Which delivery framework?

Should your business run Agile or Waterfall (sequential projects)? Quite often the answer isn’t black and white, and should be answered based on the characteristics of the problem / project/ situation being tackled.

Dave Snowden created excellent Cynefin framework in 1999 while he worked at IBM. I was lucky enough to meet Dave briefly at the IBM Technical Council in 1999.

The framework helps organisations understand scenarios in the world and how best to handle them / map them to frameworks.

Sketch of the Cynefin framework, by Edwin Stoop

Scenarios can be broken into one of the 4 domains. Until we decide on the domain we are in a state of disorder.

Complicated domains are not “simple” to do, but have certainty to complete their goal. Experts are available to provide insight and knowledge, removing uncertainty. Documentation is available and requirements can be determined up front with minimal risk of change during delivery. A service provider delivering “off the shelf” third party products exists in this domain – for example installing access control hardware. Waterfall is better suited to this domain.

Complex is where the problem is clearly full on uncertainty. No one has done what we’re doing before – no experts can be brought in to tell us what to do. We must work to remove uncertainty through exploration (sense / probe). Software development is typically in this domain. Agile is better suited to Complex domains.

Simple domain are highly scripted, well established and can be performed using best practices. They have little to no uncertainty. A highly repeatable sales process would fall into this domain.

Chaos is out of scope in this discussion, but does come into play with support triage / bug handling in the software / service environments.

Often organisations find themselves with complicated and complex projects in parallel or related to each other, which is fine and natural. Sometimes large customers don’t want to work in Agile frameworks, so it’s necessary to wrap internal Agile processes with waterfall like wrappers (though not recommended!).

The important thing is how the company chooses their core framework. What framework should be used to direct their ethics, their culture and way of working with customers? That’s really up to the board to determine, but in my opinion Agile leads to far more positive work environments where staff feel valued and excited about their work; customers are happier and more likely to be advocates, shouting about your team from the roof tops.

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