Agile User Novels – A scope tipping point

I was reading an article about how Agile Projects should be estimated, managed and executed and they listed all of the correct items. From Planning Poker to prioritizing stories to determining velocity to working with the clients to define the iterations. But one item I haven’t seen addressed in recent articles is the concept of a scope tipping point in Agile Projects.

Like it or not, there is an amount of scope that is the minimum the client needs for an initiative to be successful. I believe we are not being professional agilists unless we confirm in our planning that we will be able to deliver at least to that scope tipping point. It would be disingenuous to start an Agile Project promising success as we work together if we don’t know that we will be able to deliver the minimum scope required to achieve business objectives. It just isn’t good enough to promise that we will work together on prioritized items until the client decides to stop or the budget runs out.

I like to use the analogy of car repair. How many of us would go into a car shop and be happy at the end of the job if the Car still doesn’t run. I mean it was great that we worked together what the real car repairs were that needed to be fixed and that I was involved in all decisions, but if the tipping point can’t be achieved then it is a waste from a client point of view.

The Car still doesn’t work.

As part of our planning, it is imperative that we compile the results and estimates from planning and propose the Project Novels. These Project Novels are a compilation of the User Stories. These Project Novels can correspond to Releases, but a Novel can also be a composed of multiple releases. The Client and Project team will then agree which Project Novel aligns with the minimum scope required and we will promise that the project will deliver to that Project Novel at a minimum. (I used promise on purpose) 🙂

This Project Novel concept should be used to communicate what stories can be deployed in phases and confirm that where the scope tipping point is. In this way the Client and Project Team agree that we can stop after this point. This is very similar to the concept of Minimum Feature Set and I believe these concepts need to become more ingrained in all our planning processes. I like the Project Novel concept as it somewhat formalizes the Minimum Feature Set concept and makes it a deliverable. I have discovered that the Minimum Feature Set is not done consistently and sometimes not reviewed and agreed to by the client.

I would also recommend that the Project Novel that aligns with the Scope Tipping Point be no more than 2/3 of the way through the proposed project budget. We have to prepare for and embrace the change that will undoubtedly come but still confirm we can deliver what is required at a minimum.

If we start Agile projects without first confirming we can deliver this scope tipping point, we are hurting the Agile movement. When these projects fail to provide the minimum value, they will also blame Agile and the company may be very reluctant to try any Agile Projects again.

Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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