All projects, whether in business or at home, require the proper management to succeed. Take document process automation solutions as an example: Traditionally, solutions were delivered and managed using the Waterfall approach, which is where deliverables are determined upfront and produced according to a fixed sequence. Today, that tradition is changing.
More and more customers are insisting on the Agile methodology, which came about as a solution to the disadvantages of the Waterfall methodology. Instead of sticking to a fixed sequence, Agile is a more fluid process that breaks down solution delivery into smaller incremental stages — allowing resources to be invested in the highest-value features and reducing long-term risks.
And the benefits of Agile aren’t reserved for only software solutions. I recently learned first-hand how taking an Agile approach can facilitate project success.
Agile Methodology in Everyday Life
My wife and I are currently in the middle of a three-week landscape project at our home. We saved the money for a couple of years, did our due diligence on selecting a reputable contractor, and finally signed a contract. But despite months of poring over design books, five meetings with the contractor, endless sketch drawings and a final design document, we’ve found that our plan has needed to evolve daily. I thought we knew everything. We locked down our scope and approach, but as the patio, gas fire pit, garden, shrubs, trees and shade sail started to come together, we learned things we could not have anticipated during our initial Waterfall-esque planning sessions. Yes, we had changed our minds.
For example, every man enjoys the ability to drink a beer and tend the fire at his very own gas fire pit, right? Well, after putting the Adirondack chairs next to the fire pit, my wife graciously pointed out that the design would not work — unless, that is, I was comfortable burning my legs and roasting our guests. Consequently, we had to tweak the plan, opting for a smaller fire pit and moving it a little. I did not anticipate this until the project was well underway, just as users of our Accounts Payable or Order Processing automation solutions cannot anticipate and document everything upfront. It’s just too hard to foresee every detailed requirement.
Another challenge we ran into was our garden. My wife is an Architect and works in Project Management so she is great at grasping detail. After our garden boxes were laid out, she quickly realized it did not flow well, and maneuvering a wheelbarrow was not going to work as we had planned. Technically, the plan was good but upon walking around the garden it felt a little cramped and the flow just did not feel right. The contractor listened, made changes, and without an increase in price or major impact to the project timeline we were very happy with the flow for the garden. Definitely a more Agile approach that worked out for the best.
We have a fantastic contractor, a former architect who converted to doing landscape work he really enjoys. He uncovered our budget range, guided us through the options, reminded us to keep an open mind and be willing to change as the new surroundings begin to form. This is not his first project, and clearly he is uses to homeowners changing their minds. Trust is a huge part of the Agile process. I trust that he understands what we are seeking and will respect the budget we have in mind — it’s a lot of money and we don’t want any nasty surprises. As the Coveys are famous for writing about, the “Speed of Trust” really does make a difference, as he is able to freely make suggestions, have candid conversations about what will work, what may not be such a good idea, etc.
Naturally, if I did not feel he had the skill or experience I would not have hired him in the first place, but still, daily changes and tweaks takes some trust. Having regular conversations means that the key stakeholders (Mr. & Mrs. Reeve) are fully aware of the state of the project, current scope, spend versus budget, possible delays, and risks and important logistics (e.g., when big deliveries will be arriving, when we need to move our cars, etc.). The contractor is getting daily feedback as to what is the best fit, and what elements of the project we value the most.
Agile calls for a Scrum Master and daily stand-up meetings. Well, we have those: I typically work from home, so in the morning, lunch and evening we have a 5-minute chat about the development work coming up, how things feel, the priorities and any changes either party feels is needed. We’ve added some scope because it just made sense to do that while we are into this project, some ground coverings no longer seem as important, just like user stories we have the option to remove them or lower them down the priority list.
Most folks don’t want to take risks on projects, I certainly did not want to take any risks given this is a lot of money and it’s our family dream. But I can certainly report back that an Agile project has left me feeling totally excited about the project, fully in control and hankering for the first beer — and I’m usually difficult to please!
Check out this great podcast and learn how to apply agile methodology to management — not just the IT department.