Integrating Agile in a Waterfall Practice (Part 5): Helpful Tools in Implementing Your Agile Strategy
(This is the fifth in a five-part series on this topic where we will discuss how organizations can approach or refine their Agile delivery methods.)
So far we’ve discussed 1) the various methodologies and how they compare, 2) focused in on Agile as a family of methodologies, as well as a mindset shift, 3) came up with an Agile strategy for the organization, and 4) discussed the implementation considerations for your strategy. Let’s close this series out with a discussion on the considerations for tools you can use to help you in your Agile journey.
In this article, we won’t be discussing specific tools and recommendations, but rather some considerations as you begin your tool selection. It won’t take long to find there are many different and various tools available; some specific to cost, schedule and requirements, and others that integrate across the Agile management categories. As we begin exploring these tools, though, keep in mind Agile at its core is about humans and collaborative human interactions, so your tool selection should be supportive of, not a replacement for, those interactions.
Another consideration in tools selection is to start simply and then build complexity once you have a fuller understanding of your requirements. Focus in on the value-added capabilities first. Hey, it sounds a lot like an Agile project! In fact, it may be a good idea to launch one of the first Agile projects in your enterprise to understand your Agile tools, reporting, and management requirements in a backlog, and manage the delivery in an Agile project. This will be largely influenced by your strategy, whether you are incorporating Agile as your primary delivery methodology or just as another delivery method either as a stand-alone or hybrid.
Agile Requirements Management
In the Agile methodology, requirements are managed in a backlog. This is not a general term as it is normally considered to be a list of “to-dos” but specifically defines a format and purpose. The requirement is in the form of a user story and all the characteristics of a user story become equivalent to a requirements traceability matrix (acceptance criteria, status, etc.). A strong backlog tool will include the ability to manage the features (high-level scope) you plan to deliver, be able to show linkage between the features and the user stories and is often broken down from epics to show progress against high-level deliverables. In addition, consider how you are going to track the tasks the team comes up with to deliver those stories. Will you keep them associated with the backlog or potentially move them into the schedule management tool?
Agile Schedule Management
Scheduling in Agile, in its simplest form, is an estimation and tracking of the sprints required to fully deliver the project scope. There are various methods to calculate the estimated number of sprints available, including ones you can find in PMI’s Agile Practice Guide. It can be straight forward to track your sprint counts and estimated completion dates for the project, but this becomes a little more complex when trying to show completion dates for features as an example. Because the team is selecting the stories at the start of each sprint it’s not so easy to forecast in which sprint all the stories associated with that feature will be completed. Therefore, scheduling tools designed for the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) approach with associated dependencies become less helpful than those specifically designed around sprint planning and execution.
Agile Cost Management
Most of the Agile tools available do not have a cost tracking component since this is primarily done by labor burn rate along with estimation and tracking of fixed costs. You will need to work with your finance team to determine how they want to forecast costs along with any risk related contingency forecasting and management. In most organizations this will typically be in an Excel-based tool. There is a model of a burn rate forecasting and tracking tool found in Mike Griffith’s book Leading Answers you may find very helpful. If you are in a hybrid model, the tracking of costs at the activity level can be achieved if you consider the total burn for a sprint as the equivalent of an activity cost. One note on this – it is important to understand Earned Value Management is materially different in Agile when compared to traditional project management, so it is best measure and report those separately if it’s how your organization tracks project performance.
Agile Management Reporting
Reporting can be a challenge in either launching an Agile strategy or, even more so, in a hybrid model. Agile measures projects differently than traditional approaches and uses different performance-related terms as well. If you try to combine or correlate terms to mean the same things you run the risk of eroding two things; 1) the organization's transformation to the mindset which welcomes change and focuses primarily on value delivered, and 2) can cause a disconnect between what you are reporting and the actual health of the project. Also, if in implementing your Agile strategy there remains individual performance rewards conflicting with the team objectives of Agile, you will likely see very slow adoption of the core Agile principles.
Hopefully, these are some helpful considerations for you as you begin or refine your Agile journey. We look forward to helping you move along your way, feel free to reach out to us and explore the ways we can serve you in your endeavors!