Delivering satisfied customers

Agile methods have primarily been associated with software development, focused on the collaborative evolution of software products to meet the needs of a business. DSDM has a much broader remit of IT-enabled business change, dealing with both software development and the business changes needed to exploit the technology being created. In 2001 the thinking behind DSDM, among many similarly styled approaches, helped shape the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

DSDM first emerged during the 1990s to address the practical challenges of managing time, cost and quality arising from the use of both traditional waterfall and the more modern rapid application development approaches in use at the time.  

One of the big drivers for a move to Agile is around efficiency, explains DSDM’s director of product innovation Andrew Craddock.

DSDM has a much broader remit of IT-enabled business change, dealing with both software development and the business changes needed to exploit the technology being created

“In the pre-DSDM era projects invariably came in late and over budget and often failed to meet the need of the business sponsoring them, while delays and over-spend only seemed to be discovered very late in the project, leading to loss of control and trust,” he says.

“The traditional waterfall response to this would be ‘We just need to do more upfront analysis to avoid surprises’. But it never worked. In reality, the greater precision and detail coming from more extensive analysis simply led to a stronger illusion of certainty because there will always be things in a project that you can’t second-guess.”

Agile, and DSDM in particular, work in a very different way.

Craddock continues: “The approach is more along the lines of ‘Let’s get a fundamental idea of what we need, how to approach solving the problem, work out the detail as we get to it, and expecting and embracing, rather than worrying about inevitable change’.”

There is evidence to show that Agile projects are more successful than non-Agile ones.  Research by the Standish Group over the last decade, for example, has found that software applications developed through the Agile process have a three-times-greater chance of success and a three-times-less chance of failure when compared with traditional approaches.

Some traditionalists have struggled to drive real business success from Agile approaches, but as Craddock points out, what they are really struggling with is their failure to fully understand and address the business-change context for the systems they are building wrongly, he believes, as a result of over-emphasising the system element of projects. The result is a loss of focus on efficiencies stemming from rethinking business processes, policies and organisation.

Another important factor in the use of DSDM and other Agile approaches is leadership style.

“Rather than manage their teams, leaders need to empower them to solve problems. The traditional ‘command and control’ approach is the antithesis of Agile. The DSDM style of project management is about supporting the whole team as they understand what is needed and organise themselves to create valuable business solutions,” says Craddock.

This can represent a challenge for some project managers: letting go, stepping away from the detail and letting team members get on with doing a job they are best equipped for.

“We have been conditioned, since the 1970s, around IT and projects into subscribing to the waterfall paradigm, believing against all evidence to the contrary that we can anticipate how a project will play out from the start,” he says. “We plan upfront on the basis of unfounded, unsustainable and often very detailed assumptions to come up with the figures for time and cost that we have very little chance of making a reality.

“With DSDM the approach is very different. Our only measure of progress is what we deliver and what we deliver has to be meaningful to our business stakeholders. We fix time and cost, and focus on delivering our solution incrementally, in line with priorities driven by our actively engaged business team members.”

Active business ownership and proactive participation in their projects throughout is key to the success of any Agile project.

“By involving business people in the process, they can tell you what’s really important to the business, what are the priorities and you then deliver on those,” Craddock concludes. “If you deliver on the things that really matter to them and their organisation, even if you don’t deliver everything, you will have satisfied customers.”