Crystal Agile Framework In A Nutshell

The Crystal agile framework is a family of agile methodologies that were developed at IBM by Alistair Cockburn in 1991. The Crystal agile framework focuses on people over processes. It empowers project teams to find their own solutions and not be constricted by rigid methodologies.

Understanding the Crystal agile framework

Tasked with creating a framework for software development, Cockburn instead realized that project teams owed their success to a collection of best practices. Furthermore, Cockburn noted that the performance of each team was governed by team size and the criticality and priority of the project.

The Crystal agile framework is a lightweight, flexible, and people-powered agile approach. It is based on two critical assumptions:

  1. Teams can become more efficient by streamlining project work.
  2. Each project is unique and dynamic and requires particular strategies and methods.

Crystal method family members

The particular properties of a project fluctuate depending on the number of people involved and the level of criticality of the associated project. 

For example, a small team can build a product without much status reporting and paperwork. But larger teams working on more complex projects would quickly experience communication artifacts without proper documentation.

To make this concept easier to understand, Cockburn developed family members based on size and criticality. By pointing out that each project requires a unique mix of policies, practices, and procedures, he noted that Crystal was “a set of samples that you adjust to your circumstances”.

These samples are grouped as such:

  • Crystal clear (up to 6 people) – for teams of up to 8 people working on fixed price, no negotiation projects.
  • Crystal yellow (7 to 20 people) – for teams with code area ownership who incorporate feedback from real users, mission statements, and automated testing.
  • Crystal orange (21 to 40 people) – for teams engaged in medium-sized projects lasting 1-2 years who are split according to skills. Crystal orange encompasses “traditional” agile projects with incremental development.
  • Crystal red (40 to 80 people) – for larger projects following a traditional software development model with multiple teams.
  • Crystal maroon (80 to 200 people) – for the largest projects requiring defined or different methods according to the needs of the software.
  • Crystal diamond and sapphire – for critical, significant, or large-scale projects. Some projects may involve potential risks to human life.

The seven principles of the Crystal agile framework

The Crystal agile framework is based on seven principles. Cockburn noted that the first three principles are compulsory for all projects, but the remaining four are optional.

Here is a look at each:

  • Frequent delivery. Code must be delivered regularly to users to ensure that the product satisfies their needs.
  • Reflective improvement. It’s important to reflect on the work already completed. How was it performed, and why? Is there room for improvement?
  • Osmotic communication. For information to flow freely between teams and team members, each individual must occupy the same physical space.
  • Personal safety. Here, personal safety means that every individual feels safe to share their opinions publicly without fear of ridicule. In a crystal team, there are no stupid questions or suggestions.
  • Focus on work. Leaders should communicate project priorities from the outset. Then, suitably skilled individuals should be given the time and space to work without distraction.
  • Access to subject matter experts and users. There should be access to qualified personnel and users for valuable feedback that can improve the final product.
  • Technical environment. Is the work environment fully equipped? Does it automate tests? Is it conducive to effective configuration management and frequent integration?

Key takeaways:

  • The Crystal agile framework empowers people to work autonomously and not be encumbered by rules and regulations.
  • The Crystal agile framework is divided into colored crystal family members according to the size and criticality of the project in question.
  • The Crystal agile framework is based on seven principles. The first three are compulsory for all crystal projects, while the remaining four are optional.

Related frameworks


The jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework defines, categorizes, captures, and organizes consumer needs. The jobs-to-be-done framework is based on the premise that consumers buy products and services to get jobs done. While products tend to come and go, the consumer’s need to get jobs done endures indefinitely. This theory was popularized by Tony Ulwick, who also detailed his book Jobs To Be Done: Theory to Practice.

Customer Obsession

Customer obsession goes beyond quantitative and qualitative data about customers, and it moves around customers’ feedback to gather valuable insights. Those insights start with the entrepreneur’s wandering process, driven by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity, and a builder mindset. The product discovery moves around a building, reworking, experimenting, and iterating loop.

Value Proposition Canvas

value proposition is about how you create value for customers. While many entrepreneurial theories draw from customers’ problems and pain points, value can also be created via demand generation, which is about enabling people to identify with your brand, thus generating demand for your products and services.

Business Design

business designer is a person that helps organizations to find and test a business model that can be tested and iterated so that value can be captured by the organization in the long run. Business design is the discipline, set of tools, and processes that help entrepreneurs prototype business models and test them in the marketplace

Design Sprint

A design sprint is a proven five-day process where critical business questions are answered through speedy design and prototyping, focusing on the end-user. A design sprint starts with a weekly challenge that should finish with a prototype, test at the end, and therefore a lesson learned to be iterated.


Agile started as a lightweight development method compared to heavyweight software development, which is the core paradigm of the previous decades of software development. By 2001 the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born as a set of principles that defined the new paradigm for software development as a continuous iteration. This would also influence the way of doing business.

Read Next: Business AnalysisCompetitor Analysis, Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

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