Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District used agile project management techniques


To meet new standards set by the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, MWD needed to upgrade its Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Using a traditional waterfall project management approach, MWD estimated that it would take three years to upgrade the LIMS database, system workflows and other components to meet the mandates. Instead, MWD used Agile project management tools and techniques to cut the schedule in half, completing the project in 1.5 years.

Agile project management enabled MWD to meet project requirements through rapid and continuous feature implementation. Project requirements have been prioritized and assigned to project sprints. The technical work for each iteration was performed in a test environment, prototypes were presented to relevant stakeholders for selection, user acceptance testing was performed, training was provided, and changes were implemented. implemented in the production LIMS environment. The Agile approach allowed for faster realization of business value and an easier learning curve for LIMS users, as new system features were released in small iterations rather than all at once.

Sustained cooperation between team members was an essential part of the project. At the start of the initiative, MWD created a project charter and presented it to all key stakeholders. The district collected signatures from more than 20 key stakeholders to secure agreement with high-level project details and secure vital resources. Ambiguous project requirements were clarified through focus groups, interviews, process documentation (as is and future), expert judgement, decision analysis, voting, and benchmarking. A project portal was created to share the project charter, schedule, requirements and other important documents among stakeholders.


MWD says the Agile approach was a better way to manage its large-scale regulatory compliance project, and resulted in greater collaboration between stakeholder groups. Dividing the project into digestible sprints gave stakeholders a better picture of the project stages and enabled them to provide tangible input. This ultimately facilitated collaboration, encouraged a continuous feedback loop, and leveraged the knowledge of subject matter experts to better execute the project.

MWD recommends the following steps to replicate its success:

  • Create and present a project charter to key stakeholders. Receive signatures to ensure agreement with high-level project details and secure vital resources
  • Adopt an Agile approach early in the project to:
    • Break down a large, complex project into manageable and measurable sprints
    • Gain business value faster and reduce overall project risk
  • Apply the following techniques to clarify project requirements:
    • Discussion groups
    • Interviews
    • Process documentation (as-is and future lane diagrams)
    • Expert judgment
    • Decision making techniques
    • Decision analysis
    • Vote
    • Comparative analysis
  • Use prototypes to demonstrate new functionality and quickly gain user acceptance
  • Ensure good communication between the project team and project stakeholders
  • After each sprint is completed, train users and implement features in production
  • Create a portal to share project schedule, scope, requirements, and other important project documents with various stakeholders