Chapter 4: Principles

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4  Principles

4.1 Introduction to the DSDM Principles

The eight principles of DSDM support DSDM’s philosophy that

“best business value emerges when projects are aligned to clear business goals, deliver frequently and involve the collaboration of motivated and empowered people”.

They also bring the Agile values to life by guiding the team in the attitude it must take and the mindset it must adopt in order to deliver consistently whilst still remaining flexible.

Compromising any of the following principles undermines the philosophy of DSDM and introduces risk to the successful outcome of the project. If a team doesn’t follow all of these principles then it won’t get the full benefit of the approach. The collective value of DSDM’s principles enables organisations to deliver best value business solutions collaboratively.

The eight DSDM principles are:

This is Point 4.2 - Principle 1

  1. Focus on the business need
  2. Deliver on time
  3. Collaborate
  4. Never compromise quality
  5. Build incrementally from firm foundations
  6. Develop iteratively
  7. Communicate continuously and clearly
  8. Demonstrate control

4.2 Principle 1 - Focus on the Business Need



Every decision taken during a project should be viewed in the light of the overriding project goal - to deliver what the business needs to be delivered, when it needs to be delivered.

It is important to remember that a project is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

In order to fulfil this principle, DSDM teams will:

  • Understand the true business priorities
  • Establish a valid business case
  • Ensure continuous business sponsorship and commitment
  • Guarantee delivery of the Minimum Usable SubseT
  • (this is explained in detail in the section on MoScoW prioritisation)

Specific business roles in DSDM, in conjunction with the business products created in the Foundations phase, and key practices such as timeboxing and MoSCoW prioritisation, enable DSDM teams to fulfil this principle.

4.3 Principle 2 - Deliver on Time



Delivering a solution on time is a very desirable outcome for a project and is quite often the single most important success factor. Late delivery can often undermine the very rationale for a project, especially where market opportunities or legal deadlines are involved.

Even for projects without a need for a fixed end date, on time delivery of intermediate or contributing products is still the best way to demonstrate control over evolution of the solution.

In order to fulfil this principle, DSDM teams need to:

  • Timebox the work
  • Focus on business priorities
  • Always hit deadlines
  • Build confidence through predictable delivery

Combining the DSDM practices of timeboxing and MoSCoW prioritisation enables DSDM teams to protect deadlines whilst flexing the features, and to build a reputation for timely and predictable delivery. The ability to deliver on time and to meet the prioritised expectations of the business in the short term – the timebox – forms the basis of control over the longer-term deliver y of the project through timely delivery of Increments.

4.4 Principle 3 – Collaborate



Teams that work in a spirit of active cooperation and commitment will always outperform groups of individuals working only in loose association.

Collaboration encourages increased understanding, greater speed and shared ownership, which enable teams to perform at a level that exceeds the sum of their parts.

In order to fulfil this principle, DSDM teams need to:

  • Involve the right stakeholders, at the right time, throughout the project
  • Encourage pro-active involvement from the business representatives
  • Ensure that all members of the team are empowered to take decisions on behalf of those they represent
  • Build a one-team culture

DSDM’s Business Visionary, Business Ambassador and Business Advisor roles bring the appropriate subject matter experts into the project so they can contribute to the solution. The Solution Development Team brings together business and technical roles in a single team. This one-team culture is fostered by the Business Analyst helping to facilitate business agreement on the requirements and the Team Leader taking responsibility for facilitating a high level of collaboration between all Solution Development Team members. Facilitated workshops enable stakeholders to share their knowledge effectively with other members of the project team.

4.5 Principle 4 - Never Compromise Quality



In DSDM, the level of quality to be delivered should be agreed at the start. All work should be aimed at achieving that level of quality - no more and no less.

A solution has to be ‘good enough’. If the business agrees that the features in the Minimum Usable SubseT meet the agreed acceptance criteria, then the solution should be ‘good enough’ to use effectively.

In order to fulfil this principle, DSDM teams need to:

  • Agree the level of quality from the outset, before development starts
  • Ensure that quality does not become a variable
  • Test early, test continuously and test to the appropriate level
  • Build in quality by constant review
  • Design and document appropriately

Ensuring testing is properly integrated into the Iterative Development process, with regular reviews throughout the project lifecycle, helps the DSDM team to build a quality solution. The review and quality control products created as the project proceeds help demonstrate that the quality of the solution is meeting the expected standard.

