced team no matter the project methodology. Agile, with smaller iterations and frequent process review, allows an inexperienced team to learn and improve faster if well coached.

Before you will start to embrace Agile for your project, take some times to evaluate other components: customer relationship, contractual constraints, far-located teams, …
No one methodology is automatically best suited for all the project, product, customer and team. Find your own way!

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