A Marketer’s Guide to Agile Development – “Welcome Changing Requirements?” Who Does That?

Yeah….maybe “welcome” is a strong word. Then what’s the right word? Tolerate? Humor? Laugh and point? If welcoming changing requirements, even late in development, is a key tenet of the Agile Manifesto, why does the marketing team feel about as welcome as Keith Olbermann at a Tea Party rally when they try to get changes done?
Here’s the thing. Say you’ve got a six-week release schedule. The backlog priority meeting was three weeks ago, and Release 5 is scheduled 3 weeks from now. You’re getting mucho static when you try to convince the development team that your new McGuyver Social Media functionality absolutely has to be part of Release 5. You say there’s three more weeks – plenty of time to squeeze the change into the schedule. They say they’ll get it into a future release. “So much for welcoming changing requirements!” you say.

But here’s their view. They’ve got to get Release 5 out, and the deadline for completed code is next Friday. And another tenet of Agile is to “deliver working software frequently”. So they keep working toward the sprint instead of implementing your change so they can make the delivery. That’s what their boss is grading them on. If your enhancement is important enough, it will get into the next sprint, right? So they’re not saying “no”, they’re just saying “yes, but later’. Right?

No. This ain’t your first time in the rodeo. You know that “we’ll include it in a future release” is the IT equivalent of “the check’s in the mail”, “I’ll fight for you in Washington” or “Facebook values your privacy”. You know that once the original version is coded, there will be zero interest in plucking the enhancement out of Backlog Purgatory. “Iron Man VII – Recycle or Die” will be in theatres before you see it implemented.

The problem isn’t one of process but of trust. Both Marketing and IT need to trust the standard of requirements and appropriate use of backlog.

Requirements are a funny thing in Agile. Some requirements, even in an Agile environment, still go “thump” when printed. Extreme Programming proponents say that a requirement should fit on an index card. Others have questioned the very nature and necessity of requirements. Consider this quote from Scott W. Ambler: “Is something really a requirement if it evolves over time? Is something really a requirement if it gets deprioritized and as a result never gets implemented? Is something really a requirement if it gets reorganized into smaller pieces and then only a subset of the pieces is implemented?”

Marketing and IT have to align their expectations. Whether requirements in your shop can fit into a single tweet, or they’re wav files in a database, or they’re printed, bound and given a Library of Congress number, figure out what’s method is right for the business and set realistic protocols on how change should happen within that method. If you don’t, this conflict will happen in every sprint. As for the backlog, its effect on the perception of requirements change will depend on its reputation. When a requirement goes there, is it considered bound for the bullpen or the showers? Fix the way the backlog is perceived and you’ll fix a lot of this conflict between marketers and developers.