Look at this from an organisational perspective. The portfolio of projects currently underway in your organisation represents a significant investment. Assuming they are following an Agile approach, how do you know that they are being well managed? The project manager needs to demonstrate that the project is fully under control.
The key is to ensure that the project manager is tracking and reporting the right things, and doing so in a manner which involves all the appropriate stakeholders. These elements of control are :
Risk, Benefit, Quality, Resource, Time, Cost, and Features
The project team should be able to demonstrate that risks have been identified, they have determined how much risk is tolerable, and are managing risks appropriately.
Identifying the business benefit to be delivered is one of the key steps in the early Feasibility and Foundations stages, defined as the Must Have and Should Have requirements. These are easily monitored as each is delivered.
The level of Quality, too, should be determined during Foundations, and monitored by testing adherence to those acceptance criteria regularly and repeatedly.
The resources being used on a project are also easily measured on an ongoing basis, and are linked to the costs. Fix the resources (as we should on an agile team) and it implies the costs are fixed as well.
DSDM Atern is specifically designed to guarantee on-time delivery. Consider this diagram:
The left-hand side represents the traditional approach – fix the scope and then estimate the time taken to deliver it all.
The right-hand side represents the Atern approach – determine a realistic estimate for delivery of the scope of the project, fix that date and then flex the detailed features according to business priority in order to meet that delivery date.
Now, how do you ensure that the projects are going to deliver on time? And what are they going to deliver?
Firstly, make sure that you have done enough up-front thinking during the Foundations phase. It is well worthwhile having a formal review with the project stakeholders at this point to ensure that the project team is properly prepared to start building a solution (see the post on Foundations for details).
Atern, like other agile methods, emphasises iterative delivery. And – think about it – this provides a simple means of tracking progress. At the end of each timebox, demonstrate to your stakeholders what you have delivered, and that you are on track (or not) to deliver all the Must Have and Should Have requirements on the date scheduled. If not, corrective action can be taken sooner rather than later. These regular review points provide the perfect opportunity to ensure that the project is still on target to achieve its benefits and to review the processes and practices in use and whether they need to be changed to make the team more effective (the retrospective – don’t underestimate the benefits of running these).
The key is communication. Making these measures visible is vital to ensuring a healthy project environment. So:
1) Involve the whole team in planning workshops. Make sure the whole team commits to the plans each timebox
2) Hold demonstrations to a wider business audience whenever appropriate.
3) Report on progress within the team daily, and externally at the end of every timebox, based on requirements (user stories) delivered and accepted by the person who raised the requirement in the first place, according to identified acceptance criteria.
4) Involve the business and stakeholders at every opportunity.
Make sure that what is being reported is factual. Making visible measures of all the control elements at the lowest level – the development timebox – means that stakeholders will have little need of any other subjective, biased status reports because they are involved and can see first-hand what is going on.
Engagement and communication is the key to making this work.