May 30, 2010, 9:46 PM — When Bill Raduchel was CIO of Sun Microsystems, he espoused KISSS (Keep It Small, Simple, and Separable), the extended version of the KISS principle. IT success wasn't just a matter of keeping things simple, it was making sure that projects were as small and separable as possible. This was years before the Agile Manifesto, but the logic -- both technical and user-centered -- was built on the same foundation. The Mythical Man-Month is still in print for a reason.
As I've written before, it is essential to avoid the big-bang style of project deliveries for CRM projects. You'll find that nearly every CRM consultancy will claim that they're an Agile shop. This is natural, as nearly all the authors of the Agile manifesto were themselves consultants. But it's one thing to blurt Agile all over one's Web site, and another to actually run projects that way.
Why do you care? Because CRM projects need to be much more flexible and adaptive than general IT applications. All too often, the users don't really know what they need, and the smart ones will admit it. Even if they did know, the business rules and your company's competitive environment will change before an 18-month "big bang" project ever gets deployed. CRM projects are not only less expensive when delivered incrementally, they are a better fit with the business needs. So it's important to get your project staff -- and the CRM system's executive champions -- comfortable with Agile.
When evaluating your CRM consultancy, look beyond the Web site and the sales pitch. Ask them for specific customer references where Agile methods positively impacted the project results. Make sure that the specific project lead who'll be assigned to your project has experience with Agile projects (particularly with customers of your size and IT profile). Ask them what will be important characteristics of a scrum master. Telltale signs of a poseur: if they give you a blank stare, or don't know whether the scrum master works for them or for you.
But the acid test of real Agile knowledge comes when you look at their proposal and project plan. If they are promising to deliver a fixed specification for a fixed price and/or a pre-determined schedule, watch out. Agile adherents cannot and will not make that commitment. As attractive as those promises might be, they're only possible if the project is a complete cookie-cutter or being bid with a ridiculously high margin. Either way, they're not being straight with you...and you're not going to get the optimal business value for your money.
The Other Side of the Coin
If your implementation team should be Agile, does it make a difference if your CRM vendor delivers their product using the same principles?