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.

Crystal Agile Framework ElementDescriptionImplicationsKey CharacteristicsExamplesApplications
Crystal Clear PhilosophyThe Crystal Agile Framework is based on the philosophy of embracing simplicity, frequent communication, and active involvement of all team members.– Promotes a collaborative and adaptable approach to software development. – Emphasizes the importance of clarity and transparency in project work.– Simplicity in processes and tools. – Frequent team communication and feedback.– Focusing on delivering the simplest solution that meets customer needs. – Daily stand-up meetings for status updates and issue resolution.– Software Development: Ideal for software projects where requirements are not fully defined and need frequent adjustments. – Small to medium-sized teams seeking a lightweight Agile methodology. – Projects requiring flexibility and adaptability.
Crystal Family MethodologiesThe Crystal Agile Framework offers multiple methodologies (Crystal Clear, Crystal Yellow, Crystal Orange, etc.) tailored to project-specific characteristics.– Allows teams to select the Crystal methodology that aligns with their project’s size, criticality, and complexity. – Promotes flexibility in adopting Agile practices.– Various Crystal methodologies with different degrees of formality and practices.– Crystal Orange for larger projects with distributed teams. – Crystal Yellow for small teams working on non-critical projects.– Software Development: Choose the Crystal methodology that best fits the project’s needs. – Adapt the level of ceremony and practices based on project size and complexity.
Frequent DeliveryCrystal Agile encourages frequent and incremental software delivery to gather feedback and adapt to changing requirements.– Ensures early and continuous customer engagement. – Allows for rapid response to evolving project conditions. – Reduces the risk of late-stage project failures.– Iterative development with regular release cycles.– Delivering a minimum viable product (MVP) for initial customer feedback. – Releasing new software features at the end of each sprint.– Software Development: Deliver working software in short iterations, incorporating customer feedback for continuous improvement. – Projects with evolving or uncertain requirements. – High-quality, customer-centric software development.
People-Centric ApproachThe Crystal Agile Framework places a strong emphasis on people, recognizing their expertise, creativity, and collaboration as key drivers of project success.– Values team collaboration and open communication. – Encourages self-organizing teams with decision-making authority.– Empowered and self-organizing teams. – Trust in the expertise and judgment of team members.– Cross-functional teams collaborate on design and problem-solving. – Team members have autonomy to select their own work tasks and set priorities.– Software Development: Cultivate a collaborative and motivated team environment. – Encourage teams to make decisions collectively and leverage individual expertise. – Projects with dynamic and changing requirements.
Reflective ImprovementContinuous reflection and improvement are integral to Crystal Agile, with teams regularly evaluating their processes and making adjustments.– Supports a culture of learning and adaptation. – Identifies areas for process enhancement and optimization. – Ensures sustained project success.– Retrospectives to assess team performance and processes.– Conducting regular retrospectives to discuss what went well and what could be improved in the last sprint or project phase.– Software Development: Schedule retrospectives to identify areas for improvement and implement changes in subsequent iterations. – Projects focused on achieving long-term process maturity. – Teams seeking a culture of continuous learning and growth.

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.

Key Highlights of the Crystal Agile Framework:

  • Definition and Purpose:
    • The Crystal agile framework is a family of agile methodologies developed by Alistair Cockburn at IBM in 1991.
    • It prioritizes people over processes and encourages project teams to find their own solutions rather than adhering to rigid methodologies.
  • Core Assumptions:
    • The success of project teams is driven by a collection of best practices rather than strict rules.
    • Project performance is influenced by team size and the criticality and priority of the project.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability:
    • The Crystal framework is lightweight, flexible, and focuses on tailoring approaches to the specific needs of each project.
    • It acknowledges that each project is unique and dynamic, requiring different strategies and methods.
  • Crystal Method Family Members:
    • Different family members are designed based on team size and project criticality:
      • Crystal Clear (up to 6 people)
      • Crystal Yellow (7 to 20 people)
      • Crystal Orange (21 to 40 people)
      • Crystal Red (40 to 80 people)
      • Crystal Maroon (80 to 200 people)
      • Crystal Diamond and Sapphire (critical or large-scale projects)
  • Seven Principles of the Crystal Agile Framework:
    • Frequent Delivery: Regular delivery of code to users to ensure their needs are met.
    • Reflective Improvement: Continuous reflection on completed work to identify improvements.
    • Osmotic Communication: Facilitating information flow by having team members in the same physical space.
    • Personal Safety: Encouraging an environment where individuals feel safe to express ideas without fear.
    • Focus on Work: Communicating project priorities and providing uninterrupted work time.
    • Access to Experts and Users: Ensuring access to valuable feedback from qualified personnel and users.
    • Technical Environment: Providing an equipped and conducive work environment for effective development.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • The Crystal agile framework promotes autonomy and discourages strict rules and regulations.
    • It categorizes projects into different family members based on team size and project criticality.
    • The framework is guided by seven principles, with the first three being mandatory for all projects, and the remaining four being optional, allowing customization based on project needs.

