How to Use Agile Development to Avoid Project Failures

The rocky rollout of Healthcare.gov is a very public example of a larger issue of software product failures. Can an agile development framework allow software companies to avoid such project management headaches themselves?

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Wed, February 05, 2014

CIO — The now-notorious rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange website, healthcare.gov, brought the issue of software product failure to national attention. While it's one of the more notorious IT software product failures in recent memory, it's far from the only one. These failures happen every day, to businesses in all types of industries around the world.

Agile Development

A Failure of IT and Business to Communicate

What's behind these failures? Tony Orlando, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Fairfax, Virginia-based software and solutions delivery firm 3Pillar Global, cites the disconnect between business unit stakeholders -- sales, marketing, finance, and the like -- and IT.

"One of the reasons we're facing these IT project challenges, these failures of new initiatives, is that what the business side and the IT side want to deliver don't sync," Orlando says.

[Related: 3 Ways to Be More Agile With Software Shipping Decisions]

What you get is a company that can't see the larger picture -- that with the maturation of the digital economy, customers expect a product or a service to deliver an experience. That user experience needs to be a component of and a reflection of your overall business strategy; you can't continue to look at technology or business or end user experiences separately," Orlando says.

It was out of these seemingly contradictory goals that the agile development framework was born, and its principles are even more important in today's business climate (see below).

agile development
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Inside the Agile Framework: Courtesy of The Agile Alliance

Your business is only as agile as its software. Being able to respond quickly to customer demand while simultaneously meeting business needs requires that software developers have the freedom to build software quickly and efficiently, to exacting end-user standards, and that corporate stakeholders have visibility into the development process, Orlando says.

"Developers want to write good, clean code. The sales and marketing and finance guys want to see the products succeed. Customers demand a good user experience. How can you make sure all these things happen, and that you're not in the headlines when something goes awry?" Orlando says.

You must shift your focus from a project focus to a product focus, and put an emphasis on collaboration and communication between lines-of-business and departments that may seem at odds, Orlando says.

[Related: Why You May Need an 'Agile Coach' (Whatever One Is)]

Before agile, says Dan Klaussen, director of product management at 3Pillar Global, explains that most software projects were built following some form of "waterfall" style process. This meant trying to come up with every requirement a product might possibly need to meet before starting to build it.

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