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What is DSDM Agile Project Management?

21 May 2019

Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM) is battle-hardened Agile approach with a focus on strategic alignment with business goals and early delivery of value to the organization. The application scope is the project’s full-lifecycle and the entire development process.

The great thing about DSDM is that it’s vendor-independent and isn’t constrained to some niche usage. In other words, its application is possible far beyond software development.

Read on to find out more about DSDM agile project management.


The Inception and Agile Marriage

DSDM was devised in 1994.

Back in those days, the Waterfall methodology was a predominant approach. However, a group of Rapid Application Development (RAD) proponents were seeking more discipline and governance.

They realized the best path toward success is iterative and incremental software building. The traditional project management was too bulky, slow, and non-transparent. DSDM plugged these holes, but remained flawed in its own right.

Something was missing— control and quality typically associated with Waterfall.

Fortunately, Agile was (sort of) introduced in 2001 and DSDM practitioners recognized it as a natural ally. In fact, they revised the initial framework and eventually, the two methods merged. This was the birth of what is now known as DSDM Agile Project Management.

The latest version of the method is from 2014.

A Versatile Weapon

The purpose of the approach is simple.

Namely, DSDM spans the entire lifecycle of a project. It provides the full roadmap for delivery on time and within limits of a budget.

The aim is to ensure good governance as the foundation for project management. At the same time, it bestows organizations with enough agility, which is crucial in fast-paced sectors.

Does this sound too good to be true?

Well, scalability of the methodology is well-documented across companies of all shapes and sizes. It paved the way to successful delivery of projects in a variety of industries.

We’re talking about productivity gains in both IT and non-IT business environment.

Furthermore, one can implement DSDM as either stand-alone method or in combination with other Agile models. Yes, it’s flexible enough to work with other popular frameworks, such as PRINCE2, MSP, and PMI-endorsed approaches. Some companies also use it to complement Scrum.

In all these cases, DSDM promises to minimize the risk and maximize ROI.

Underlying Principles of DSDM

To understand the philosophy behind DSDM, we should go over the eight governing principles. They form the methodology core, together with principles of Agile development (like user/customer involvement).

These 8 principles of DSDM are:

  • Priority of business need
  • Timely delivery
  • Collaboration
  • Quality as non-negotiable
  • Incremental process
  • Iterative development
  • Open communication
  • Control demonstration

dsdm principles

These principles capture the ethos of pragmatism. You’re going to need to harness them to cultivate the right mindset and the right behavior. The two are necessary for successful implementation.

In other words, principles have to be engraved in the workforce, the Agile Process, and end products. On top of that, the application calls for balancing four conflicting demands: quality, time, cost, and features.

Here is how this is supposed to play out.

All Systems Go

DSDM uses timeboxing technique to break down big projects into manageable bits. These are called Project Increments and they tend to last two to four weeks.

The system accepts and even embraces change as the only constant of business management. This is to say you don’t have to plan everything ahead of the project.

You improve solutions and behavior over time, based on fresh insights. What needs to be fixed at the outset though, are time and costs. The only variables that remain are requirements (features) and quality.

Formalized specifications are in the background. The center stage belongs to constant discussion and demonstrations. Project success is measured by a series of deliverables.

The contingency is sustained by assigning and then altering the order of priority of features. This is the principle of MoSCoW Prioritization, which recognizes the following categories:

  • Must have
  • Should have
  • Could have
  • Won’t have

These are rather self-explanatory and determine where you allocate your resources. This is all established after the project begins.

How to Make It Work for You?

There are a few prerequisites that need to be met for DSDM Agile Project Management to yield results.

Most notably, people and their interactions take precedence over tools and processes. You have to open the lines of communication and stimulate collaboration.

Initiate a stream of short feedback loops that lay the groundwork for project fine-tuning. Take into account perceived immediate practical consequences and acceptance criteria for individual requirements (user stories).

Bear in mind prototyping and testing form the backbone of smooth DSDM project management. Use the two best practices to detect product shortcoming early on.

Communicate the business vision and goals to all stakeholders, who need to take part in the delivery of solutions. At all times, they should also keep business priorities on top of the mind.

Omit any requirements that fall in the priority order. Dedicate time and money to must-haves and should-haves. At the very least, this is expected to result in a Minimum Usable Subset of requirements.

So, don’t think you can always have to deliver the highest quality.

Build products to the level of quality that was agreed upon. Go an extra mile only if it is not out of your way. Pay close attention to user feedback to stay on course.

Kick Your Management Into Overdrive

DSDM is an exceptional addition to the business arsenal.

It leverages the strengths of both traditional and RAD approaches. It champions the same core values and way of working as Agile.

Moreover, it’s effective in all kinds of project environments. You could say it’s almost no-brainer. But, don’t make the mistake of rushing into implementation.

Review your business needs and make sure all stakeholders know what DSDM is all about. Spur collaboration and communication across the board. Get buy-in from senior leadership.

Then, start applying DSDM to optimize the whole project lifecycle. While at it, don’t feel obliged to use all of DSDM all the time. Take advantage of compatible methodologies like Scrum.


Refine your practice and solutions over time. Take productivity to the whole new level and outpace the competition!