The heart of agile – it’s very essence – is the principle that the best solutions come from exploring the evolving solution with the customer, rather than specifying it all up front and presenting them with the solution at the end. Are we agreed so far? Good!
But this means that customer collaboration is the one key essential element that makes agile what it is. All of the other techniques – user stories, planning poker, stand-ups, retrospectives, collaborative planning, etc – are designed with this in mind. Without active and constant business involvement, they just don’t work as well, and teams find themselves making compromises. Without active business involvement on a daily basis, teams are forced into getting the most out of the limited time they do have with the business by doing more and more specification in advance. This is a perfectly reasonable response to the problem of a lack of business involvement, but it does limit your agility.
Look at your user stories. Are they just a single sentence in the recognised Cohn format, with genuine acceptance criteria? Do you leave the details until the time you code up the solution, when you can discuss it with the business? Or not?
Being Agile is ALL about active user/business/customer involvement. Without that, you cannot be effectively agile. But you shouldn’t pretend that you are, either.
So what’s left? If you really cannot get the required level of business involvement, you can tailor the DSDM Atern lifecycle to compensate. Start by doing more during Foundations – do more visioning, design and modelling, and plan in more detail to ensure that you can schedule business activities early and get their commitment. You might also consider the focus of each timebox: Exploration, Engineering or both. Think about how the lack of business involvement limits your velocity, and plan around that to ensure you can make best progress without leaving all your business acceptance testing to the end.
Remember, the goal is still the early delivery of real business value.