The Polar Chart

One method for determining if your project should be more agile or more plan-driven is the polar chart (or radar chart) by Boehm and Turner from their book “Balancing Agility and Discipline: A Guide for the Perplexed.”

Polar Chart, by Boehm and Turner

Each axis represents a facet of a project or team that is indicative in some way of being more agile or more plan-driven.

  • Personnel: Ignoring the actual values here, toward the middle of the chart is “more experienced developers than novices” and toward the outside of the chart is “more novices than experienced developers.” The idea is that novice developers may need more specific guidance on what they should build (hence plan-driven) while experienced developers are better at working directly with customers (hence more agile).
  • Dynamism: If your requirements are going to change a lot (toward the middle of the chart), then it’s almost a given that you need to be more agile. Otherwise, you are creating a lot of documents that will have to change later.
  • Culture: Again, ignoring the “chaos vs. order” concept here, the basic idea is that if your office culture is more rigid (e.g. planned meeting times, distributed teams that have to interact over various tech means, a hirearchy of approving code changes), then you are probably more plan-driven. If your office is more “laid back California startup,” well… that’s more agile.
  • Size: The bigger the team (toward the outside of the chart), the more likely it is you need the structure of plan-driven just to keep everyone on the same page.
  • Criticality: If the consequences of your software failing include “loss of life,” then you absolutely need the risk management aspects of plan-driven. If the project falls more in the range of “good money for your company to have, but not overall essential,” then agile might be more appropriate.

After marking where your project/team falls on each axis, connect the dots.

  • If the area inside the shape is “large,” you are more plan-driven.
  • If the area inside the shape is “small,” you are more agile.

What’s more likely, though, is the shape is incredibly misshapen, because every project and team is different! And, in fact, so is every methodology. It is incredibly rare for a team or company to “only” be agile or plan-driven. Good teams take aspects from both ends of the spectrum to come up with something that works for them and for that project. And that is completely okay!

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