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Value in a Digital Services Project
Value in a Digital Services Project

In This White Paper

April 2018 | Agile Research Network | Agile Projects

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The Agile Research Network explores value in a digital services project. Delivering value is a key tenet of Agile approaches to software development, including the Agile Project Framework (Agile Business Consortium, 2017). However, there are few techniques for identifying, tracking, and sharing value in Agile IT projects.

Created by the Agile Research Network

Agile Research Network

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Value in a Digital Services Project


Executive Summary

Delivering value is a key tenet of Agile approaches to software development, including the Agile Project Framework (Agile Business Consortium, 2017). However, there are few techniques for identifying, tracking, and sharing value in Agile IT projects. The value concept is commonly taken for granted, and is rarely clearly identified in IT projects (Racheva et al., 2010).

The Agile Project Framework refers to ‘business value’ and states that it emerges “when projects are aligned to clear business goals”. This starts with the identification of a high-level business vision and objectives. However, a key issue is how these business objectives filter down into the project detail. After project set up, the work and decision-making moves to a lower level where the focus is on technical practicalities and business process changes. Decisions made at this level are key to defining the final product or service. What is harder to do is to maintain links to the high-level business objectives throughout the detailed development work, and to measure success at the end based on those business objectives rather than successful completion of the technical work.

We tell the story of a city council housing organisation, our case study, as they digitise part of their tenant services. The business has clear strategic aims, and we found that project stakeholders and team members could describe the value of the project from their point of view. The key challenge areas that emerged were nuanced differences between value perspectives, a need for more precision about and prioritisation of value, and for a coherent thread to join high-level business strategy to project aims and to measurable project outcomes.

Based on the findings of the case study reported in this study, this white paper presents some recommendations from relevant literature on value characterisation in Agile projects and value delivery. To summarise, the main recommendations from literature are:

  • Value Characterisation: To gather value perspectives from different stakeholders to identify and form a mutually agreed understanding.
  • Build the Right Thing Right Based on Actual Value Need: To base the project on customer and user needs and keep them involved throughout the project through continuous stakeholder collaboration.
  • Value Progress Recognition: To estimate, manage, and deliver value based on estimations and feedback, taking stakeholder views into consideration. Moreover, to enhance the system’s ability to create value frequently throughout the project and system’s lifecycle.

Introduction

Delivering value is a central tenet of the Agile Project Framework (the Framework) philosophy, which states that:

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

Other Agile approaches also mention ‘value’, but tend to use the term in a more general way rather than specifying ‘business value’. The Scrum Guide emphasises ‘maximising the value of the product’ (Sutherland & Schwaber, 2016). The eXtreme Programming (XP) book states that ‘in XP you only do what you need to do to create value for the customer’ (Beck & Andres, 2004).

The term value has many meanings. These include:

  • the desirability or utility of a thing
  • monetary worth
  • the ability of a thing to serve a purpose
  • and (in plural) principles or standards (Oxford English Dictionary, 2015)

The first three of these are often referenced when talking about software value.

Agile approaches often focus on serving the needs of the customer. In the Agile literature the customer usually means the business for whom the software is being developed. Software users are another group whose needs must be met.

Sometimes the software users work within the customer business, but frequently there are several groups of users, some of whom are internal to the business and others who are external, in effect the business’ customers. It is therefore important that an Agile team is aware of:

  • the customer’s view of the value of the project
  • the users’ view of the value of the project
  • as well as other stakeholders’ views of value

Because of these different perspectives, identifying, estimating, and measuring the value of software systems is complex and multi-layered.

Different types of value come from IT projects. Examples include business value, user value, strategic value, process value. These aspects are distinct but are also interlinked. For example, user value is an important aspect of business value because a product needs to be useable and deliver value to its users in order to deliver business value. In this paper we are primarily interested in business value, by which we mean the outcomes from an IT project that produce benefits for the business to whom it belongs. However, we also reference user value because of its close link with business value.

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