For several years we have heard of this new trend in digital production called Agile. The general idea is to create an iterative process for development based on functional user stories that are written in plain English. Agile does not guarantee specific outcomes, only to prototype potential solutions to a problem.
As a production methodology, this works well for software companies or businesses with internal development teams. Prototyping a problem does not necessarily mean a viable outcome and the cost is limited to time and materials. Where this breaks down however, is when external vendors attempt to apply this methodology to enterprise businesses.
Businesses have specific functional needs when developing an ecommerce solution and they expect that any vendor who is ultimately successful in their pitch would be able to address and deliver on these requirements by a specific due date and cost. Essentially, businesses are used to and ultimately expect a waterfall production method.
While some agencies attempt to educate their clients on Agile methods, the outcome is typically the same. The client does not have the internal structures nor time required to invest in Agile methods. That is not to say that some aspects of Aglie are not beneficial, but it is to say that businesses rightfully demand a set of deliverables matched against a delivery timeline and fixed cost.
Agile invests heavily in user stories written by BAs in an attempt to describe, in plain English, the specific functional requirements of the business. These are described as epics. Within each epic, there may be several functional stories to achieve the epic requirements, and each are fully described along with business rules, data sources etc. Indeed, this process often takes up 25-35% of the total production budget. With the addition of project management costs, business can be left with as little as 50% of their production budget after these costs are accounted for.
Are there aspects of Agile that are valuable?
Absolutely. The iterative approach Agile brings to the table is best utilised in the wireframe and UI design phases of production. Clients are often quite focused on the visual aspects of their brands and are typically willing to invest more time when they can see what their site will look like in the end.
Back-end developers will likely need to prototype data solutions, especially if the business has complicated data storage or data processing systems. Some businesses has complex regional pricing models, inventory systems and depending on delivery or click and collect models, added complexity regarding logistics and fulfilment can add to the challenges.
Agencies are very quick to adapt to new processes. Sometime this is because it creates a series of buzzwords that can attract clients. Sometimes it’s because these new frameworks can add new revenue streams that are easily justified to clients. Mostly, it is because these new systems can bring more clarity to the functional requirements of a businesses with the hopes of reducing scope creep during development.
A hybrid model is the short-term solution
As businesses become better educated on Agile, there is a hybrid solution between Agile and Waterfall that can be valuable to both agency and client.
Functional requirements and their description need to be more streamlined. The use of user stories, in theory is helpful to get all stakeholders on board, the reality is that the process is too long, too costly and most stakeholders are unlikely to participate in the approval process. Functional requirements should remain a technical exercise and only be adapted based on the technical capabilities of the client.
The creative and back-end prototyping of the website is where Aglie can best serve the business. It is in this space that Agile serves the client best. Offering the client multiple solutions to user engagement and data issues – not all of which will be viable.
Agencies need to consider the customer first when choosing a production method. Understanding the digital knowledge and skill level of each client and ensuring that they offer the most cost-effective and value driven process possible. Ultimately the client has specific needs, a fixed budget and timeline. Agile is not practical for most businesses who rely on external vendors – but aspects of it can be adapted and integrated into Waterfall processes to generate better value and outcomes for our clients.