“A late change in requirements…”

A late change in requirements is a competitive advantage
–Mary Poppendieck

My team works almost exclusively on small, custom projects. Each project begins with high-level requirements gathering, an estimation of effort, and a cost proposal. If the customer accepts the proposal, a contract is signed, and my team works with the customer to create a more detailed requirements document before beginning development.

The problem with this process is that it isn’t very agile, and, even though we complete the project by converting the requirements document into stories and banging them out in sprints, we sometimes fall into the same old waterfall-pitfalls. Requirements written at the beginning are not always the right requirements. Something that seems very important at the start might not make sense by the end. Or, there might be aspects that weren’t considered during requirements gathering, which can lead to important requirements that went undocumented.

At the end of any project, what matters most is that the customer feels good about the business value they’re getting from what they bought. If a project satisfies all of its requirements but ultimately provides no value to the customer, the project is a failure. Conversely, if a project meets only a subset of its requirements but delights its customer, it can be considered a success.

Realizing that requirements will change–and expecting them to–is an important strength of agile methodologies. As features are completed, review them with the customer and re-evaluate what comes next. Sometimes, you might find a feature is no longer needed. More likely, you’ll uncover a feature that was missed but will provide much greater value than what was originally proposed. Shifting requirements late in the game is how you can take advantage of a newly found feature like this, and that’s part of what makes agile so powerful.

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