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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Agile Project Management: What's In It For The Customers?

One question I'm asked frequently is how Agile project management is different from traditional project management.

Normally I start talking about iterations, planning, user stories, and the like, but I get a decent number of blank stares in response.

I like to think I'm pretty good at explaining things, so I tried to figure out what was missing from my description. Is it the terminology? Do I need more examples? Is this something that non-techies just can't comprehend?

Then it hit me - like all other concepts, products, or services, Agile project management needs to be explained in terms of it's benefits, not it's attributes. The real question people were asking me was "How will this benefit me?", not "How does it work?"

So without further ado, here are the benefits of Agile project management for software teams in customer terms:

1. More Requirements Flexibility (Ability to Undo Screw ups) - because of the quick development cycles that produce working software, an agile approach keeps mistakes shallow, and let's you correct your mistakes or in company political terminology "refine your solution".

2. Reduced Project Risk (No Need to Explain Lengthy Delays and Cost Overruns) - because of the frequent planning and estimating sessions (at least once per month), you'll know very quickly if the project is off schedule, and you'll have control over what to do to get it back on. This leads to better predictability, less embarrassment, and happier stakeholders.

3. Transparent Project Management (Trust, But Verify) - having visibility into which features (stories) are being worked on, and being able to actually use the software after each iteration means that you can verify progress instead of relying on a set of lines on a Gantt chart. This helps with both internal teams and outside consultants.

4. Early Delivery of Value (Can I Have That Now?) - because Agile projects deliver the most important things first, you can decide to deploy a system much earlier than planned if business circumstances dictate that. Sometimes there is enough value in the top 10 features that the remaining 100 can wait. And delivering value is sort of the point of most of our jobs, after all.

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  • I would add the key differentiator from traditional PM activities and Agile is the shift from control and command techniques to servant leadership. The project manager (or ScrumMaster) primary responsibility is to protect and motivate the team. I have found this shift to be the most difficult for traditional PMs, it requires them to unwire their brain somewhat.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:05 PM  

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