Is Agile a Good Fit for Process Improvement Projects?
Even though Agile originated from software development, it can be used for non-software projects too. Most Agile supporters will say that Agile can be used to deliver any type of project, but is that actually the case? Like other methodologies, Agile is a good fit in some cases and not in others.
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Agile methodologies work very well for projects where:
- The leader/sponsor has a clear vision but all the requirements can’t be spelled out upfront.
- Requirements are evolving, things become more clear with time (cone of uncertainty).
- The product of the project can be delivered/improved iteratively.
- Changes are expected, even later in the project.
- Time and cost are fixed, but the scope is flexible.
- Sponsors, customers, and stakeholders are anxious to consume low hanging fruit ASAP without waiting for entire project to finish.
- Customers are highly involved in the project.
Most process improvement projects satisfy most of the above requirements, and can be implemented iteratively. The leader or the sponsor has an idea of what kind of process improvements are needed but he/she may not know all the details upfront. The project manager leading the process improvement project normally identifies the top 3-5 requirements and develops a plan to consume the low hanging fruit. The requirement analysis, design, and implementation of new processes based on such top priority items and may start even before all requirements have been identified. The implementation of the new processes may also be done in an iterative manner, one department/group at a time, incorporating feedback from the previous implementation into next one.
While high priority items are worked upon, the next set of possible requirements can be identified and prioritized. The next couple of high priority requirements can then be analyzed, designed, and implemented. The process can be repeated as long as the project sponsor and stakeholders want to continue.
Another aspect of process improvement projects is that they require very heavy involvement of customers and stakeholders while the current process is being analyzed and the new process is being designed and implemented. Without heavy customer and stakeholder involvement, no process improvement project can succeed.
Process improvement projects are naturally iterative as they follow Deming’s PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle over and over again. The product of such a project, which is the improved and refined process, can thus be delivered in small increments over several iterations, making it a natural fit for Agile.
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