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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Agile Project Management and Competitive Advantage

I wrote earlier about what I consider to be the core of why Agile methods work - small wins and increasing momemtum.

Now I'd like to offer a rationale for why anyone managing a software project should at least consider using an Agile approach for managing releases, if not for the actual development itself.

Turns out it's the same rationale as above - small wins.

The primary job of management is to ensure that customers are getting outstanding value (this makes them cheerfully continue as customers), while controlling costs, and reducing risks to the business.

In software development, value mostly takes the form of features - things that help the customer make more revenue, reduce costs, or increase productivity.

Of course, until the features are actually delivered, put into production, and leveraged by the customer, no value can be realized.

This means that your management won't know if they're doing their job until you've delivered software to someone, and they tell you it's solving the problem they had.

So if you put on your management hat, would you like to know this sooner or later?

Looking at the risk side of the equation, the more features that are in development for an extended time period, the higher the risk that customer needs will change. Not to mention technology, market conditions, company budgets, and leadership.

Now, there's obviously a limit to how frequently you can deliver value, isn't there?

Your customers couldn't handle a new release every month, right? What about every week? Shocking!

On the other hand, what if you delivered just one important feature that didn't break anything? Or that didn't require re-training, extensive documentation, tedious software installations, database migrations, follow-on patches, and numerous support calls to take advantage of?

What would your customers think then?

If software vendors (or internal IT development teams) could deliver incremental value whose benefit far exceeded the cost of upgrading, what might customers say about your company or team?

And if your competitors couldn't do this as effectively (for internal teams, your competitors are outsourcing firms), would your customers accept them as substitutes?

Agile methods aren't just about making your programmers happy, they're also about delighting your customers, saving your CEO's job, and mkaing your less agile competitors very unhappy.

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