Increasing Business Value by Adopting Agile Methods

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was adopted by many engineering disciplines including software development. [1] A leading insurance company was having hard time keeping critical software up to date in a rapidly changing regulatory and reporting environment. The company did two things. First, it determined that disciplined and skilled application of agile methods would guarantee faster and more efficient response to external changes. Secondly, it created a common architecture across web applications, sales and contract execution systems, and accounting applications. By harnessing the flexibility of agile methods the company reacted faster to change. Moreover, by reusing common application code across multiple application domains, it cut costs and became more efficient.

If you are a product company, your product's features may well be your primary business value. In that case, it may be beneficial to rank each feature according to its expected projected revenue, cost and time to develop, and the opportunity cost of delays or not developing it.

TaxFile Inc. was in the process of evaluating a set of new features for the next release of its flagship tax filing software when the Product Manager came up with a chart (see Figure 1).

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Figure1: Business value can be a key factor in your selection of new features

Clearly, time-to-market was a major driver for TaxFile. As the costs of delays ran high, the company was forced to look for ways to get critical features to the market faster. It found the solution in defining business value in objective and measurable terms.

Assessing Agile Practices
Once the business value is defined, try to evaluate each Agile practice according to its contribution to your objectives. Do not be afraid to mix and match agile methods to find the best solution. Because there is a lot of hype around various agile methods. many companies are naturally left wondering if certain practices are “OK” according to a particular method. Tryout each practice in the pilot project and evaluate the results for yourself. It is OK to try a new practice and fail during the pilot project. In fact, that’s why you're conducting it. As Thomas Edison famously noted "...you are not going to fail. You'll just find 10,000 ways that won't work...” [2]

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Selecting and Adopting Agile Practices
The third element of a successful agile adoption is the careful selection and disciplined implementation of agile practices. When it comes to selecting agile practices there is no shortage of views. These vary greatly depending on the practitioner and can sometimes be recommended by the individual agile methods such as XP, Scrum, Lean, DSDM, and Lean.

It is possible to distill these views into two major groups: one advocating an all-or-nothing method adoption and the other leaving room for process customization. One can label these opposing approaches as Table d'hôte Agile vs. A la Carte Agile. {3] The difference is clear: in the first you are bound by the rules of the particular method, while the second allows you to pick and choose what to adopt. The number of companies practicing Table d'hôte

Agile is small compared to the rest. The levels of agile adoption in these companies also tend to be limited compared to the companies allowed to choose the agile practices that serve their particular business needs.

Measuring Success in Agile Projects

The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.” -- John Foster Dulles

Defining business value in objective and measurable terms set the stage for measuring the success of your agile initiative. It needs to be supported by a

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