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I am a Project Manager / Scrum Master at a company that implements custom solutions for our clients. We do our best to adopt agile practices, but it's been very difficult - every client is different, and the way we scope projects most of the time is almost straight waterfall. We do agile practices "in house" but still deliver everything very linear and very deadline heavy. Many of our clients don't understand agile, which makes it very difficult to communicate changes in scope and duration.

Where is the comfortable middle ground for a small company like ours to be profitable, deliver and projects, and still be as agile as possible?

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Using an Agile approach while contrained by traditional contracts and customer attitudes can be very challenging.

However, there are many aspects of Agile that should still be of value:

Transparency

Even when working with fixed scope and deadlines it is worth using the approach of incremental delivery. This helps to reduce risk and will build up trust between you and your clients.

Engineering Practices

Many Agile engineering practices (such as those used in XP) can be used even in traditional projects.

Look to leverage the value of pair programming, continuous integration and automated regression testing.

Teams

Agile teams work well because they are empowered and self-organising. Try to keep your teams together as much as possible, even spanning over several projects. This will help the teams to learn how to work together and to gain benefits from inspecting and adapting their approach.

Communication

Emphasise the importance of communication:

  • Daily stand-up meetings with just the core team members (for synchronisation, not as progress reports)
  • Information radiators such as physical task boards or visible product backlogs
  • Work closely with the customer to ensure you fully understand their requirements, perhaps have them co-locate with the team

And then...

Build up a relationship of trust with your clients by working closely with them and delivering value frequently.

Over time you may find that your clients are more willing to be flexible about their contracts and the nature of their engagement with your organisation.

As an example, some organisations like to form joint teams consisting of in-house and outsourced people. These mixed teams create a lot of trust and they may then consider a time and materials based contract rather than insisting on fixed price contracts.

Finally, there are a growing number of Agile contracts around. I suspect that you need to have a strong relationship with a client before they would be willing to accept such a contract, but it is possible.

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    As a developer on the client side, I really appreciate the joint teams approach. By time we get the "final" code base, we're already up to speed and can hit the ground running with new features/maintenance. – RubberDuck Aug 7 '16 at 21:21
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    Thanks Barnaby. This helps quite a bit and I appreciate it. – ddg Oct 28 '16 at 20:41
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From delivery perspective, Waterfall to Agile is change in way of execution. Scope for that is within delivering organization perspective.

But, for agile, you need more contribution from client compared to earlier ones. It might require cultural change and adaptability from client organization side as well. If you have client who doesn't understand agile practices, it will be roadblock for your development. You can have Agile coach to help that. But for smaller organization, I am not sure whether having agile coach would be profitable model to train even customer.

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