Agile Project Management Frameworks–Crystal

This is the sixth of a series of posts devoted to outlining the various agile frameworks that exist in the world of agile project management, based on the book “PMI-ACP and Certified Scrum Professional Exam Prep and Desk Reference”, by John Stenbeck.

The first three posts covered those frameworks which are covered on the PMI-ACP exam, namely, Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), and Lean Software Development (LSD).   The next three posts cover the relatively “minor players” in the marketplace, Feature Driven Development (FDD), Agile Unified Process (AUP), and Crystal.    This post covers Crystal, the only framework that is actually a family of frameworks.

1.Crystal History

  • 2004–Alistair Cockburn published “Crystal Clear:  A Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams”

2. Crystal Determining Factors

In Crystal, the two factors determining the specific framework within the family of frameworks called Crystal are:

  1. Size–determined by the number of people involve in a project
  2. Criticality–determined by the potential damage the system can cause if it does not perform as designed

3. Crystal Family Colors

There are five “colors” which represent the five families of Crystal methodogies, whiich are to be adopted based on the size of the project (i.e., the number of people involved on a project

  1. Clear–up to 6 people
  2. Yellow–up to 20 people
  3. Orange–up to 40 people
  4. Red–up to 80 people
  5. Maroon–up to 200 people

If you are in a project that has a Crystal Clear framework, and you increase the people in your project to greater than 6, than Alistair Cockburn recommends the project the next higher framework level (Crystal Yellow), rather than trying to expand the prior Crystal Clear practices.

As you go up in levels, the project is expected to be harder.

4.  4 Levels of Criticality in Crystal

Besides having a “size” factor which determines the framework, the other factor mentioned above which effects the framework is that of “criticality”, which is the level of potential damage the system can cause if it does not perform as designed

  1. Comfort (C)
  2. Discretionary Money (D)
  3. Essential Money (E)
  4. Life (L)

One of the key issues in the Obamacare initiative when it comes to automating record systems is that the companies who are implementing these solutions need to understand the criticality of the systems they are creating.   If there is a mistake made by the automated system, it could mean a patient’s life could be at stake.   Crystal is the only agile methodology which explicitly recognizes this level of criticality in the choice of methodology.

5. 7 Key Principles of Crystal

  1. Frequent Delivery (FD)–stakeholders and customers received deliverables every couple of months at a minimum.
  2. Continual Feedback (CF)–team meets on a regular basis to discuss project activities with stakeholders and uses feedback to confirm that the project is headed in the desired direction
  3. Constant Communication (CC)–team is colocated in the same room (on smaller projects) or in the same facility (on larger proejcts) so that teams have frequent access to the persons defining requirements
  4. Safety–team members meet in a “safe zone” where team members can communicate without fear or reprisal.  The concept of safety also enters into Crystal in that the “criticality” factor, that is, the amount of potential damage to an end user if a system does not perform as designed, is taken into account.
  5. Focus–top two or three priorities are clearly shared with the team and the team is given uninterrupted time to complete them.
  6. Access–team must have adequate access to end users of the system while it is being built.
  7. Automated Tests and Integration–testing and integration must be supported by automated versioning, testing, and integration of system components.

The only two levels for which there is authoritative information for applying Crystal is for the Clear and Orange levels.  Nothing has been published regarding the Crystal Yellow, Red, and Maroon frameworks.  The number of roles increases from Clear to Orange, and, although I will not delineate those differences here, the important matter to remember is that the number of roles increases as the complexity of the project increases.

This concludes the overview of Crystal.   There are two additional frameworks, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), and Spiral, which have such a small market share that John Stenbeck doesn’t describe them in his book.   However, I will do so for the sake of completeness, so the next post will be on the Dynamic Systems Development Method or DSDM, following the same format of describing its history, principles, and any distinctive features such as roles, artifacts, etc.


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