The fact that agile methods increase return on investment, accelerate learning, increase stakeholder satisfaction, and enable better control of work are all an interesting result of this final benefit: responding to change.
Responding to Change
The whole idea of “agile”, and one of the primary reasons for the choice of this word is the final item of the Agile Manifesto: “Responding to Change”. It is clear that this is one of the distinguishing features of agile as compared to a more traditional waterfall or phase-based approach to working. Not so obvious is that this is also true about agile compared to a more chaotic or ad-hoc way of working.
Agile and Waterfall – Change “Control”
In most waterfall or phase-based approaches to working, change control is a technique used to evaluate change requests and then accept or reject them. The practical consequence of this is that “control” often becomes a euphemism for “prevent at almost any price”, and we end up with results that satisfy no-one because life changes.
There are, of course, some changes that are accepted even in a change control environment. These changes tend to be the ones that have both a powerful sponsor and a “wealthy” sponsor. The next problem with change control relates to the fact that change becomes very expensive in a phase-based process. It usually means going back to the “beginning” and re-examining the other requirements, the analysis, the design/architecture, the development/construction, the testing and the impact is necessarily large for all but the most trivial changes.
Agile methods turn this on it’s head. By allowing (nay, building in!) change every iteration, every cycle, the team and the organization start to get good at accommodating change. The value of this effect cannot be over-estimated; getting good at doing change is a natural consequence of accepting change all the time in a structured manner, and in fact, leads to all the other four benefits: increased learning, increased ROI, increased stakeholder satisfaction, and increased control. The cost of change stabilizes over time instead of increasing exponentially!
Agile and Chaos – The Illusion of Changability
Unfortunately, I am not aware of any studies that target chaotic (non-process) environments to see what kind of results they have in delivering results. (If anyone is aware of such studies, please let me know in the comments!) That said, I think almost everyone has had some experience in environments where the winds of change were so severe and fickle, and the structures to support working with change were non-existent, that chaos reigned. These environments are almost completely negative: things don’t get done in a timely manner nor with an acceptable level of quality.
Often the reason for this lack of structure is about flexibility, needing to work in an environment which is also extremely chaotic. Sometimes its worse though: management or stakeholders are the cause of chaos without understanding the consequences of their actions.
Agile methods put a sufficient structure in place to build some discipline, and still remain adaptable. This sufficient structure is often built by gradual application of various agile practices until there is “just enough”. This process does require dedication and will, but because it is gradual, it is often much easier than trying to suddenly put in place a full-scale disciplined process.
As these practices are implemented, the team and organization gradually become better and better at accommodating change.
Agile Benefits: Rapid Learning
Agile Benefits: Early Return on Investment
Agile Benefits: Satisfied Stakeholders
Agile Benefits: Increased Control
Agile Benefits: Responsiveness to Change
Agile Benefits: Summary Article