Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Agile Change and Rework Waste

One the main benefits of Agile methodologies is adaptability to change. Changes occur in all projects, Agile or not, but Agile projects are better equipped to handle the changes through short iterations and ongoing adaptation to new requirements. The customer does not need to specify everything upfront. As the system is being developed, he can refine the system with the knowledge that was obtained from previous iterations.

Now, there is a difference between refining the product, re-prioritizing certain features, redefining the unimplemented features on the one hand, and discarding an implementation of already developed features on the other hand. Discarding often occurs because “now i see it differently” or because “that’s not what I wanted”. Granted, as people discover more about the product, their needs and requirements change.  However, the proper way to address it is to implement the minimal and agreed agreed functionality first, and then “grow” it according to evolving understanding of the system.

Unfortunately, people often confuse iterative and incremental development. Iterative development means that a team develops bare bones of a feature and then grows it. Incremental development means that one whole feature is implemented after another whole feature.  In such case, if the implementation is wrong, then most of the effort is wasted, and the feature must be reworked.  This is not the Agile change management – this is waste, and it should be rigorously eliminated (think Lean). 

An alternative to wasting effort on implementation of misunderstood, or incorrectly specified functionality, is not to request the customers to sign the requirements in blood. It is to structure the implementation in such a way that least debatable or more clearly understood and agreed upon functionality is implemented first. If there are areas that are likely to undergo significant amount of change, it's worthwhile to prototype them before committing to a full-fledged implementation. Changing prototypes is a lot cheaper than changing actual implementation.

For example, say you need to implement user management functionality in a back office part of your application.  You could try to specify all fields that are required, you could make guesses, or you could torture your customer to divulge the secrets of user’s information. Or, alternatively, you could just implement a very basic set of properties (first/last name, address, birth date) in initial iteration, and later “grow” the user data as requested by the customer.

Furthermore,  it is in customer’s and provider’s best interests to think the requirements through before starting their implementation. Incomplete and incorrect specs cannot be miraculously cured by Agile methodologies. What’s incorrectly specified will be incorrectly implemented. So spend the time analyzing and planning what and how things will be implemented during the upcoming iteration or release.

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