If agile methods are to achieve the position of strategic organizational capability rather than tactical engineering capability, then one of the key factors in achieving that position is changing the way we measure success. Many agile teams are now caught in a dilemma. On one hand they are told to be agile, flexible, and adaptable, but on the other they are told to conform to pre-planned traditional Iron Triangle framework of scope, schedule, and cost. In essence they are being told “be flexible in a very small box.” Agile teams are striving to meet one set of goals and managers and executives are measuring against another set.
Measuring success it tricky. Motorola’s ill-fated, multibillion-dollar satellite-based Iridium project was a spectacular failure in the market. Meanwhile, the movie Titanic, which was severely over budget and schedule–and viewed by early pundits as a $200 million flop awaiting release–was the first movie to generate over $1 billion in worldwide revenue. By common constraint-based project management measures of success–scope, cost, and schedule–Titanic was a failure and Iridium was a success. Maybe organizations are using the wrong measuring stick.
My proposal for a new measurement framework is the Agile Triangle: Value, Quality, and Constraints. The measures are value, to the customer in terms of a current releasable product; quality (to deliver continuous value to the customer, in terms of a reliable, adaptable product); and constraints (the traditional scope, schedule, and cost). Constraints are still important project parameters, but they are not the project’s goal. Value and Quality are the goals and constraints may need to be adjusted as the project moves forward to increase customer value. Schedule might still be a fixed constraint, but then scope could be adjusted to deliver the highest value within the schedule constraint.
The focus of value on a “releasable product” is important. Every iteration we what to ask, “Does the product have enough capability to release today?” We want to focus on this strategic value question, not on whether every detailed requirement (scope) has been implemented. By focusing on detail requirements we lose strategic focus. By focusing on a releasable product, we focus on gaining the most value for the least cost.
Admittedly it is harder to measure value and quality than it is to measure cost and schedule. However, it’s much better to have fuzzy measures of really important things that precise measures of less important things.
For more details on the Agile Triangle, see my Agile Project Management, 2nd Edition, or attend my Agile 2009 conference session, “Zen and the Art of Software Quality.”