Agile Tools for Clarifying a Vision Statement–Flexibility Matrix


In the Agile Project Management Processes Grid presented by John Stenbeck in his book “PMI-ACP and Certified Scrum Professional Exam Prep and Desk Reference”, the process that comes right after Process 1.1 Stakeholders Identification is Process 1.2 Vision Statement.

For reference here the four agile tools which are used in the process of defining and clarifying the vision for a releasable product:

  1. Vision Statement (Process 1.2)–sometimes called an elevator statement, an uncomplicated way to define the product vision in a short statement
  2. Product vision box–a tangible expression of a solution that includes whatever context is necessary to convey what the product will be
  3. Product data sheet or PDS (Process 1.3)–one-page summary of key project objectives, capabilities, and information that convey how a project fulfills the product vision
  4. Flexibility matrix–a tool that communicates how to handle trade-offs with a grid showing the relative importance of constraints such as scope, schedule, cost, and quality by defining them as fixed, firm, or flexible (only one constraint may be fixed)

The last post covered the third agile tool mentioned above, the Product Data Sheet or PDS, which also happens to be Process 1.3 in the Agile PM Processes Grid.   This post will cover the fourth agile tool listed above, the flexibility matrix.

The Flexibility Matrix

As discussed in a previous post, in traditional PM, the scope is fixed as much as possible in the beginning of the project, and the other two of the triple constraints of time and cost are estimated in relationship to this more-or-less fixed variable.

In agile PM, it is one of the two triples constraints of time or cost, usually time, which is the fixed variable, and the scope is the one constraint that is flexible.    Okay, in theory that it is understandable, but when push comes to shove, and some of the scope has to be thrown out of the project, how do you make that decision?    That’s where the flexibility matrix comes in.   As mentioned above, it shows how to handle trade-offs and prioritize features by showing the relative importance of constraints such as scope, schedule, cost and quality (although other constraints may be added to the matrix).

NOTE:   When using the flexibility matrix, only one constraint may be considered fixed, all of the others have to be defined as firm or flexible in relationship to this fixed constraint.    In the example below, the flexibility matrix is given where the schedule is fixed, the scope and quality are firm, and the cost is flexible by comparison.

Flexibility Matrix

  Fixed Firm Flexible
Scope   X  
Schedule X    
Cost     X
Quality   X  

Usually the flexibility matrix is incorporated into another tool called the Product Data Sheet, which was covered in the last post.   This is a one-page summary of key project objectives, capabilities, and information that convey how a project fulfills the product vision.    Here is the above flexibility matrix incorporated into a Product Data Sheet which I made up to represent an actual language-learning app called Duolingo which I use every day to study foreign languages.

Product Data Sheet incorporating Flexibility Matrix

Project Start Date:   10/01/2015 Project End Date:  07/01/2016
Agile Leader:   Jerome Rowley Customer/Proxy:  Luis von Ahn
Elevator Statement:

For all those who want to learn a foreign language, the Duolingo app is an free app that can take you from having no knowledge of a foreign language to fluency by using it just 10 minutes a day, unlike other foreign language programs like Rosetta Stone that can cost up to hundreds of dollars and require a much larger time commitment.  Our product teaches the user the basic and intermediate levels of any one of a dozen or more European languages.

Customer Segment(s):

1) Independent language learners

2) High school and college students

3) Travelers

Customer Benefits:

1)  Learn practical language skills

2)  Fun, engaging application

3)  Built-in review system

Flexibility Matrix Milestone Table
  Fixed Firm Flexible Milestone Est. Date
Scope   X   Kickoff Meeting 10/15/2015
Schedule X     Planning Meeting 11/01/2015
Cost     X Coding/

Internal QA

03/01/2016
Quality   X   User Acceptance Signoff 07/01/2016

The Product Data Sheet has elements which are geared towards the customer (the elevator statement, customer segment, and customer benefits), towards the team (the milestone table), and to both the customer and the team in facilitating any conversation that comes up about trade-offs (the flexibility matrix).

Process 1.4 Active Listening is a tool used in Agile PM when conducting any conversation with stakeholders, like the one referenced above when considering trade-offs between various features.    It is one of the most powerful tools of the agile practitioner’s toolkit, and I will cover it in the next post.

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