Fake Contract

Culture & Crack: It’s often hard to convince a buying department of a large firm that an agile approach to build a piece of software is less risky and the result may fit much better the needs of the users. I’ve been in a situation where the conflict between the entrepreneurial and agile mindset of the product manager who was asking for an internal tool to be build by an off-shore subcontractor and the strict purchasing rules of a fixed price project could not be resolved – at least not within a reasonable time frame and effort.

The Hack: Instead of trying to convince people of the buying department about the benefits of agile contracts we decided to create a fake fix price contract with made up milestones that we draw from an initial version of a product backlog just to please buying department rules. On a personal level the subcontractor, provider of off-shore development and the product manager agreed on an iterative approach including free changes after each iteration within the budget boundaries given by the contract.

The Result: Both parties knowing that the contract wouldn’t help a lot in case of failure with the project actually helped to create a bond within the team. The safety a contract would normally provide actually was found in the agile approach chosen, co-dependence of product manager and team as well as trust that has been created by colaborating on the product backlog with the whole team involved at the off-shore development site. After several increments shipped and changes to the product backlog the first version was delivered into production two sprints before last milestone given in the contract. The saved two sprints were then used for later maintenance and smaller improvements after the software was used in production for a while.

I would consider the hack close to red zone. All depends on agility of the team and luck. So I would think twice if it’s worth the risk before working on a bigger project that doesn’t have a valid contract and always prefer agile contracting clauses like change for free.

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