If you are interested in Agile and if you want to read up on it (reading books, blogs or following discussions on twitter) you soon stumble upon the following picture to visualize incremental value. I believe it’s from Henrik Kniberg:
I do understand where this picture is coming from. It is about focusing on value and delivering incremental value step by step, bit by bit. Vasco Duarte uses a similar example in his must-read book about NoEstimates. He uses an example which starts with a tent, then creating a hut, a trailer home, an apartment, a condo and finally a house. This way we deliver value fast and at least have something ready to ship when the deadline hits. This is opposed to the traditional method where you would have a half built house which is unusable.
These aren’t strong examples. In fact I dare to say these are not reflecting the idea of incremental value. In the example above, the increments don’t add value on top of a previous increment. It is basically replacing one feature with another.
I won’t argue that the first feature of the picture, the skateboard, is not reflecting what the end user wants. You can only determine this if you know the demand and it might be that the only requirement is to have a fast way of transportation. All increments then would improve the situation, when compared to walking, but not really compared to the immediately preceding increment.
The fact that you don’t deliver incremental value on top of what you already delivered is the issue here.
Below I have an example which I love to use. It is about building a holiday park, starting with an empty field. Everything you add is added value and the previous features remain as useful. You can start with a very basic campsite and improve it step by step.
Tom and Jane bought a piece of land in the French Alps. It is their dream to start a beautiful holiday park. They expect to have visitors throughout the year.
Tom and Jane start with the quick wins and deliver value bit by bit.
They start with the basic campsite for tents. All very rudimentary, but at least they are able to generate income very early on. In fact: they started this in March and already in April there are people staying on their campsite, and paying for the services.
Next they add the reception. Now it is very clear were to be to check-in and check-out, ask questions etc… They did this based on the feedback that people, coming to the park, did not know where to go to check-in.
Next addition are toilets and showers. Now people’s basic hygienic needs are met, and they don’t need to take a shower with a bucket containing ice-cold water from the river near by.
Next they add electricity outlets to allow caravans. This is ready before the summer season, allowing Tom and Jane to make evenmore revenue.
Next are laundry facilities so people don’t have to leave the holiday park for this, and end up finding a better holiday park.
Then a camp shop for convenience and added revenue.
After that, container homes to attract winter holiday makers, well before Christmas.
Then a swimming pool to appeal to families with kids.
And then the fun and entertainment team to make the holiday park even more appealing.
Etc… the list can be endless.
This is a very clear example where you can start with quick wins and add increments on top of that adding more and more value. There is immediate value from the first increment. It is also – and I think this is crucial – very much applicable to software development. That is why this example is so vivid if I use it to explain one of the benefits of incremental delivery to my colleagues.
About the author
Willem-Jan Ageling (Willem-Jan Ageling on twitter, Willem-Jan Ageling on LinkedIn)
I have worked in IT for more than twenty years. Mostly for larger financial companies and IT service providers. But also for smaller companies with rapid/continuous delivery. I have witnessed how traditional projects failed. More often than not they were delivered too late and at a higher cost. I have worked on continuous delivery of working software and worked with 4 week cycles before Agile was born and Scrum and XP got even remotely popular. Huge advocate of Agile software development and also participating in the NoEstimates discussion.