Connected Agile & Lean Frameworks


AIOps is the application of artificial intelligence to IT operations. It has become particularly useful for modern IT management in hybridized, distributed, and dynamic environments. AIOps has become a key operational component of modern digital-based organizations, built around software and algorithms.


AgileSHIFT is a framework that prepares individuals for transformational change by creating a culture of agility.

Agile Methodology

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.

Agile Program Management

Agile Program Management is a means of managing, planning, and coordinating interrelated work in such a way that value delivery is emphasized for all key stakeholders. Agile Program Management (AgilePgM) is a disciplined yet flexible agile approach to managing transformational change within an organization.

Agile Project Management

Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.

Agile Modeling

Agile Modeling (AM) is a methodology for modeling and documenting software-based systems. Agile Modeling is critical to the rapid and continuous delivery of software. It is a collection of values, principles, and practices that guide effective, lightweight software modeling.

Agile Business Analysis

Agile Business Analysis (AgileBA) is certification in the form of guidance and training for business analysts seeking to work in agile environments. To support this shift, AgileBA also helps the business analyst relate Agile projects to a wider organizational mission or strategy. To ensure that analysts have the necessary skills and expertise, AgileBA certification was developed.

Agile Leadership

Agile leadership is the embodiment of agile manifesto principles by a manager or management team. Agile leadership impacts two important levels of a business. The structural level defines the roles, responsibilities, and key performance indicators. The behavioral level describes the actions leaders exhibit to others based on agile principles. 

Andon System

The andon system alerts managerial, maintenance, or other staff of a production process problem. The alert itself can be activated manually with a button or pull cord, but it can also be activated automatically by production equipment. Most Andon boards utilize three colored lights similar to a traffic signal: green (no errors), yellow or amber (problem identified, or quality check needed), and red (production stopped due to unidentified issue).

Bimodal Portfolio Management

Bimodal Portfolio Management (BimodalPfM) helps an organization manage both agile and traditional portfolios concurrently. Bimodal Portfolio Management – sometimes referred to as bimodal development – was coined by research and advisory company Gartner. The firm argued that many agile organizations still needed to run some aspects of their operations using traditional delivery models.

Business Innovation Matrix

Business innovation is about creating new opportunities for an organization to reinvent its core offerings, revenue streams, and enhance the value proposition for existing or new customers, thus renewing its whole business model. Business innovation springs by understanding the structure of the market, thus adapting or anticipating those changes.

Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Constructive Disruption

A consumer brand company like Procter & Gamble (P&G) defines “Constructive Disruption” as: a willingness to change, adapt, and create new trends and technologies that will shape our industry for the future. According to P&G, it moves around four pillars: lean innovation, brand building, supply chain, and digitalization & data analytics.

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

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.

Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.


DevOps refers to a series of practices performed to perform automated software development processes. It is a conjugation of the term “development” and “operations” to emphasize how functions integrate across IT teams. DevOps strategies promote seamless building, testing, and deployment of products. It aims to bridge a gap between development and operations teams to streamline the development altogether.

Dual Track Agile

Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.

eXtreme Programming

eXtreme Programming was developed in the late 1990s by Ken Beck, Ron Jeffries, and Ward Cunningham. During this time, the trio was working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System (C3) to help manage the company payroll system. eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology. It is designed to improve software quality and the ability of software to adapt to changing customer needs.

Feature-Driven Development

Feature-Driven Development is a pragmatic software process that is client and architecture-centric. Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an agile software development model that organizes workflow according to which features need to be developed next.

Gemba Walk

A Gemba Walk is a fundamental component of lean management. It describes the personal observation of work to learn more about it. Gemba is a Japanese word that loosely translates as “the real place”, or in business, “the place where value is created”. The Gemba Walk as a concept was created by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing. Ohno wanted to encourage management executives to leave their offices and see where the real work happened. This, he hoped, would build relationships between employees with vastly different skillsets and build trust.

GIST Planning

GIST Planning is a relatively easy and lightweight agile approach to product planning that favors autonomous working. GIST Planning is a lean and agile methodology that was created by former Google product manager Itamar Gilad. GIST Planning seeks to address this situation by creating lightweight plans that are responsive and adaptable to change. GIST Planning also improves team velocity, autonomy, and alignment by reducing the pervasive influence of management. It consists of four blocks: goals, ideas, step-projects, and tasks.

ICE Scoring

The ICE Scoring Model is an agile methodology that prioritizes features using data according to three components: impact, confidence, and ease of implementation. The ICE Scoring Model was initially created by author and growth expert Sean Ellis to help companies expand. Today, the model is broadly used to prioritize projects, features, initiatives, and rollouts. It is ideally suited for early-stage product development where there is a continuous flow of ideas and momentum must be maintained.

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Innovation Matrix

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Lean vs. Agile

The Agile methodology has been primarily thought of for software development (and other business disciplines have also adopted it). Lean thinking is a process improvement technique where teams prioritize the value streams to improve it continuously. Both methodologies look at the customer as the key driver to improvement and waste reduction. Both methodologies look at improvement as something continuous.

Lean Startup

A startup company is a high-tech business that tries to build a scalable business model in tech-driven industries. A startup company usually follows a lean methodology, where continuous innovation, driven by built-in viral loops is the rule. Thus, driving growth and building network effects as a consequence of this strategy.

