Questions to Consider while Managing Risk in Agile Software Development

By Anirban Guha on January 13, 2016

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Can iterative models like Agile bring in risks? How do these risks affect the progression of a Sprint? Is there a way to mitigate or manage risks proactively? What is the impact of these risks? 

These are some questions which often come into the minds of project manager and Scrum masters while managing risk in Agile software development. Software development is incomplete without a proper risk management mechanism in place. Software teams, time and again, come across the common challenge of identifying a risk and conducting a risk management audit while shifting from the Waterfall model to Agile methodology. Ideally, the risk management process should be introduced at the beginning of the development project in order to get a comprehensive view about the situation. Moreover, the team should make every effort to analyse the risks throughout the entire development cycle. Let’s go ahead and answer some of the critical questions and clear any doubts regarding the risk factors involved in Agile: 

Question: What are the types of risks in Agile software development? 

Every software project has to deal with the pain of risk identification and risk management process. If the team is able to perform a successful analysis of software risks, it enables them to plan and assign work effectively. It would be ideal to identify, classify and manage risks associated with software project before the project development actually starts. These risks can be classified in the following categories. 

  • Schedule risk
  • Budget risk
  • Operational risks
  • Technical risks
  • Programming risks 

Question: How can I apply the risk burndown chart in my context? 

The burndown chart plays a crucial role in any Agile project and is an effective way to clearly see what is happening and how progress is being made during each sprint. Badly conceived or managed software projects always have high overhead. 

Agile teams should give importance to burndown chart, which is a set of previously agreed upon metrics. Burndown chart is used to measure the contribution of various teams towards achieving set business targets, which most commonly revolve around revenue. This encourages Agile teams to value results (in terms of revenue and profitability) over less useful metrics such as working hours or number of new features developed. 

Question: How can I include strategies to manage risk in the planning stage? 

Several software teams use Scrum as part of their strategy to plan and manage risk at different stages. Product development, using Scrum, occurs in small pieces, with each piece building upon previously created pieces. Building products one small piece at a time encourages creativity and enables teams to respond to feedback and change, to build exactly and only what is needed. This leaves the team with plenty of scope to assess the risks and plan accordingly to mitigate them. 

The Scrum methodology is implemented through a series of Sprints. Proper Sprint planning is essential for any Scrum team to ensure that the product launch will be on time and risks are taken care of on time. The Sprint team should be really motivated and committed towards the planning effort and to complete the backlog. 

Question: What is the best way to monitor and control risks? 

A risk management register is used to monitor, manage and control risks in traditional project management processes. The same technique is often recommended in Agile software development as well. The Scrum Master or the Agile coach involved with a particular development project is advised to maintain a simple risk management register with concise information. A typical risk management register would include these features: 

  • Description or an overview of risk
  • Date of identifying the risk
  • Possibility of occurrence of the risk
  • Estimated severity of the risk
  • Priority as per the intensity of the risk
  • Owner who takes action in response to the risk
  • Action to control the risk
  • Status whether the risk is managed or being monitored 

The use of checklist is also highly recommended to indentify high-risk components in Agile software development. The checklist is generally based on past experience and high-risk components, as well as security and abuse cases. If you have any more questions do write to us!

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