CIO Symmetry

Jul 1 2010   6:49PM GMT

Finding an endpoint for agile projects

Christina Torode Christina Torode Profile: Christina Torode


One of the 12 principles of agile projects is that agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely, according to the Agile Manifesto.

But project managers new to the agile approach are struggling with the concept of a project with seemingly no end.

I posed this question to several experts and was given a few straightforward answers: The project ends when you run out of funding. Another response was that it never stops. Like any other project, it is an ongoing process in which improvements and changes will constantly be made, even after it’s put into production.

Given its iterative nature, however, forecasting the end of agile projects isn’t so difficult.

Joseph Flahiff is a program manager with a national health insurance carrier. In charge of a $20 million HIPAA/EDI project that combines agile and waterfall approaches, he explains it this way:

You know just like any other project. If it’s managed with the waterfall approach, you’re probably given a scope of work: “These are the things we need you to do, and this is the goal we are trying to shoot for.” When you’re done with the scope of work, you are done with the project. What agile brings to [a project] is that you’re delivering all along, so you can see how close you are to actually being done.

Agile projects also allow you to fix problems as they arise, as opposed to a traditional software development approach in which most components are tested at the end. It’s a bottom-up development approach in which you are delivering working software all along, and you can show project sponsors how the team is burning — aka, the burndown rate — toward getting it done on schedule, done early or if you are running behind, he said.

“Then the leadership team or steering committee can actually take action and become involved, as opposed to looking at the [product] at the last minute and having a firefight,” Flahiff said.

Knowing when to end agile projects is but one quandary. Another project manager would like to know how to ensure that all the development iterations come together at the end. If you have any advice, email me at

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