Delivering Business Value with Agile Approaches to Requirements

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I attended a keynote at RE’09 in Atlanta that I wanted to go back and post a summary of and my thoughts on. And just to be completely honest, this is a rarity. For whatever reason, I really tend not to get much value out of keynote talks – either they are too technical, the speaker isn’t great at well, speaking, or they are so out there I cannot engage in it. Today was different though, it was captivating for me. This one was given by Dave West of Forrester Research. The talk was titled “Developing Business Value with Agile Approaches to Requirements”.

To be fair, he had my attention at the first slide – it was a picture of a dog doing agility. When I talk about agile, I use such a picture too since I personally do agility with my dog! Anyway, the content of the talk proved to be interesting. Some will say it wasn’t anything new. Others will argue with what he said. But for me, his ideas were very tightly aligned with our experiences and ideas about agile and requirements so I like that it built on what I already knew and gave me new ideas to think about. The great thing is he has a much larger pool of resources to survey and confirm his ideas. Here are a few of the points of interest.

He talked to what is being adopted with respect to agile and among those things: Agile itself is being adopted. Scrum practices are as well. He also sees engineering practices such as early testing, integrated builds, and re-factoring. But most of note, he is most commonly seeing a hybrid of approaches– more of an agile than an Agile approach. I think this is relevant as I hear company after company say “agile didn’t work for us”. In reality for many companies it probably doesn’t in its purest of form. Or perhaps it requires trying it more than once, learning from mistakes (do we really think Waterfall worked the first time either?!?!).

Some really positive things he believes we are seeing now include frequent delivery, increased business involvement with more collaboration, and changes in team organization towards smaller teams and more of a team focus in general. His thought on when agile is best used: Complex projects where there are problems to be solved and the solution is unknown.

Dave spoke to the common friction points between traditional requirements approaches and agile:

  • Delivers requirements vs collaboration on the product
  • Where in the process you engage vs. iterative
  • Requirements that are out of date, long/hard to read, solution focused, take way too long vs. collaborative and timely requirements

Some of the issues that you must be careful about with agile: Often the customer has no time because they are doing their day-job (the one you are trying to help in some way with software!). There are often many customers to involve in the requirements efforts, not just one or two to quickly jot down stories with. The customers are often distributed so you have to bake in time to work with all of them alone and together. Agile is reliant on good communication but stereotypically, developers don’t communicate well. We cannot ignore analysis – processes require analysis and solutions require thought – so take time to do these.

I will continue this post in a day or so with thoughts on changes that Dave thinks we are starting to see, as well as my personal thoughts on his thoughts!

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