DSDM: What Do Agile Practitioners Need to Know?
Once upon a time, ‘Agile’ management was exclusive to the world of software development. It powered much greater levels of efficiency and adaptability using an iterative approach that not only left developers with more flexibility, but also allowed them to enjoy the benefits of their work earlier on. These days, Agile is also widely applied to business management across virtually every sector and industry, yet we still have an important reminder of its origins: the DSDM.
The DSDM, formerly known as the ‘Dynamic Systems Development Method’, is exactly what you’d think: a method for developing dynamic IT systems. It was originally released in 1994 by the DSDM Consortium, which now goes by the ‘Agile Business Consortium’. This organization has continued to update the DSDM while also providing free resources regarding its application, as well as its connection to other methods and frameworks. Agile students can even view the DSDM Agile Project Framework Handbook via the Agile Business Consortium website. While at one point the methodology was renamed ‘DSDM Atern’, followers nowadays all know it simply as the ‘DSDM’.
Unlike other Agile-based methods, the DSDM has a greater focus on aligning projects with corporate and stakeholder objectives. This brings a certain level of objective restraint to Agile projects, ensuring that they do not get out of control by constantly redefining targets or losing sight of priorities.
Over the years, the DSDM has proven itself to offer tangible benefits across Agile teams, with project managers, business analysts, and other team members all having the potential to optimize their results with Agile practices.
How does the DSDM work?
The underpinning philosophy of the DSDM is to deliver benefits that are fully aligned with corporate strategy as early as possible in a project in order to optimize ROIs. It ‘works’ by providing products, responsibilities, best practices, specified roles, and a clearly defined lifecycle that can all scale to suit any project or environment. It aims to deliver results on time, within budget, and in a way that is fully aligned with the long term goals of the wider business.
DSDM is based on eight Principles which outline its culture and philosophy:
- Focus on the business need – An Agile project team should understand the business priorities they are working towards. MoSCoW Prioritization is used to ensure that all work is directed towards the ‘business case’, rather than treating the project as an end in itself
- Deliver on time – Even in projects that lack a fixed end date, Agile team members should prioritize setting and meeting deadlines. Timeboxing is applied, with teams collaborating to achieve targets within time limits. Business priorities are again focused on first, and teams will work to create a predictable delivery schedule
- Collaborate – Employees work better together, especially in Agile projects that require expertise from multiple viewpoints. By having team members take charge and collaborate, while also encouraging the involvement of stakeholders and business representatives, the DSDM creates thriving and efficient team cultures
- Never compromise quality – While Agile is flexible, DSDM Agile projects establish a target level of quality right at the beginning of a project. Once a solution meets the Minimum Usable SubseT (MUST) success criteria, it will be acceptable to deploy it. This is driven by continuous testing and constant reviews at all appropriate levels, as well as carefully designing and documenting all key elements of a project
- Build incrementally from firm foundations – A DSDM Agile project team will establish the business problem they want to solve early on. However, they will not define the solution so intricately that it will deprive the team of flexibility further down the line. This is creating ‘enough design up-front (EDUF)’. The team will also deliver the solution in short, incremental bursts to create tangible business benefits early on and generate regular feedback from clients and stakeholders. This also gives them the chance to adapt the project and reassess priorities as necessary
- Develop iteratively – Being able to evolve a project requires client, stakeholder, and user feedback. This is why DSDM projects encourage iterative development targets and demonstrations. Project environments are often subject to change, and so it is vital for teams to evolve their awareness, as well as their project deliverables, over time. Change is embraced, and feedback is integrated into every iteration of a project
- Communicate continuously and clearly – The DSDM recognizes the importance of clear communication for ensuring project success. Face to face meetings are encouraged at various levels, and teams will often have daily catchup sessions. The use of workshops is encouraged by the methodology, and team members are each given clarified roles and responsibilities. Documentation is also kept lean and produced as quickly as possible. All of this makes projects completely transparent, creating environments that support the needs of both team members and stakeholders
- Demonstrate control – By having a clear plan that is fully aligned with business objectives, Agile project managers can demonstrate and communicate a project’s progress, as well as their control of it. This is directed towards team members for the sake of transparency, with plans and updates on progress being publicly available. Projects are also tracked according to specified metrics, giving managers a firm grasp of continuing project viability
Some of the DSDM’s demonstrably effective practices include:
- Iterative development – Project goals are established iteratively, allowing team members to take on feedback and reassess project requirements and other factors before setting their next targets. The results of smaller project goals can also be enjoyed earlier on and more frequently
- Modeling – ‘Modeling’ is used to demonstrate business solutions for different stakeholder groups. This provides a greater level of clarity that prevents misunderstandings. Modeling and prototyping are utilized with varying levels of complexity at different stages of a typical Agile project lifecycle
- Timeboxing – ‘Timeboxing’ is a practice that allocates a fixed time period for teams to reach a specified goal. Time is not extended if targets are not achieved, and teams will instead assess what they managed to get done. This can help team members to schedule and prioritize different goals and tasks, and knowing each others’ schedules will also enable them to collaborate more effectively. Timeboxing also boosts transparency by ensuring team members have a clear record of what they have achieved
- MoSCoW Prioritization – The ‘MoSCoW method’ is used to communicate with stakeholders and establish a collective understanding of what level of importance they place on different project requirements/goals. Also known as ‘MoSCoW analysis’, the technique ensures that fixed resources go towards the most important tasks. It also helps to develop a wider understanding of the concerns held by different stakeholders and team members
- Facilitated workshops – A ‘facilitated workshop’ is a method that involves putting various stakeholders and team members together so that they can define product requirements quickly and comprehensively. This can be necessary during the planning stage, if a big decision needs to be made, or if an issue within a project requires more of a group approach
It is important to note that the DSDM is relatively simple compared to other approaches, especially those like PRINCE2, which focus on more traditional practices. This makes it fairly easy for teams and wider businesses to adopt. That being said, it is important to select the most appropriate framework in order to truly benefit from using the DSDM.
What is the DSDM’s connection to Agile frameworks?
The DSDM forms the basis for a number of Agile frameworks, many of which simply approach the methodology from different viewpoints.
- ‘AgilePM’, also known as ‘Agile Project Management’, focuses on the viewpoint and needs of project managers (though the names ‘AgilePM’ and ‘DSDM’ are often used interchangeably)
- ‘Agile Business Analyst (AgileBA)’ defines the role of a business analyst and the requirements for ‘Agile business analysis’ within an Agile environment
The DSDM can also be combined with methodologies that have different approaches to project management. These include PRINCE2 and MSP. It can even incorporate popular Agile tools and methods such as Kanban and Scrum.
How can I study and utilize the DSDM?
Becoming certified in either AgilePM or AgileBA is a great way for a practitioner to verify their understanding of the DSDM. It also helps that these two frameworks complement one another excellently, with Agile project managers and business analysts enhancing each other’s results and ROIs.
Good e-Learning is an award-winning online training provider with a diverse portfolio of fully accredited courses. Several of our courses cover the philosophy, tools, and best practices of the DSDM, including:
- AgilePM Foundation
- AgilePM Practitioner
- AgilePM Foundation & Practitioner
- Agile BA Foundation
- AgileBA Practitioner
- AgileBA Foundation & Practitioner
Our courses are built with help from highly experienced subject matter experts. This allows us to offer not only practical wisdom, but also a variety of online training assets – including instructor-led videos. Students can access courses even via mobile devices, and we also offer downloadable resources for studying on the go. Our support team is fully qualified to answer questions relating to course content in the run-up to foundation and practitioner exams – and each student can even enjoy a FREE exam voucher, along with free resits via Exam Pledge.