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Business and Technology Insights

How to Achieve Success in Agile - with Demand Management

 
March 15, 2016

A successful business must be able to balance demand (of goods and services) with supply (raw material, manpower and time). Otherwise it may produce too little of a popular product, or too much of a product that no one wants. Poor planning will also result in late deliveries, poor quality products, and low customer satisfaction.

Similarly, the IT department of an organization too has resources and must cater to the demands of the business. However, as often witnessed, the IT department can be more focused on fulfilling the supply (project management, software development and managing physical assets like hardware and networks) – and in the process, end up ignoring the demand side (capturing and prioritizing demand, assigning resources based on business objectives and contributing to projects that deliver business benefits). The criteria for success too is often defined as on-time delivery, within budget and scope.

Is demand management the missing link in many IT departments?

A successful business model is built on the effective management of demand as well as supply. After all, as this earlier post revealed, there is a need for creating the right product and also building the product right! Today, Agile methodologies allow businesses to balance demand and supply. And thanks to its flexibility and ability to accelerate development and deployment cycles, businesses across the world are adopting Agile. Has your business too taken to Agile? If yes, is your Agile implementation well-managed?

Demand management (DM), a crucial facet of Agile, can make all the difference between success and failure with Agile. DM is a core aspect of Agile project management, and as the name suggests, comprises a set of processes used for planning and managing ongoing and forecasted demand in the software development process.

However, despite its strategic importance, IT managers are yet to effectively embrace DM. DM metrics, trends, and predictions too are currently hard to come by. Perhaps because Agile adoption is still a nascent initiative in many businesses, findings released by software project management research organizations reveal indirect statistics at best.

How should Quality Assurance (QA) Heads and Test Managers approach DM?

A key challenge Quality Assurance (QA) & Testing managers face in Agile implementations is managing the demand. QA managers handle work requests or user stories that pour in seemingly uncontrollably. These requirements can span numerous geographies and lines of business, further complicating matters. Sometimes, multiple unique but similar work requests reach the testing team and need to be consolidated in a timely manner.

DM helps gauge the testing requirements and adjust the scope of the requirements or functionalities according to bandwidth and priority. Specifically, it entails prioritizing user stories in an iterative and collaborative manner, based on their criticality, business impact, and delivery commitment, to create a high level roadmap of all demands to be addressed in a subsequent release. DM helps define and decide on an appropriate delivery approach and drive, assist, and support effective QA execution.

When adopted by multiple teams (development, testing, and business), this incremental approach makes the entire process responsive to changing project and customer needs. The resulting team synergy facilitates flexibility, allowing for adjustment of testing requirements, sans chaos. In other words, DM facilitates the effective management of project scope.

It's important to scope DM as well. This is done by factoring parameters such as impacted domains, estimated and actual effort, and infrastructure dependencies. Risks too, must be mitigated with appropriate recovery plans. Risks and dependencies must be stringently analyzed for demand impact and financial implications. For accurate scoping, customer requirements must be clarified to the most explicit and granular level. User stories must be rigorously scrutinized before committing to them. Current and forecasted demand plans should be adjusted based on ongoing DM reviews.

In the real world, demand comes in every single day. So the challenge for IT, and thereby QA & Testing is to capture that demand, both planned and unplanned, as early as possible. Effective DM will empower IT managers to respond to issues as they arise, throughout the course of the project or releases. It will also ensure necessary changes are made to meet demands at the right time, consequently saving on resources. What's more, DM will ensure successful delivery of projects on time and within budget, thus leading to proper continual planning, forecasting, budgeting, and resourcing.

You can read my whitepaper 'Successful Agile Project Management: Practical Demand Management for Optimizing Cost, Time and Quality'. I have shared more insights on the common misconceptions about DM, and the guidelines QA heads and managers can consider for successful demand management.

Rupal Sharma is a Test Process Solution Consultant at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). She has over 10 years of experience working in various testing roles in the IT industry, including on agile testing. Her main areas of expertise are Agile, test processes, DevOps and automation. Rupal has experience in Scrum and contributed to setting up Test Centers of Excellence as well as conducting Test Process Assessments for various sectors.