Are you frustrated by the length of time it takes to purchase and configure COTS (Commercial-Off-the-Shelf) software? You’d like to go faster but Agile just doesn’t fit?

There’s a good reason that methods such as Scrum don’t work well in COTS projects. Agile methods were developed for projects with high uncertainty (lots of unknowns) and a fairly low cost of change.  COTs projects certainly have plenty of unknowns, but the cost of change is much higher than in a typical software project.  In a pure software project, you can build a small feature, try it out, and then change it in response to what you’ve learned.  But when you’re making large purchases, whether it’s off-the-shelf software packages or servers or even buildings, it’s very expensive to change after a choice has been made.

Luckily, there is another method which is a better fit for COTS projects. The Rapid Learning Cycles Framework, a cousin of agile software development, is designed specifically for projects with many unknowns and a high cost of change.  And since the Rapid Learning Cycles Framework is related to agile development, projects using the RLC framework mesh easily with projects using agile methods.

In the Rapid Learning Cycles Framework, the team starts their project by listing the big decisions they must make.  They identify the questions they need to answer in order to make those decisions with high confidence, and the questions are organized and prioritized. Then the team finds answers to those questions in a series of small, quick learning cycles. During a learning cycle, they run short, inexpensive experiments to prove or disprove assumptions.  The team coordinates and shares their knowledge on a regular schedule, enabling them to immediately capitalize on each new piece of knowledge.  This regular schedule can easily be aligned with agile iterations or sprints, forming a natural integration point between teams.

If you’ve been wondering how to apply agile to large, slow COTS-based projects, Rapid Learning Cycles may be right for you.

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