Lightning Talk retro – Fixed Price Scrum

I did a 10 minute lightning talk at the Cape Town 2011 Scrum Gathering on Fixed Price Scrum.  It went down reasonably well – but if I did it again, I’d do it a bit differently.

The point of the presentation was to point out it was possible and effective to use Scrum to manage a project that traditionally is waterfall and would generally be a rather fast march to and past the end date of the project while blindly hoping you’d still make it.  Scrum allowed us to know early that the date wasn’t possible – which let us manage the client early and hence to come to a compromise and tweak the iron triange of fixed date, time and scope so that we could actually tweak the scope and deliver to the date – and then complete the rest of the scope.  I believe it has been the most successful fixed price project that we have embarked on by far.  So it was successful.  The client did get what they wanted.  (Luckily they did sort of know what they wanted as it was replacing an existing system.)

After the talk I realised that I had given some hope to some people that you could succeed in doing Scrum in their environment.  That was the point.

However I did start to feel guilty afterwards.  I did a talk on waterfall with Scrum helping out.  Yes, the Scrum was pull (mostly) and we inspected and adapted, we tested continously and we did reviews.  These were awesome and effective.  But we took a BRS, chopped it up and turned it on its side and called it a backlog and off we went.  It wasn’t agile.  I did a very non-agile talk at what was in theory an Agile conference…

The project wasn’t Agile in the sense of removing waste or in delivering value at all times.

The BRS generation wasn’t agile.  It was waste.  But the client needed it as a proxy for trust – and a requirement for public tendering.

The review process wasn’t agile.  It was prescriptive – did we meet the BRS.  Value was limited to the BRS and the scope management around that.

But the project was successful.  The delivery was of good quality.  The client is now a long term fixed team client.  We built up trust and a working relationship.

So does it really matter that it wasn’t agile?

If I did it again – I’d point out that we were doing Wagile.  And that there are still perks to using Scrum – even in waterfall.  And doing Scrum in any environment allows you to start learning and growing your understanding so when the opportunity comes to not being in the prescriptive contracting relationship, then you are already primed to embrace more agility as you may have started to figure out what that actually means.  And maybe while they are there – they can work out how to be as agile as they can – around the fixed constraint of the contract – and eliminate waste where they responsibly can.

Will fixed price projects go away in the future?  Unlikely.  Should any company contract in a fixed price arrangment?  Not if they can afford to do otherwise.  But would it be better to go bust and be agile or better to make a profit and be wagile?

Hopefully the next time I present it will be on something more relevantly agile and I’ll feel less exposed to agile frowns.  Or at least remember to point out that I know it is waterfall in agile clothing as I go along.

9 comments on “Lightning Talk retro – Fixed Price Scrum

  1. I missed your talk as I was busy in the games session – but its sounds great. I’m glad you gave people hope, and I love your public retrospective of the talk!
    The principles and practices behind agile can help any project – even those w*t*rf*ll ones – even those not in software development. Just because you’re not doing 100% scrum does not mean you cant inspect and adapt your process.
    So, thank-you for talking about your inspectadapt journey and talking about it at an “agile” conference 🙂

  2. I should have all the lightning talks up later today

  3. Interesting. Simon Bennett and I came across exactly this in a recent CSPO class. Simon put it well. You can use Scrum for waterfall, and it will probably work better than other frameworks, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you do Scrum you are agile.

    To be agile you need to live the principles of the agile manifesto. Scrum doesn’t actually make that happen. It just gives you a useful framework if you are living those principles already.

    Some would argue it was a Scrum conference and therefore a talk on using Scrum for waterfall has it’s place 🙂

    • patrickvine says:

      Thanks Karen. Yes, it was a Scrum thing more than an agile thing so it did have some place 🙂 And I suspect it helped some people to think about what they are doing.

  4. Leanne Nel says:

    Please post a link to the talk when it is available 😉

  5. PM Hut says:

    Hi Patrick,

    Concerning your statement “I did a talk on waterfall with Scrum helping out.”, does that mean that you were able to integrate Scrum with Waterfall? If this is true, then can you explain how?

  6. patrickvine says:

    I mean that the Scope was fixed – there was very limited negotiation around the defined work in the BRS. There was no opportunity for the customer to change their mind and go in another direction – so they were going to get this project as it was speced whether they liked it or not.

    Thankfully they liked it. 🙂

    They spent a lot of time defining the BRS up front – the requirements phase – which did not overlap at all with the implementation phase.

    But the implementation phase was Scrum and this was sort of agile. We did get customer feedback, we did test early, we did not land up in an extensive UAT phase. Then again – there was a UAT and Acceptance phase at the end as well and scope wasn’t allowed to change in the implementation phase.

    Hope that helps.

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