Agile Project Characteristics – Two Controversial Factors

In my last post I listed the Agile Dozen Characteristics and Practices that I felt were critical on all projects. In that list though, there were two characteristics that I did not expect myself and that may raise the eyebrows of Agile purists when mentioned. Before there is discussion on all the factors and I present the experience reports, I thought it would be of value to discuss the following two characteristics:

  • Developer to Designer Ratio
  • Team meeting estimates

1) Developer to Designer Ratio

Where to start on this one. The first immediately apparent item is that there is a difference between developers and designers. Yes, I would say that there is room for both of these roles and that I believe that perhaps all of the design and development activities can’t be pulled by any member of the team. I know this principle is tantamount to heresy in some of the Agile circles, but I believe that context is everything and there are no absolutes. Based upon the problem domain, team composition and solution complexity, there may be a requirement for a role that owns the solution vision at a very high level. Now this does not imply the creation of detailed requirements and architects and designers defining exactly what developers need to code, but merely implies that there is a role that provides the overall vision of the solution at a high level and then works with the entire team as they flesh out user stories to ensure that the solution remains cohesive and consistent. This designer can then also provide leadership in the architecting the automated test suite as well.

This has worked well on our projects. I’d really like to hear back from others on this concept…

2) Team meeting estimates

This was the other characteristic that I thought would be somewhat controversial. Now I firmly believe in Planning Poker and collaborative estimating techniques, but at the end of the day, no matter how the estimates have been created, a successful project must deliver to the estimates that they have made. 😐 Whether this is a Traditional Project where estimates are defined at the task level through to an Agile project where User Stories and tasks are defined in points and through planning poker, eventually the execution must somewhat match the plan. (now matter how defined or loose the plan is) If this continues to happen through many iterations, the clients will get concerned and possible business plans that depend on the iteration outcomes may be compromised. To demand 100% meeting of the estimates is not feasible, but if the project consistently deliver less than 50% of the plan then some action needs to be taken. (Which could be to just be less optimistic and committing to less)

What do people think of these two more traditional characteristics? I’d love to hear feedback!


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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