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Crystal methods

by Simon Buehring
Learn about Agile Crystal methods, how it compares to Scrum and Kanban, and find out if it's the right fit for your team.
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Crystal Methods | Agile Crystal | agileKRC

Introduction to Agile methodologies

Agile methodologies have revolutionised how projects are managed, and products are developed. From the inception of the Agile Manifesto in 2001, various frameworks have emerged to cater to the specific needs of teams and projects, with Crystal methods being one of the less commonly discussed yet highly adaptive Agile frameworks.

Overview of Crystal methods

Crystal methods form a family of Agile methodologies that focus on people and their interactions rather than processes and tools. Alistair Cockburn created the Crystal family in the mid-1990s, underpinning the belief that each project is unique and therefore requires a tailor-made set of policies, practices, and processes.

Agile is a set of principles for software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organising and cross-functional teams. Agile advocates for adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continual improvement, encouraging rapid and flexible response to change.

Key principles of Crystal methods

The principles behind Crystal promote efficiency in software development while allowing for the unique characteristics of the team and project to drive specific methodological elements. These principles include:

Focus on people

Crystal puts individuals and their skills at the centre of the project, acknowledging that success is largely determined by human factors.

Adaptability

Methods should be tailored to the specific project and can be adjusted as the project evolves.

Delivery

Frequent delivery of usable code to users is emphasised for early feedback.

Reflective improvement

Regular reflection on team performance is encouraged to continually adapt and improve the process. Similar to the concept of a Sprint Retrospective in Scrum.

Osmotic communication

Co-location or close working environments are preferred to ensure information flows easily among team members. Osmotic communication is the seamless and effortless exchange of information within a team, often achieved by physical proximity, where background discussions naturally and unconsciously permeate the working environment, keeping everyone informed.

Crystal methods: a spectrum approach

Unlike one-size-fits-all frameworks, the Crystal family recognises that different projects have different needs based on several factors such as team size, system criticality, and project priorities.

The Crystal family of methodologies employs a unique approach to categorise its various methods by using colour codes. These colours reflect the size and criticality of the project, offering a tailored Agile methodology that suits the project’s specific requirements. The central tenet of Crystal is that the smaller the team and the less critical the project, the lighter (or more ‘agile’) the methodology can be.

Starting with Crystal Clear, which is intended for small teams of up to eight people working on non-critical projects, the emphasis is on osmotic communication facilitated by their close proximity. It’s the lightest and most adaptable in the Crystal family.

Crystal Yellow and Crystal Orange fall in the middle of the spectrum and are designed for slightly larger teams. Crystal Yellow is suitable for teams of up to 20 people, while Crystal Orange can scale up to 40-50 people. These variants begin to introduce more structured practices and documentation as the team size increases and the projects become more complex.

Crystal Red, at the heavier end of the spectrum, is used for large projects with high criticality that involve 50 to 100 people. This methodology demands more formal processes, documentation, and roles given the scale of the project and the potential consequences of failure.

Other colours, including Crystal Maroon and Crystal Diamond, cover even larger or more critical systems, including life-critical software development.

Each colour variant of Crystal adopts the core agile values of individuals and interactions, working software, customer collaboration, and responding to change, while adjusting the amount of process and ceremony needed to meet the project’s risk level and team member capacities effectively.

Comparing Crystal methods to other Agile frameworks

Crystal vs. scrum

Scrum is perhaps the most well-known Agile methodology. It prescribes roles like the Scrum Master and Product Owner, and sprints as time-boxed iterations. Crystal does not define specific roles or fixed iterations, instead believing that roles will emerge and processes will evolve as the project dictates.

Crystal vs. kanban

Kanban, another Agile framework, focuses on visualising the workflow and limiting work-in-progress to improve flow. Crystal doesn’t necessarily include these practices as defaults but doesn’t preclude them either. Its adaptability means any practice that works for the team and project can be integrated.

Unique features of Crystal methods

Crystal is distinguished by its emphasis on tailoring to the project environment. Its characteristics serve to make it more flexible than other, more prescriptive, methodologies:

Less formal roles and processes

Teams define their own roles based on the project’s needs.

Direct user involvement

Crystal encourages regular review and feedback from real users.

Flexibility in tools and techniques

Teams are free to choose the most suitable practices for their work.

Benefits of Crystal methods for Agile teams

Teams that choose Crystal may find several advantages:

Customisability

Teams are not confined by a strict set of rules, allowing them to adapt the methodologies to fit the project’s changing needs.

Focus on communication and community

Crystal fosters an environment where team members are encouraged to communicate openly and help each other.

Efficiency

By only implementing methods that are necessary for the team, time is not wasted on unnecessary practices.

Summary: Is Crystal right for your team?

Crystal methods offer a flexible, adaptable framework suited for Agile teams who value individual skill and interaction over rigid processes. Its spectrum-based approach allows for a tailored fit for varying project needs, providing a less prescriptive path to an Agile environment.

For teams looking for a methodology that can evolve with their project and values individual contributions, Crystal methods may be an ideal choice. However, teams desiring more structure and defined roles might find frameworks like Scrum or Kanban more suited to their needs.

Ultimately, whether Crystal is right for your team depends on your project’s characteristics, your team’s preferences, and your organisational culture.

Learn from agile leaders

agileKRC has helped shape agile thinking by leading the teams that developed AgilePM® and PRINCE2 Agile®. We take a practical, success-oriented approach. We begin by taking the time to listen and understand your needs, before offering our real-world experience and expert guidance.

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