A commonly misunderstood aspect of successfully delivering Agile projects is the need for decentralized decision-making. This means that key project members, including Business Owners, Product Owners, Scrum Masters, and End User Representatives must understand about their individual roles and responsibilities for decision making as well as the direction of the entire project.
Business Owners, Product Owners, Scrum Masters and End User Representatives all have a part in ensuring that the project team is building the solution that best aligns with client needs. To find the right solution, these team members must establish "guardrails" - standards, checks, and reviews - to keep development on track and achieve the desired business outcomes.
Initial Project Scoping
The first general set of guardrails for an Agile project is produced during the project's process of initial scoping. More specifically, initial project scoping should clearly establish the priorities of the project and any business outcomes to be achieved. These priorities and outcomes should then be agreed upon by the entire project team in alignment with the customer's needs.
It is vital to stablish and maintain the project's focus that initial scoping takes place before any other project activity. Activities such as design and coding should not start until until the project's architecture, definition, development standards, and preliminary design are confirmed and aligned with the customer's requirements.
Definition of Done
Another important guardrail is the Agile project's Definition of Done, or DoD, which describes what is required by any deliverable to be regarded as "complete" and count towards the velocity of a project. This guardrail, created and agreed upon the entire project team, ensures that expectations of each deliverable are aligned toward project goals and individual expectations.
Much like initial scoping, the DoD for a whole project or for individual deliverables can provide much-needed guidance for maintaining a single direction and specific focus of a project. The DoD will also maximize efficiency by ensuring that every team activity is providing value in the project.
Minimum Viable Product
Another useful guardrail for any Agile project is the definition of a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, which is a coherent set of features used to deliver usable software for a project. Once a project reaches its MVP requirements, it is ready for its first release.
As described by the Defense Science Board, the MVP requires the security, integration, performance, and usability objectives are attained in order for a project iteration to be considered as “viable.” Additionally, the MVP must ensure that the project team understands why, what and how to build the software to meet the business objectives.
Other requirements of an MVP include:
1. Business Owners acceptance of the release plan and sign off of the Epics and Stories to be included in each release. Essentially, this is the written agreement of the business priorities needed to achieve the project's required outcomes.
2. Technical Authorities sign off of the solution architecture. This includes approval of the project's software, system, security, integration, and data architectures, as well as its coding and development standards.
3. Product Owner and End User Representatives acceptance of the project's Epics, Stories, and any preliminary designs, such as wireframes and mock-ups, which describe the project workflows and features.
Level of Detail
One final guardrail for keeping Agile development on track is keeping in mind the level of detail of each project artifact. Artifacts should start with a high level of detail and continuously be refined by the project team during each iteration of the project. This will help to:
- Embed Agile philosophy within the project team and stakeholders
- Constantly engage the client in setting and adjusting priorities
- Ensure strong adherence to the basic Agile/Sprint methodology, principles, and best practices
- Adapt and adopt tools as needed throughout the project while consistently following an Agile framework
Image: Liam Speden
Having guardrails such as initial project scoping, DoD, MVP, and defining the level of detail of each artifact provides necessary checkpoints for any Agile project. These checkpoints help to describe what success looks like before starting a project and will ensure that the project team is constantly kept on track, as well as helping to prevent “faux Agile,” which focuses solely on end-user without considering project design or solution documentation.
To avoid frustration for Business Owners and End User representatives, keeping in mind these four guardrails is essential for saving time and energy throughout a project and therefore maintaining the efficiency that an Agile project requires.