Agile clients – why don’t they exist, or do they?

Looking round the Scrum community these days, one soon sees that most of those involved come from software development. Only a few people are from management. Why is that? Are agile methods not attractive for managers? Or is the problem of a completely different nature? Maybe it is because most decision makers have not yet heard of it.

Our past experiences show the last case to be more likely, as Scrum indeed offers a bunch of advantages. See my last article “Scrum and fixed price contracts”.

I can even think of some additional advantages:

  • You get running software really quickly, although it may not be feature-complete. The number of features, however, will increase with each iteration.
  • Acceptance and payment can always be based on delivered functionality. Extensive acceptance tests are no longer needed as it can now be down constantly with each iteration.
  • It is no longer necessary to have a complete list of requirements at project start. Instead, you can progress step by step and only have to make decisions when development reaches the appropriate stage.

Of course, this list is not complete and can be further expanded (at best by just dropping a comment on this article). So, there are many good reasons for going agile. But why are customers still not demanding agility from all their contractors? Here too, I can think of a number of reasons:

  • Agility is more demanding for customers, as constant collaboration between customer and contractor plays an important role. This is, of course, quite time-consuming, but also requires that customers make (final) decisions quickly. Not all organisations can do that.
  • Decision makers don’t understand IT. They don’t know anything about software development. Especially [unqualified] decision makers still seem to believe software is easy to plan and trivial to program.
  • Agility requires constant involvement by the customer. For some, this turns out to be quite a challenge. Partly because it takes more time, but mostly because it is necessary to make final decisions quickly. Not all organisations can do that, though.
  • Decision makers don’t know about IT culture. They don’t understand the problems of software development. The impression of software being easy to specify and trivial to program seems to still be valid, especially in decision makers having different professional backgrounds. That software nowadays mostly is just the opposite doesn’t seem to be very well recognised.
  • There also might be organisational restrictions, especially within bigger organisations. “Agility-enabled” contracts (like the one I suggested in the article “Scrum and fixed price contracts”) are simply not (yet) available. Installing them, however, is too much of an effort for just one single project. So instead it’s not done at all.

And, finally, the most trivial, but in my opinion also the most important reason:

  • Scrum is still unknown in many organisations. It is therefore in our best interests to get the word out.

But: Perhaps it is now our turn as contractors to “make an offer they can’t refuse”. At this point, I’d like to refer to my colleague Olivier Guillet’s idea. He suggests calculating the offer in two different ways and leaving the choice to the customer:

1. Agile, with shorter duration, flexibility in requirements, constant collaboration with the customer and a contract based upon hourly rates. These rates should normally lead to a cheaper price than with a standard fixed price contract, however this price won’t be guaranteed.

2. Standard fixed-price contract: Longer duration, less collaboration (“over-the-fence” compatible), but with a guaranteed price (which is higher than the average price from alternative 1).

Even if a customer opts for alternative 2, one can still offer the modifications from the last article to provide the contract with a little more agility. Chances seem to be quite good. We’ve already heard of companies rolling out “Scrum-compatible” contracts, and even demanding it from their contractors. As the gain in efficiency speaks for itself, it may only be a matter of time until agility is standard.

I’m definitely not against that…

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