Fixing the project deadline: Agile choices.

There are legitimate reasons why a project would need to have a fixed deadline and although the Agile community would rightly counter this with a range of sensible reasons why you might want a more flexible approach, on occasion a fixed deadline is a non-negotiable contractual characteristic.

What is fascinating is that Scrum, as a method, seems to me to be more effective when there are relatively known quantities (such as Requirements or Features) and then during the course of a number of short iterations and shipping of completed and usable/working code empirical comparisons can be made between expectations and actual. Of course, we can make this comparative analysis between actual and forecast costs in both types: capital and revenue as part of budget analysis.

One of the headlines that grabbed my attention this week was this one:New British Airways direct flight from London Gatwick to New York’. This is good news for those of us that have friends, family and colleagues in New York. It is fair to say that the BA have turned the proverbial corner with the latest fiscal analysis suggesting that AG (the firm that to all intents and purposes own BA) have reported a 25% rise in profits to a new level of some £315 million for the 3-months (quarter) up to 30th June 2015. This is an impressive set of business results.


Chief executive Willie Walsh told the BBC that the impressive changes to the airlines operating model highlighted the “underlying strength of the airlines” which is encouraging.

But what about agile working? How does this fit? Does it play a part?

We need to go back in time to make sense of the Agile change. Back in 2009 BA were facing a horrendous situation and the time for tough and testing decisions to be made. At that time BA CIO made the statement that both “lean and Agile as part of continuous improvement will help us beat the downturn”also expressed as the global recession.

BA then cut around 2,500 jobs in 2009. It then addressed an outdated operating model that was fit-for-purpose historically, but was found ‘lacking’ in these new and testing times. Interestingly, in 2010 Paul Coby, the CIO when addressing a business conference in London made the following key announcement and observation “We need smart innovation and smart change leveraged by technology. Lean and Agile are becoming key enablers”. Notice that back in 2010 and then read again the rise in 25% quarterly profits. There is something close to prophetic in Paul’s words. #leadership.

But what of the staff that had to be re-trained, coached, and deployed in Lean and Agile methods. A few years later the new Head of IT delivery, Mike Croucher made two observations of their journey of transformation that created a more flexible, agile and successful business operating model enabled by IT:

“The first thing I’d point to is the value that we’ve driven for the company, because that’s the reason why we’re in business.

And the second thing is the way it has motivated many of our people in IT. Some have said it has changed their lives.” #changedlives

What many people are less aware of is that BA typically run fixed-term projects of around 6-months. This helps co-ordination as well as ensuring that the ‘time-boxed’ Sprint philosophy runs all the way down into the governance framework and light touch paperwork across the portfolio. #light:tight

In this way, the maximum business value and wider benefits are the central discussion point. The Agile team via the Product Owners prioritization of the Stories are focused on value. Let’s get the maximum value or return on our investment (ROI). Release management is a little easier to co-ordinate too. This has built confidence in Agile across all the business units and within the wider culture.

Can you imagine the conversations that start with: How do we maximise the ROI? That is an exciting place to contribute… that’s where the edge truly is.

I enjoy those conversations in my own work-place. I’ve witnessed the changes in behaviour, attitudes and collaboration when conversations are ‘framed’ in this way. From the largest Epic down to the smallest and elegantly sliced Story let’s ensure ROI is up front and central. Agile is all about value. And if we need to fix the deadline to help our thinking then let’s do just that.


As this important case-study has demonstrated having a fixed project deadline can be a successful methods for implementation and co-ordination for IT transformational programmes and projects.

Take care Jason

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