[Note: this is a repost from my temporary WordPress Blog]
A very common objection to Agile Development is that customers don’t want frequent releases. First, Agile Development does not require frequent releases. The benefit of realizing ROI faster comes from frequent releases, but that is just one of the primary benefits. But let’s look at the objection that customers don’t want frequent releases.
Guess what? It’s true. Customers don’t want frequent releases. You can read an example of this here (thanks to Soon Hui). But it doesn’t matter! Let’s take a look at the example where you only have a single customer, for instance your application is for in-house use. Now the choice is up to them which release to take and when to take it. Keep in mind that a requirement for frequent releases is that the quality of those releases needs to be up to your regular standards. Releasing frequently does not give you a license to release poor quality software! And whether that single internal customer takes that release or not, they can also take a look at it and give you their feedback.
In the case of multiple customers, the important point to remember is that there are multiple customers! You can’t think of all of your customers as being a single entity. Your customers don’t take all of your releases when you release them, no matter how frequently or infrequently you produce new releases. At AccuRev, we’ve had customers that stayed back on 2 year old and even 3 year old releases, despite the fact that bugs they had reported had been fixed and features they had asked for had been added.
Basically, the frequency of releases is completely disconnected from the frequency of customer uptake of releases. The exception is when the customer has an urgent need. In that case, you had better be able to attend to that need quickly. Since that is the case anyway, again there is no connection between the frequency of regular releases and customer uptake of releases.
Customers take new releases when there is a good reason to do so. Usually, that is when the delta between where they are and the current release is big enough to warrant the disruption and they have a place in their schedule to put it. As the provider, this window is pretty much unpredictable for you. When that time comes, the customer will take your most recent release or perhaps the one before that under the assumption that more is known about the state of the older release. If you have more than one customer, the chances that your entire customer base is ready to take a release when you release it is pretty low.
When you have multiple customers, those that have a good reason to take the release will do so, and those that do not will not. One of the advantages of frequent releases is that there is a high likelihood that one of your customers will move to it fairly soon after the release, thus giving you an opportunity to gather feedback right away.
If you are just not ready to release frequently, that’s ok. Instead, use short iterations and just go on to the next iteration instead of releasing it. You can still get most of the feedback related benefits of Agile Development by having folks take a look at a demo of the new iteration and avoid the risk of disrupting your customer base with an iteration that is not yet ready for release.