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:
- Teams can become more efficient by streamlining project work.
- 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?
- 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.
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