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Tips to Select a Pilot Project for Agile Adoption

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One of the most important factors which influences the success of Agile adoption is the set of learnings derived by applying Agile to a pilot project. These learnings significantly influence the organization to go ahead with Agile or fall back to their usual process. This places a lot of emphasis on the selection of the pilot project. A wrong type of pilot could end up aborting, which would be a poor advertisement for the new process.

Mike Cohn suggested the four critical factors which affect the selection of a pilot project. According to him,

Not every project is equally suited to be your first. The ideal pilot project sits at the confluence of project size, project duration, project importance, and the engagement of the business sponsor.

Though, it might be difficult to narrow down on the perfect project however, organizations should strive to pick a project which closely falls in the intersection of the four factors.

According to Mike, the four factors are

I. Duration – A short project would help skeptics to say that Agile works for small projects. If the project is too large then people would have to wait too long to gauge the status of adoption. Mike suggested that the ideal project length would be somewhere near the middle of what is the average for the organization.

Greg Smith suggested that the ideal duration for adoption according to him is 8 weeks. According to him,

The first thing to do is to look for a subset of features within the project that can be completed within 8 weeks. Is there a group of features that could go together as a mini-project within the larger project?

II. Size – The pilot project should be small enough to be done by one team. This abstracts the multi team and cross communication challenges, thus allowing the team to concentrate on the Agile process.

III. Importance – Start with a project which is critical to the organization. This would give incentive to the team to work well with the process to ensure the success of the project. A low-importance, low risk project usually becomes just a learning project.

Greg suggested the following ways to gauge the criticality of the project

A project is usually critical if your company or the customer cannot survive without it. Here are some example projects that a business would consider critical:
  • A project to ensure a revenue stream.
  • A project that supports meeting a regulatory or compliance deadline.
  • A project with expiring funds (budget tied to a time-frame).
  • A project that delivers functionality that is a foundation for the organization (i.e. SOA).

IV. Business sponsor engagement - An engaged business sponsor can help the team if it needs to push against entrenched business processes, departments, or individuals. The time and energy of a business sponsor are critical to the success of the project.

Mike added that all these factors become meaningful with a strong team. Hence, choosing the right team is a precursor to all the above factors. Alan Atlas also shared his thoughts about picking the pilot teams first rather than focusing too much on the pilot projects.

Thus, once the pilot team is in place the next step is to select a pilot project based on the factors discussed above. Though, the project might not fall in the of intersection of all the four factors however, the key is to strive and select a pilot project which is closest to the sweet spot.

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