Recently I am involved in the project what is to help customer experience team to find out the correlation between the feedback of customers with business results. It is a very challenged project because neither business needs nor technical possibilities is clear.
According to the organizational process of project initiation, the business stakeholder required for estimate for the essential scope so they could apply for the budget. As one of the Agile coaches in this organization, I actually have worked with other coaches together to minimize the initiation activities to get rough estimate based on story points. Usually it will be 1~2 couple of hours workshops to brain storming the user stories and have story point estimate. So the overhead and cost were reasonably small. But this project, after 4 workshops, although we have narrowed down the focus to be one specific area according to business priority, the understanding about the business needs and possible solution were still very vague and the estimate number was still very big. The business stakeholder couldn’t accept it. And the project manager would like to organize more workshop to investigate further and hope it would help the team to come out more “reasonable” estimate.
This scenario might sounds very familiar to you. The business probably has already an acceptable range of budget figure in his mind for his very vague requirements. And team normally will provide a bigger number because they have to consider more contingencies to deal with the uncertainties. Then it will be the dead loop of conversation. Business asks for less estimate and team will provide bigger one. And in most of cases, it will finally be finished when team feels tired of this game and surrender themselves to give whatever the number the business expected. But, of cause, the business will pay back when they spent more money and received a crap software 1 year later.
So, how to escape from this trap? This is my way. I asked the above project’s manager, if it was possible to the business to sponsor a team for 1~2 iterations to start to work on something what were relatively more clear and feasible. So everyone would have better understanding about the complexity of the project after this period and business could decide if it was worth to continue accordingly. I also mentioned that, after about 8 hours workshops have involved many experienced team members, we already spent a lot of money on estimate but couldn’t come out any confidence.
Initially the project manager was not quite sure if it was a good idea but he agreed to give it a try. And, guess what? The business accepted it and we stopped to provide further estimate but started to plan for the first iteration. During the planning session of first iteration, we worked with business stakeholders together to decide the possible delivery of the first two weeks and they were very happy about it. At the end of the planning, one of the business stakeholders said: “I am very happy that we finally start to discuss about some detail instead of all those big epics. And thanks to everyone to make this happen!”.
Sometimes we will be stick in the situation like this. But the way of Agile thinking will inspire you how to escape from it. We may learn very fast by doing if we may get quick feedback. And the customer won’t lose the investment because they will also be involved in this learning experience and have better understanding about what their real needs are. The risk will be managed much better with this approach because the customer will evaluate the return on invest frequently and can stop it immediately if there is no value any more.
Stop talking and start doing. Start to deliver values to customer and learn from it earlier. The customer will appreciate it.