A Tale of Two Travels


The following story (or stories) describe a hypothetical application of both waterfall and agile development/contracting methodologies to a westward journey in an imaginary world where transportation options do not already exist. The scenario, may be a fantasy but the problems faced are all too real.

Imagine you need to get across the country and there is no existing transportation (no such thing as planes, trains, or automobiles). So your objective is to “Head West.” Now, since you do not have the inherent ability or expertise to travel west, you decide to contract out to acquire a vendor to assist you in this journey.

In this first scenario, you determined to undertake this initiative utilizing a waterfall approach. You spend the next several months defining in detail all of the needs of this journey. For example, you define whether it will be by land, air, or sea. You also define the average rate you will travel, the location in which you will end, and the exact date at which you will arrive. For the sake of this story, let’s assume you selected a vehicle, that can travel at an average rate of 65 MPH on the ground, which can keep you dry, and at a comfortable temperature; we will call it a Comfort Automatic Rover (CAR). You have also determined that you will arrive in California within 12 monthsalong with a laundry list of specifications for this CAR to allow all vendors to bid to the same standard; how else could you compare apples to apples?

After competing and selecting the best valued vendor you have now awarded a Cost Plus Fixed Fee contract. Since there are exact specifications for your CAR, the vendor gets right to work. They estimate it will take approximately a week for the CAR to make it across the country and their Integrated Master Schedule proposed 10 months for development, manufacturing, and testing. Good news you are ahead of schedule! After the first 3 months the Earned Value Management reports look good things are moving along well and your vendor is on schedule and under budget. Suddenly your travel budget is cut and you know learn that you must make it across the country with no more than $300 in fuel. This means it is critical that the fuel efficiency for this CAR is at least 30 MPGs. Unfortunately this was not part of the original requirements and the contractor has already finished their design and have begun tooling machines to produce a CAR that can only achieve 22 MPGs. When you notify the vendor, they inform you that they can accommodate this change, but it will add 20 additional days to their schedule which means there is little slack left to ensure you arrive on the West Coast in 12 months. Happy with the flexibility of your vendor, production continues. 3 more months go by and while everything is still green on your schedule and cost reports, footnotes are starting to appear identifying risks. Of particular concern is one regarding approval to use methane fuel. You have submitted your request but approval is still pending. Development continues and you have even been able to see some initial testing of the vehicle. As you excitedly tell your stakeholders about your upcoming trip you receive a very disturbing call. The office of fuel management has denied your request to use methane citing a newly passed regulation that all transportation must use bio-fuel made from corn. The same day you get a call that you must head through the mountains for a critical 2 day stop in Utah. You immediately notify the vendor of this news. The vendor is equally frustrated. This will require a redesign of the engine. Additionally the accommodation for the 30 MPG was based on a more fuel-efficient route. This combined with the two day stop has now pushed the schedule to red. At this point the vendor informs you that there will be a cost overrun. Either they can surge to attempt to get back on schedule or let the schedule slip but still have additional cost associated with the additional schedule. Eager to stay on schedule you negotiate an engineering Change Proposal (ECP) for a surge team to hopefully still meet your deadline. 3 additional months go by and the schedule has gone from red to yellow and with the new cost baseline your costs are green (your ulcer has started to heal). As you are approach the final month you reach testing. Excited that despite the additional cost you will soon have your CAR. When testing concludes you receive the report; 27 MPGs and the ignition failure rate is 50%. The vendor acknowledges they knew this was a risk when they made the change to accommodate the new fuel source but thought they could manage it. Furious you ask how long this will take to fix. The vendor estimates 4 weeks to reengineer, test, and deliver. Even though this was the vendor’s mistake, the cost reimbursable contract means additional costs; funding you don’t have. You now have to choose between accepting the lower gas mileage and high failure rate, or attempt to find additional funding, negotiating a new ECP (with the associated bid and proposal costs) make the changes, and miss your already adjusted deadline. Ultimately you decide to take money from a different project (a problem you will have to deal with later) and notify your stakeholders that you will be arriving late. After what turns out to be three more months you finally take delivery of your CAR and even though you are way over budget and behind schedule you can finally start your journey. As you set out your phone rings; in the 15+ months since you awarded your contract the end user has moved to Utah. Gas mileage is no longer an issue (only traveling half the distance) and they are really interested in this new 4X4 capability…

Now let’s say you decide to pursue the same requirement utilizing an agile approach. You start with your objective “Go West.” You then spend the next two weeks identifying some key must haves, should haves, could haves; but describe them as a backlog and a roadmap, both of which are subject to change. You release your requirement and compete for the best valued vendor based on their agile process to deliver functional products, the key members of the team, the management plan, demonstrated past performance, and their fixed price per iteration.

You select your vendor and begin Sprint 0. They hand you a map and a compass and point you westward. Iteration 0 is complete for the price proposed and you have begun your journey. As part of the process, the vendor immediately engages you on your experience. You inform the vendor, that you are tired, moving too slow (approximately 15 miles a day), and are very uncomfortable. Based on your prioritization, it is determined that addressing your personal effort is the most important issue. Iteration 1 results in the vendor providing you with an animal that you can ride and moves much faster than you (roughly 30 miles per day). They call it a Human-On Ride System Experience (HORSE). This is great you think, though in the feedback you address that sitting directly on the HORSE is very uncomfortable, hard to steer, you have no place to carry your things, and even the HORSE tires and needs to rest. Based on your prioritization the vendor builds you a comfortable seat and a harness to help steer the HORSE. As you continue moving westward (only 1.5 months into the contract and you are already 1/4 of the way across the country) Sprint 3 results in the design of wagon which you review and provide feedback requesting a cover. Sprints 4, 5, and 6 deliver the components of the Covered Wagon which are combined into a release at the end of sprint 6. Now you are really in business, this Wagon can be pulled by multiple HORSEs (meaning less work for each and more distance per day), you can carry food and water, and you are comfortable and dry! User feedback continues; you tell the vendor that you received a phone call that you need to stop in Utah for 2 days. The vendor responds that they will include that as the highest priority for the next sprint but that it has no schedule impact (beyond the two day stop) and no cost since they will simply reprioritize the deliveries. As you continue to engage with your customers you learn that that their priority is really to move to Utah and they would like you to have the ability to easily navigate the tough terrain. Having already reached your destination, this regular engagement has saved significant time and money. This allows you to focus on your “should and could haves” list for future sprints. Over time your HORSE is replaced with a sport utility vehicle (SUV) with a combustible bio-fuel engine and 4X4 capability.

This story demonstrates the value of agile development. The time to create the objectives was just a fraction of the time to develop the detailed requirements for the waterfall method so the vendor was able to be selected much earlier and closer to the user’s original need. Since agile builds small, delivers early and often, and is predicated on delivering end-user priorities the traveler made it to their destination early and in a manner that addressed the current needs of the end-user (as opposed to those identified prior to running the competition). Additionally, the price was fixed and therefore predictable. The additional time and funding was able to be invested in additional desired functionality keeping the solution current with available technology. Since requirements were for the process of delivering functional product there was no need to make decisions early or contractual changes when circumstances or functional requirements shifted; Happy Travels…


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