Can you still be agile when your customers cannot?

The short answer is “yes”. Definitely, yes!! We follow an agile approach to mobile software development (Scrum, in particular). Occasionally, we find ourselves in situations where our customers are not able to be agile. The reasons vary but more often than not relate to established internal processes that must be followed, whether that’s willingly or unwillingly.

Despite this, we will still execute in an agile fashion, behind the scenes. We’ll partition work into bite-sized components, validate and prioritize that with the customer, track work on a sprint board (albeit internally), hold daily scrums and share works-in-progress often (rarely do we find a customer that does not want to frequently see what you are working on). Behind the scenes, we’re very agile. On the surface, we’re compliant with the customer’s established practices.

We’ll always execute these engagements under a time and material basis since our template processes, techniques and deliverables cannot be fully leveraged. You come to understand the risks of an approach that you have repeatedly used and have a template for. Those risks can be managed very well, allowing for us to fix-price our services. The risks of following someone else’s approach, however, are not so well understood and therefore hard to predict and mitigate. That’s why we execute such engagements under a time and material basis.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in a hybrid situation, fully following our template agile approach under a fixed-price basis supplemented with customer specific processes and deliverables under a time and material basis making us compliant with established internal practices. This is often the case when the customer sponsor (“the business”) wants to reap the benefits of an agile approach but gaining approval (from “IT”) to deliver against an alternative approach proves too difficult. A middle ground is struck seeing an agile approach at the core supplemented with activities and deliverables needed to be compliant.

Other situations we encounter that suggest an agile approach may not be appropriate include not being collocated with the customer during the software development process and the customer not being able to commit the time. We’ve been able to overcome these perceived hurdles by making use of online tools such as Basecamp and Trello for team collaboration, project management, and work (task) management. These tools help bridge the collocation gap as well as facilitate participation and timely input by allowing customers to contribute when most convenient for them during the day (or night). These tools have mobile versions as well allowing for contributions while on-the-go, in whatever micro moments the customer may have, e.g. while in transit between meetings, waiting in line at the coffee shop etc.

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