Thursday, 8 August 2013

‘Milestones’ are these still relevant in your projects?

The concept of milestones in projects was used to demonstrate defined progress in a project to a client so that they would make a payment linked to that progress. It was all about cash flow for a company. Now, the problem seems to be that milestones are linked to the decaying waterfall approach to software development, which is being replaced by agile methodologies. This is in response to the drive for faster development where uncertain business needs dominate.

Agile works with iterative spurts of work called sprints. So are sprints the new milestones?

If you'd like a quick refresher on the difference between the two approaches see our previous blogs and Is agile so different? (8.7.13).

Because there are many sprints in agile working where clients are kept involved defining whether the sprint has moved closer to what they want, it isn't feasible to marry phased payments to sprints. As there were fewer milestones over a longer period it was easier to link them to phased payments. How do you get paid for your work becomes the crucial question? If your clients agree to working in an agile development process, they may be quite happy to work on a time and materials contract. That means you do the work, keep a record of the hours, the people used, their respective rates and bill the client regularly, maybe even monthly. Exactly how companies get paid for their work – time and materials or fixed price contracts - still seems to be a well kept secret in iMedia.

There are other factors to take into account about milestones or their equivalents. Is isn't just that milestones are linked to waterfall methods of project management but that many of these types of projects have not produced a product that satisfies the client. The business needs may have changed over the course of the project without the project being re-aligned. However, it is true that many clients are comfortable with the concept of milestones and expect them in your spec. Are you finding conflicting expectations? Do your clients want agile approaches but with defined milestones? How are you managing in the transition process?

Perhaps the answer might lie in a mind-shift. Recently there has been criticism that milestones have not been linked to a business outcome and that this is why there is a dichotomy between development progress in terms of milestones achieved and outcomes for tangible business needs. See as an example David Walton, Businessworks (13.7.13) Focus on the outcome in change management. Many iMedia projects are in effect change management projects because they change the way a business operates in some ways.

So the middle ground for whichever way your company works – and some companies use both waterfall and agile approaches depending on the project's needs – might be lining up so-called milestones with attaining a defined business need.

It seems that agile is gaining credibility in other fields now, not just software development. Meaghan Fitzgerald uses the terms agile and milestone without hesitating, linking them to marketing needs in social media. For marketing needs read business needs and she has a lot in common with what David Walton was saying. See Creating Stories for Social Media Activity in an Agile Marketing Environment, 20.7.13, 'The Top Floor Flat'.

Lots of grounds for thought?