By Benjamin Washam

Have you heard these before? “Agile is more expensive than waterfall.” “Agile has too many meetings.” “With Agile there’s no guarantee up front of what I’m going to get in the end”. If you don’t know what Agile software development is, first read this.

The goal of this blog is to debunk these common misconceptions by giving you the information you need as a technology decision maker in a nonprofit or higher education organization to determine if an Agile Salesforce implementation will best suit your organization and your project needs. Selecting the right implementation methodology will ensure you get the most value for your organization out of your implementation investment.

Misconception #1: It’s More Expensive

In a perfect world where you know exactly what you want your CRM to look like on day 1 of the project, can communicate your needs to an implementation partner perfectly without a hint of ambiguity and where requirements will never be changed or added – yes, waterfall might be less expensive. The only problem is, that perfect world does not exist! What we do have is a world where requirements change constantly, staff turnover frequently and translating business processes is an art not a science. Especially if you are new to Salesforce, it is impossible to know what you don’t know when making decisions up front on the best way to design your system.

In these real-world scenarios, Agile has advantages to waterfall in cost control:

  • With Agile you can actively re-prioritize your requirements throughout the entire project to ensure that your most mission-critical items are delivered. Organizations frequently discover mid-way through an implementation that what they need is more complex and more expensive than what they originally thought. Agile allows you to make that discovery earlier in the project so you can adjust the focus accordingly to spend your budget on the most critical functionality and leave the “nice to have” functionality for a later phase or fiscal year. In waterfall, by the time you start to see and test your implementation hands on, the entire design and build cost has already been sunk, forcing costly and wasteful change orders on top of your original budget to get what your organization needs. This can also benefit you the other way – I’ve experienced projects where early iterations and testing allow us to go with a simpler or less expensive solution than we first thought would be needed.
  • Agile is highly concerned with the practical value of an implementation to users. One of the best cost control measures is to make sure you are only paying for work that brings direct value to your users. Agile is honest about the fact that even the best researched request for proposal is only a start – new ideas and requirements are bound to surface during an implementation that must be considered against the existing plan. Agile anticipates this reality and allows end users to test basic versions of the system very early on in the project to prove the value it will bring them before investing further into that particular feature.

Misconception #2: Too Many Meetings

Agile (particularly the Scrum framework) does have a lot of weekly meetings: backlog refinement meetings, daily stand up meetings, sprint showcase meetings, etc. It has a strong emphasis on face to face communication. This can put a heavy time burden on your staff who often wear many hats and do not usually have the luxury of ignoring their other job duties while they help manage a Salesforce implementation. Can’t you just pay an implementation partner to do all the work for you?

Yes, you can – and it’s called a waterfall implementation. One attribute of the more traditional waterfall approach is it allows for less direct interaction time with your implementation partner. Most of the project schedule has your partner off working on their own writing requirements, documenting designs, or building out the system before they come back to you to approve what they did. While this approach looks attractive to a time-strapped staff, it is accompanied by huge risks. All that time a partner is spending writing detailed requirements and design documentation without your input may end up being wasted if it turns out it isn’t quite what you needed after it is built and tested by your team.

A well-run Agile project will have firm time boxes around meetings to keep them as short and focused as possible. Additionally, these meetings occur on a recurring weekly schedule so it is easier for your team to coordinate around their other duties. Every minute you spend discussing user stories before they are built or testing them hands-on immediately after a sprint can save hours of work later because you get to provide immediate feedback to keep the project focused on the critical path.

Misconception #3: No Guarantee Up Front What I’m Going To Get In The End

Every IT director or program manager I’ve worked with wants to know what they are getting for their money when they sign on the dotted line. Most non-profit and education organizations have a fixed IT budget that must be adhered to each fiscal year. A strength of Agile is that it allows you to adjust and refine scope as you go along, but this can make it difficult to predict up front exactly which features will be delivered when you go live.

I would argue that this dilemma is not unique to Agile projects. Waterfall projects may, in fact, give you exactly what you approve in complex theoretical design documentation at the beginning of a project, but what you approve theoretically may not actually be what your users need. Without seeing the live results of the designs early on and testing it hands-on with end users, you run the risk of paying to design and build features you don’t use in the end or go live with a system that doesn’t have everything you need.

An experienced implementation partner will be able to provide a reasonable cost estimate within set parameters to give you guiderails for budgeting. However, when new requirements are added or new opportunities are uncovered for additional value, Agile gives you the power to adjust priorities on the fly to take the most advantage of your time and money with a Salesforce implementation partner and maximize the value they can deliver.

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Benjamin Washam

Benjamin Washam

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