DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development Method) is the longest-established Agile method, launched in 1995, and is the only Agile method to focus on the management of Agile projects. The method has evolved over the years and DSDM Atern is the latest version. DSDM has always operated predominantly in the corporate environment, and has consistently demonstrated its ability to successfully work with and complement existing corporate processes.


et-infoDSDM Atern together with PRINCE2 form the basis of the APMG International’s™ New Agile Project Management qualification.


Atern is an agile project delivery framework that delivers the right solution at the right time.

The right business solution is delivered because:

  • The project team and other significant stakeholders remain focused on the business outcome
  • Delivery is on time ensuring an early return on investment
  • All people involved with the project work collaboratively to deliver the optimum solution
  • Work is prioritised according to business need and the ability of users to accommodate changes in the agreed timescale
  • Atern does not compromise on quality i.e. the solution is not over-or under-engineered

Importantly, Atern harnesses the knowledge, experience and creativity of end users. It uses an iterative lifecycle to evolve the most appropriate solution to satisfy project objectives.

By breaking the project down into short focused periods of time (timeboxes), each with clearly specified outcomes, control is exercised throughout by the Project Manager and the team members themselves.

Roles are clearly defined and work is divided into Timeboxes with immoveable deadlines and agreed outcomes.

 Agile agility

Atern’s agile approach avoids the cumbersome rigidity of ‘big design up-front’ without the inevitable risks of ‘no design up front’.

Since it is worth spending some early time examining the structure of the overall solution before building any components, Atern advocates that projects should do just ‘enough design up front’.

 Agile flexibility

Atern can be used to complement other project management disciplines such as PRINCE2™ and PMI without duplication of effort. PRINCE2™ is a Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce. PMI relates to the Project Management Institute. Atern can also incorporate other Agile delivery approaches, such as eXtreme Programming (XP), and SCRUM to provide the necessary agile management framework to enable controlled delivery of agile projects.

Understanding Project Variables

Most projects have four parameters – time, cost, features and quality. Trying to fix all these parameters at the outset is impractical and is the cause of many common problems.




In the traditional approach to project management (left hand diagram) the feature content of the solution is fixed whilst time and cost are subject to variation.

If the project goes off track more resources are often added or the delivery date extended. However adding resources to a late project just makes it later. A missed deadline can be disastrous from a business perspective and could easily damage credibility. Quality is often a casualty and also becomes a variable, accompanied by late delivery and increased cost.

Atern’s approach to project management (right hand diagram) fixes time, cost and quality at the Foundations Phase while contingency is managed by varying the features to be delivered. As and when contingency is required, lower priority features are dropped or deferred with the agreement of all stakeholders in accordance with MoSCoW rules.

An Atern project will always deliver a viable solution. As long as MoSCoW and Timeboxing rules are followed a minimum sub-set of features (the Minimum Usable Subset) is absolutely guaranteed to be delivered on time and in budget.

Quality is fixed in an Atern project because acceptance criteria are agreed and set before development commences.

Atern reduces the chance of scope creep by establishing firm foundations on which to build that are approved by key stakeholders. Development is then started in a controlled manner with clear objectives.

Having well-defined high-level requirements means that as the project progresses it is easy to spot the difference between the need to get additional detail (e.g. increased depth of understanding of requirements) and additions to the project’s breadth (scope creep).

Appropriate levels of rigour

At the heart of Atern is the need to determine the correct level of rigour that should be used for a particular project. Every project is different. Too much formality can slow progress down and even cause paralysis. Too little formality can lead to a seat-of-the-pants approach. Getting the balance right ensures that Atern projects are not “out of governance”.

Atern should be tailored to suit a project’s individual needs within the organsations governance needs. A risk assessment is undertaken early on in the project lifecycle in order to determine the level of rigour that must continually be applied throughout. The aim is to have adequate formality, so that waste is eliminated and all activities at each incremental level add value.

An Atern project ensures that formality and rigour are there to help rather than hinder progress.


Unlike a traditional approach, Atern fixes Time, Cost and Quality at the early phases of a project. Contingency, in the form of lower priority features, ensures that on-time delivery of a viable solution can be achieved by protecting the Minimum Usable Subset and dropping or deferring lower priority features, if necessary, in accordance with MoSCoW rules.


For more information, see the DSDM Consortium’s home page.
DSDM and Atern are registered trademarks of Dynamic Systems Development Method Limited