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Agile Method Brief – Crystal


Quick Summary
A quick overview of Crystal Clear—an agile software development methodology intended for small teams working on low-criticality projects.


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What this is

Crystal is a family of agile software development methodology developed by Alistair Cockburn based on ten years of research he did on the properties of successful projects. Through his research and experience, he found that the properties of projects changed based on the number of people involved and the criticality of the project, ranging from loss of discretionary money to the loss of life.

This technique brief focuses primarily on Crystal Clear, which is intended for small teams working on low criticality projects.


Why it's useful

Crystal introduces the importance of people and communications, and adjusting the techniques used in a project to the characteristics of that particular project. While other software development methods, particularly other agile methods, do stress the importance of people, the Crystal family uses a focus on people and communications as its organizing principle, and most of the properties and techniques are based on strengthening that process.


How to use it

  1. Once a project has been identified, bring together the team, including the executive sponsor, the lead designer, other designer-programmers, and one or more expert users.
  2. The team performs an Exploratory 360 to gather information about the project and determine whether it adds value to the organization and is technically feasible.
  3. The team shapes and fine-tunes their methodology for the project based on past experiences and any practices required by the organization.
  4. The team gets together to build the initial project plan using a planning technique that involves everyone, such as Blitz Planning.
  5. The team enters into their first delivery cycle, which includes one or more iterations. At the end of the delivery cycle, the team delivers running, tested features to end users, and then holds a reflection workshop.
  6. The team begins their next delivery cycle, starting with a recalibration of the release plan if necessary, after which they repeat step 5.
  7. This process continues until the executive sponsor stops the project or the goals of the project are achieved.
About the Author

Kent J. McDonald, partner and co-founder of Accelinnova, has more than a decade of experience guiding successful projects and designing business solutions in a variety of industries, including financial services, health insurance, performance marketing, human services, non-profit, and automotive. By addressing common questions about project leadership, Kent demonstrates how agile practices can be applied in organizations, focusing on his "Words To Lead By: Collaborate; Iterate; Serve The Team; Consider Context; Practice Excellence; Reflect And Adapt; Deliver Value."

Kent has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Iowa State University and an MBA from Kent State University. He is co-founder, and Treasurer of the Agile Project Leadership Network, is a founder of the Agile Iowa Group, and is on the planning committee for the Agile 2007 Conference. He welcomes questions about project leadership with a focus on value at kent@kentmcdonald.com.


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