Monday, April 7, 2008

What is an agile project?

It seems that I have a different view of what an agile project is, compared to most of the people I talk to about it. Maybe it is because I am involved in business as well being a software developer.

I assume a software project exists as part of meeting some objective. Often it is a business objective, but could also be non-commercial, such as academic. I will call the party (business or academia) that has the objective and that is paying for the project, the customer.

Looking up the dictionary on the Mac I am writing this with, the definition of agile is:

able to move quickly and easily

Applying that to a software project, I see it as a project where the customer has been able to quickly and easily move in their attempt to achieve their objective.[1]

The interesting twist on all of this, is that at the beginning of a project, the customer usually doesn't know precisely what they want to have at the end of the project. I can think of a few reasons for this:

  1. When design/programming starts, some of the requirements are ambiguous and/or logically inconsistent

  2. There are known problems yet to be solved

  3. For some reason, after work starts, but before it is finished, the customer decides that the set of requirements is different

The standard 'Agile' way of dealing with these issues is to accept them and then have the customer heavily involved throughout the project, clarifying ambiguities, making cost/benefit decisions when presented with alternative solutions, planning and re-planning. (i.e. scope and cost are more transparent and can be pro-actively managed in a holistic manner by the appropriate party)

Now, a project may use an existing Agile Methodology to define the process they will follow. Developers may use particular 'Agile' development techniques that they think will support the project. However, if both of these occur on a project with the above issues, but the active customer involvement is missing, then by the previous definitions the project is not agile.

Unfortunately some of the 'Agile' projects I have been involved with and most of the 'Agile' projects I talk with people about are in this category.

[1] Quickly and easily is relative to the actual complexity of their objective

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