Identifying the Right Fit for Our Client

Since its creation 17 years ago, the Agile software development method has transformed the process for building digital products. By adopting shorter timescales with a collaborative, cross-functional team, companies can now seamlessly change o update their existing technologies to maintain afloat in the ever-changing tech industry. 

Agile is one the most commonly applied methodologies used by product development teams (we use it to develop Service Year). However, agile processes are not always easy to implement with some clients.  What do you do when your client wasn’t born in the last decade? What happens when your client’s decision-making table is full of multiple networks of stakeholders and agencies? What if your client is a massive risk-averse company, faced with heavy regulations?  What if everyone is apprehensive about making the switch to Agile?

Enter: Aquagilé.

Aquagilé (pronounced /aqua.ʒi.le/) is a healthy mix of waterfall and Agile, combined to allow product teams to work effectively while giving clients the time they need to engage and align with their stakeholders.

During our in-person sprint review with the client, we coined the term “Aquagilé” as we were faced with the challenge of having a behemoth stakeholder network.  A large stakeholder network means there will be a plethora of insights for development teams to sort through which can create the environment for several clashing opinions on processes. In order to appease these circulating opinions, we tailored a solution that combines the best of both worlds. 
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Aquagilé 101

TL;DR – leverage Agile planning and waterfall production.

We begin with Agile. This is the part where our team works in creating user stories, gathering technical requirements, prioritizing the backlog and planning sprints. We have both internal and client-facing weekly standups, in addition to sprint reviews and retrospectives. This allows our team to prioritize features, define a minimum viable product (“MVP”), and work collaboratively.

At this point, we are ready to transition into waterfall. The design team kicks things off and this is followed by a cascading series of design and development sprints. Instead of launching a release at the end of each development sprint, we release the product when all sprints are complete and the client completes their own acceptance testing. This allows the client to receive stakeholder approval, ensure the product aligns with legal and ADA compliance standards, and develop a thorough communication plan.


Try Out Process Iteration

While agile may be is the hottest pair of shoes on the market, it wasn’t a good fit for this client and that’s okay (we don’t like to process-shame). Our personalized approach accomplishes harmony on our team and comfortably pushes our client to move forward. In the end, we’re still making incremental change and isn’t that what Agile is all about?

So can Aquagilé work for you too? Yes, and here are a few tips for implementing Aquagilé for all kinds of clients.

The Client That Loves Being in the Weeds

If the client has a strong interest in your process, get them involved at the very beginning with writing user stories. This is normal and it is strongly encouraged to let the clients write their own user stories. If you’re nervous about handing over the reins, remember this step can allow you to identify newer requirements that you may not have known about previously. Proactively sharing your timeline can also establish clear time periods for reviews and allow your client to block off time in advance.  This step reduces the chances of receiving last-minute feedback that could potentially steer the project off course.

The Client That’s Too Busy to Learn Software Process

Clients are not always readily available. If weekly calls are too much, switch to bi-weekly meetings that are focused on tackling more complex conversations and be sure to add additional days into the timeline for review and approvals. Once user stories are prioritized and the sprints are planned, the client can sit back and relax until the sprint reviews. To avoid losing your product owner, empower the product manager to make decisions in between client meetings.

The Client That Relies on Large Agency Teams

With so many cooks in the kitchen, defining roles and responsibilities at the beginning of the project is crucial. Appoint a lead product/project manager at the beginning and clearly communicate ownership of deliverables. In-person sprint reviews are key to building relationships and trust with multiple players. Aligning all of the internal teams during the sprint planning process can ensure that the waterfall portion flows seamlessly.

The Client That Doesn’t Identify a Product Owner

In any software development process, it’s crucial to have one person who sets and communicates the vision for the product. A large piece of vision setting is managing stakeholder needs and desires. Without a product owner, the strongest stakeholder controls the product, making user story prioritization very difficult. The best remedy to avoid a mutiny? Develop a strong product charter and technical brief to use as a reference when it feels like the product is stalling or too one-sided.