Using DSDM, everything is tested as early as possible. MoSCoW prioritisation and timeboxing are used to ensure that testing is appropriate and under taken without introducing unnecessary risks. In an IT project, the use of test-driven development techniques can also significantly improve the quality of the solution by ensuring that the acceptability of the solution is understood before development starts.

4.6 Principle 5 - Build Incrementally from Firm Foundations



One of the key differentiators for DSDM within the Agile space is the concept of establishing firm foundations for the project before committing to significant development. DSDM advocates first understanding the scope of the business problem to be solved and the proposed solution, but not in such detail that the project becomes paralysed by overly detailed analysis of requirements.

Once firm foundations for development have been established, DSDM advocates incremental deliver y of the solution in order to deliver real business benefit as early as is practical. Incremental delivery encourages stakeholder confidence, offering a source of feedback for use in subsequent Timeboxes and may lead to the early realisation of business benefit.

In order to fulfil this principle, DSDM teams need to:

  • Carry-out appropriate analysis and enough design up front (EDUF) to create strong foundations
  • Formally re-assess priorities and informally re-assess ongoing project viability with each delivered Increment

DSDM teams implement this principle through the appropriate application of a project lifecycle, which delivers a solid base of knowledge during Feasibility and Foundations phases before building the solution incrementally during the Evolutionary Development phase.

4.7 Principle 6 - Develop Iteratively 



DSDM uses a combination of Iterative Development, frequent demonstrations and comprehensive review to encourage timely feedback. Embracing change as par t of this evolutionary process allows the team to converge on an accurate business solution.

The concept of iteration is at the heart of everything developed as part of the DSDM approach. It is very rare that anything is created perfectly first time and it is important to recognise that projects operate within a changing world.

In order to fulfil this principle, DSDM teams need to:

  • Build business feedback into each iteration
  • Recognise that most detail should emerge later rather than sooner
  • Embrace change – the right solution will not evolve without it
  • Use iterative development to encourage creativity, experimentation and learning
  • Change is inevitable; DSDM allows for change and harnesses its benefits.

Within the constraints of time and cost, change is actively encouraged in order to evolve the most appropriate solution. DSDM uses iteration and constant review to make sure that what is being developed is what the business really needs. Cycles of feedback should form part of the process for evolving all project deliverables e.g. all plans and documentation.

4.8 Principle 7 - Communicate Continuously and Clearly



Poor communication is often cited as the biggest single cause of project failure.

DSDM practices are specifically designed to improve communication effectiveness for both teams and individuals.

In order to fulfil this principle, DSDM teams need to:

  • Encourage informal, face-to-face communication at all levels
  • Run daily team stand-up sessions
  • Use Workshops, with a facilitator where appropriate
  • Use visual communication practices such as Modelling and Prototyping
  • Demonstrate the Evolving Solution early and often
  • Keep documentation lean and timely
  • Manage the expectations of the stakeholder at all levels throughout the project
  • Always aim for honesty and transparency in all communication

DSDM emphasises the value of human interaction through Stand-ups (see Chapter 13 - Timeboxing), Workshops, clearly defined roles and active business involvement.

Modelling and Prototyping make early instances of the solution available for scrutiny. These practices are far more effective than the use of large textual documents, which are sometimes written for reasons other than achieving the business objectives of the project.

4.9 Principle 8 - Demonstrate Control



It is essential to be in control of a project at all times and to be able to demonstrate that this is the case. This can only be achieved by reference to a plan for the work being done, which is clearly aligned with agreed business objectives.

It is also vital to ensure transparency of all work being performed by the team.

In order to fulfil this principle, DSDM teams, especially the Project Manager and Team Leader, need to:

  • Make plans and progress visible to all
  • Measure progress through focus on delivery of products rather than completed activities
  • Manage proactively
  • Evaluate continuing project viability based on the business objectives
  • Use an appropriate level of formality for tracking and reporting

The use of well-defined Timeboxes, with constant review points, and the preparation of the Management Foundations and Timebox Plans, are designed to assist the Project Manager and the rest of the project team to follow this principle.

4.10 Summary

The eight principles help direct and shape the attitude and mindset of a DSDM team. Compromising any of the principles undermines DSDM’s philosophy, as together they deliver a collective value that outweighs their individual benefits.

Next chapter: 5 Preparing for Success