Agile Thinking

Is Agile about Being Able to Change?

One of the big selling points used to promote agile is that it will enable businesses to make real changes on projects. But as Leon Tranter sees it in a post at his Extreme Uncertainty blog, agile’s allowance of changes compared to waterfall is exaggerated. And he further makes the argument that allowing an ease of changes is not always a good thing.

Change the Argument

In waterfall, project managers use a change control process to ensure cost, time, and scope maintain balance when changes occur. However, since changes require a lot of paperwork and probably cost and risk estimations, they can become more trouble than they are worth. Tranter implies project managers in waterfall projects are prone to even actively resist changes for the sake of saving themselves a headache. In this sense, between waterfall and agile projects, what it really shows is that agile simply allows for change to be less inconvenient.

But sometimes, we actually want change to be difficult. The wrong changes can be damaging to a project, after all. Consider how the United States government is divided into three branches specifically so one branch cannot enact changes too hastily. The what, how, and why of a proposed change must be scrutinized. Tranter shares a list of good and bad reasons changes might be requested, some of which are below:

  • Because a UX designer / visual designer / brand person / marketing person feels like it (bad)
  • Because it has to be done for legal / security / privacy / compliance reasons (annoying, but fundamentally good, nobody wants to go to jail)…
  • Because our stakeholders came up with some feedback in our sprint review after seeing the latest product increment (good)
  • Because our user testing tells us that we should (good)
  • Because the market / business environment is shifting and has made this change desirable (good)
  • Because our analytics (real customers in a real environment, not UX testing in a lab) tells us that we should (really good)

Having a capable product owner on hand who can help the agile team evaluate these reasons makes for a change process that is both fast and well filtered. So to further revise what is useful about agile, it is that agile allows less inconvenient changes that are born of the right reasoning. Saying agile merely enables change is a simplification at best.

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