Agile allows teams to deliver things of greatest value for the stakeholders every single time. But what do I mean by that and how?
The Agile Manifesto states “Deliver (solutions) frequently…”. This often bears out with what is termed Iterations or Sprints, or at least every couple of weeks. The idea is to reassess what is the next most valuable thing to deliver every single iteration or every couple of weeks.
There’s a great story I heard somewhere where the Subway sandwich franchise was compared to running Sprints in Agile. The way this was explained to me was that when you enter the Subway store, you have some idea of what you want, but things change as you are presented with the “product” at each stage.
Your first most valuable delivery is when you choose the type of bun (bread, roll, whatever you want to call it), at the same time you can choose what size portion you want for lunch.
Now, this is world-changing thought. No longer are you given a plate with something indescribable slapped into it, now you, the customer, are given an absolute choice in every aspect. Neither you, nor the Subway team knows what you will end up with. It might be what you were thinking about on the way into the shop, a standard wheat bun, but now you see the Italian Herb or the Honey Oat and you decide that this is exactly what you want.
This means that your first iteration chooses the exact sized bun for your needs and the exact bun you decide. That’s real, delivered value. The next iteration asks what cheese you want and you can decide exactly the type of cheese, or skip the cheese altogether and go directly to the main filling or choose to decide in the next iteration. Toasted or plain?
After choosing which vegetables will now go best with your semi-created product that you can see and almost taste in front of you, you now have an almost complete lunch. You can decide to add sauces (toppings) or cut straight to the final product and eat it now, foregoing the wait.
This is exactly what Agile looks like in real life. Iterations are much longer, a couple of weeks to about a month, but it’s the same thing in reality. After every iteration, you get to choose what is the most valuable thing that you want next, now that you know more about the solution. You know more because you can see what is happening in a presentation to you after every iteration (called a “Showcase”).
The wonderful thing about this is that at every point, not only are you delivered the most valuable solution increment, but at any time, you can choose to wait and get those extras like toppings, or cut right there and take the solution as it is.
What tends to happen in the old-school project management is that you choose everything you can think of, right up front, then the team works to deliver that completed, some time down the road. This suffers from so many problems, but the main ones are the assumptions made:
- That you know what you want
- That the team knows how to build it
- That nothing will change
These assumptions are all wrong and building your sandwich in front of you is often the only way for everyone to see and recognise the best possible next value at every point.