The cost of Agile

 

A lot of customers want to run their projects Agile. Agile is hot, sexy and all the cool kids are doing it.

But when your customer asks you to run their project Agile, do they really know what they are getting into?

Everybody likes the advantages of Agile: the daily stand-ups, the working product at the end of every iteration, the team working on features that add value. But there is a cost and a time commitment that is not always expected or understood.

An Agile project runs on user stories. “As a website admin, I want to Create a new user”. “As a new user, I want to Register on the site”. “As a user, I want to Sign up for a course”. A well crafted Agile story is made up of acceptance criteria that defines all the business rules behind the story. If a user wants to sign up for a course, what are the rules? Can they select any course? Can they select more than one course? Can they select a course that has already started? Can they select a course that starts tomorrow and it is 9 PM today? Can they sign up if they are currently enrolled in another course? What if the current course ends before the other one begins? And so on and so forth.

Somebody has to define all these stories and think trough all these scenarios. That somebody is your customer. In an Agile project, no longer can they simply work with you through the analysis phase, wait for you to write up the spec document, approve the spec and walk away awaiting the first demo milestone. In an Agile project, the customer has to be involved a lot more, almost every step of the way as stories are being written. Are they willing to make that commitment?

The other side of user stories is that somebody actually has to write them. A business analyst or an architect has to work with the customer to think through all the scenarios and to capture them into stories that will then feed the development team. Depending on the size of the team, there may need to be multiple authors. 1 author should be able to keep up with a team of 2 – 3 developers. But once the team grows to 4, 5 or more, the developers will generally consume stories faster than 1 author can write them. And considering that the story author wants to stay at least 1, if not 2 sprints ahead of the developers, story writing becomes a full time job, which will add to the cost of the project.

So when a customer asks you to run their project as Agile, make sure they understand what’s involved. Start your project with an education session on what it means to do an Agile project, explain the time commitment on their part and the additional cost to the project. And if at the end they still want to do it, make them sign something, an Agile manifesto of sorts.

 

5 Responses

  1. Hi Alex,

    It’s rare to see someone criticizing Agile or mentioning the disadvantages of Agile (we have published the Agile limitations here).

    As such, I would like to republish your post on PM Hut where many project managers (who don’t know about the real cost of Agile) will benefit from it.

    Please either email me or contact me through the “contact us” form on the PM Hut website in case you’re OK with this.

  2. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing Agile. I love it.
    Just wanted to point out a couple of things that customers should be aware of when asking for Agile projects. There’s a commitment on their part that is not trivial.
    I would be flattered to have my post republished on your site.

  3. Well said! Thank you for delivering such a clear message, that really helps!

  4. Nice post Alex, Blind commitment for doing agile for customers is prevalent in service world these days where teams are auto signed for problems to which they don’t have code fixes 🙂 Its time for people to leverage systems thinking approach to uncover the hidden costs & implications in real world for wrong/blind adoption of agile.

  5. Thanks. Appreciate the good feedback.

    Was looking through your blog. Some good observations on Agile there. Gonna have to become a regular reader, I think.

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