Visualizing Agile Value

One of the most important benefits of Agile Work is the early and continuous delivery of value to stakeholders. When I am coaching or presenting on Agile Work, almost inevitably I draw a very simple diagram on a convenient whiteboard or flipchart that demonstrates this benefit and contrasts it to a big-bang, waterfall approach to work.


The horizontal axis is time and the vertical axis is dollars/euros/whatever. The blue line represents the value that the agile team is delivering to stakeholders at any moment in time. (To be precise, it is the instantaneous net-present-value delivered… and therefore the area under the curve represents the total value delivered.) The red line is a spike of value delivered at the end of a waterfall project. The grey horizontal line is the constant cost (opportunity cost should be factored in) of a cross-functional agile team.

We can see clearly that an Agile team delivers value continuously. However, the shape of the curve also indicates that most of the value is delivered early on. This is the result of having a backlog of work items that are prioritized primarily by value. The initial up-slope of the curve represents the agile team getting accustomed to the work (and each other) and speeding up as they do so.

The waterfall delivery of work has the big disadvantage that if for some reason the project doesn’t get completed, you are left with nothing of value!

And here’s another Bonus Quiz Question:

The point where the blue curve of value delivery crosses the grey line of the cost of the team is a very important point… what does it represent?

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