Thursday, 19 December 2013

Agile revisited

Last week's blog from the British Interactive Media Association was on the subject of Going Agile. It reports on a masterclass from Jo Wickremasinghe and Jim Bowes, one of an ongoing series of events from BIMA.

We've commented on Agile in the past. One difficult perception has been how to reconcile the inherent flexibility (which is a good thing) with budgetary planning and hitting deadlines. Jo Wickremasinghe noted that an agile approach has flexibility to cope with big changes that can (and usually do) derail waterfall projects. Change a major parameter and how would the project cope? This becomes especially crucial where a project has a long time scale. (Cue notes about big UK Govt and BBC IT projects.)

You can build mid-term re-assessment into long projects. The European Commission did this with large long-term research projects, even allowing changes of consortium partners. In iMedia terms though this is rather like trying to dam the waterfall part-way down. Having relatively short and clearly defined mini-projects (ie agile sprints) and having the flexibility to plan individual sprints almost as you go along, as circumstances and stakeholder minds change, has to be a better way.

It is easiest if the project can be divided into constituent parts that can be sprinted almost independently, in any order. If you can make features functionally independent then you can sprint them individually. I am about to start on a project like this and even though it's being scoped and checked by potential users we know that real users only come up with good suggestions when they start to use the 'completed' system. Taking an agile approach means features can be released along the timeline, giving more scope for changes.

Moving back to the BIMA presentations, one of Jim Bowes's slides shows a product vision board. With this you can elucidate the target market, what they need, what the product is and what is the value of doing it. He boils it down to one sentence: "As a user I can do this and I get that benefit". For example, "As a user I can find the latest digital camera reviews so I can choose the right one for me".

I recommend checking back to the BIMA blog occasionally, and maybe their events will make it useful for your company to join, especially if you're London-based.