Minimum Viable Product

As pointed out by Eric Ries, a minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort through a cycle of build, measure, learn; that is the foundation of the lean startup methodology.

Leaner MVP

A leaner MVP is the evolution of the MPV approach. Where the market risk is validated before anything else


Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.


Jidoka was first used in 1896 by Sakichi Toyoda, who invented a textile loom that would stop automatically when it encountered a defective thread. Jidoka is a Japanese term used in lean manufacturing. The term describes a scenario where machines cease operating without human intervention when a problem or defect is discovered.

PDCA Cycle

The PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle was first proposed by American physicist and engineer Walter A. Shewhart in the 1920s. The PDCA cycle is a continuous process and product improvement method and an essential component of the lean manufacturing philosophy.

Rational Unified Process

Rational unified process (RUP) is an agile software development methodology that breaks the project life cycle down into four distinct phases.

Rapid Application Development

RAD was first introduced by author and consultant James Martin in 1991. Martin recognized and then took advantage of the endless malleability of software in designing development models. Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a methodology focusing on delivering rapidly through continuous feedback and frequent iterations.

Retrospective Analysis

Retrospective analyses are held after a project to determine what worked well and what did not. They are also conducted at the end of an iteration in Agile project management. Agile practitioners call these meetings retrospectives or retros. They are an effective way to check the pulse of a project team, reflect on the work performed to date, and reach a consensus on how to tackle the next sprint cycle. These are the five stages of a retrospective analysis for effective Agile project management: set the stage, gather the data, generate insights, decide on the next steps, and close the retrospective.

Scaled Agile

Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD) helps businesses discover a balanced approach to agile transition and scaling questions. The ScALed approach helps businesses successfully respond to change. Inspired by a combination of lean and agile values, ScALed is practitioner-based and can be completed through various agile frameworks and practices.


The SMED (single minute exchange of die) method is a lean production framework to reduce waste and increase production efficiency. The SMED method is a framework for reducing the time associated with completing an equipment changeover.

Spotify Model

The Spotify Model is an autonomous approach to scaling agile, focusing on culture communication, accountability, and quality. The Spotify model was first recognized in 2012 after Henrik Kniberg, and Anders Ivarsson released a white paper detailing how streaming company Spotify approached agility. Therefore, the Spotify model represents an evolution of agile.

Test-Driven Development

As the name suggests, TDD is a test-driven technique for delivering high-quality software rapidly and sustainably. It is an iterative approach based on the idea that a failing test should be written before any code for a feature or function is written. Test-Driven Development (TDD) is an approach to software development that relies on very short development cycles.


Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.


Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.


Scrumban is a project management framework that is a hybrid of two popular agile methodologies: Scrum and Kanban. Scrumban is a popular approach to helping businesses focus on the right strategic tasks while simultaneously strengthening their processes.

Scrum Anti-Patterns

Scrum anti-patterns describe any attractive, easy-to-implement solution that ultimately makes a problem worse. Therefore, these are the practice not to follow to prevent issues from emerging. Some classic examples of scrum anti-patterns comprise absent product owners, pre-assigned tickets (making individuals work in isolation), and discounting retrospectives (where review meetings are not useful to really make improvements).

Scrum At Scale

Scrum at Scale (Scrum@Scale) is a framework that Scrum teams use to address complex problems and deliver high-value products. Scrum at Scale was created through a joint venture between the Scrum Alliance and Scrum Inc. The joint venture was overseen by Jeff Sutherland, a co-creator of Scrum and one of the principal authors of the Agile Manifesto.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating errors or defects in a product, service, or process. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola as a management approach based on quality fundamentals in the early 1980s. A decade later, it was popularized by General Electric who estimated that the methodology saved them $12 billion in the first five years of operation.

Stretch Objectives

Stretch objectives describe any task an agile team plans to complete without expressly committing to do so. Teams incorporate stretch objectives during a Sprint or Program Increment (PI) as part of Scaled Agile. They are used when the agile team is unsure of its capacity to attain an objective. Therefore, stretch objectives are instead outcomes that, while extremely desirable, are not the difference between the success or failure of each sprint.

Toyota Production System

The Toyota Production System (TPS) is an early form of lean manufacturing created by auto-manufacturer Toyota. Created by the Toyota Motor Corporation in the 1940s and 50s, the Toyota Production System seeks to manufacture vehicles ordered by customers most quickly and efficiently possible.

Total Quality Management

The Total Quality Management (TQM) framework is a technique based on the premise that employees continuously work on their ability to provide value to customers. Importantly, the word “total” means that all employees are involved in the process – regardless of whether they work in development, production, or fulfillment.


The waterfall model was first described by Herbert D. Benington in 1956 during a presentation about the software used in radar imaging during the Cold War. Since there were no knowledge-based, creative software development strategies at the time, the waterfall method became standard practice. The waterfall model is a linear and sequential project management framework. 

Read Also: Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

Read Next: Agile Methodology, Lean Methodology, Agile Project Management, Scrum, Kanban, Six Sigma.

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