Dynamic systems development method

Model of the DSDM Atern project management method.
Software development process
Core activities
Paradigms and models
Methodologies and frameworks
Supporting disciplines
Standards and BOKs

Dynamic systems development method (DSDM) is an agile project delivery framework, primarily used as a software development method.[1][2] First released in 1994, DSDM originally sought to provide some discipline to the rapid application development (RAD) method.[3] In 2007 DSDM became a generic approach to project management and solution delivery. DSDM is an iterative and incremental approach that embraces principles of Agile development, including continuous user/customer involvement.

DSDM fixes cost, quality and time at the outset and uses the MoSCoW prioritisation of scope into musts, shoulds, coulds and won't haves to adjust the project deliverable to meet the stated time constraint. DSDM is one of a number of Agile methods for developing software and non-IT solutions, and it forms a part of the Agile Alliance.

In 2007, DSDM was rebranded 'DSDM Atern'.[4][5] The name Atern was a shortening of Arctic tern – a collaborative bird that can travel vast distances and epitomises many facets of the method which are natural ways of working e.g. prioritisation and collaboration.

In 2014, DSDM dropped the branding 'Atern' and reverted to its original name in the latest version of the method in the 'DSDM Agile Project Framework'. At the same time the new DSDM manual recognised the need to operate alongside other frameworks for service delivery (esp. ITIL) PRINCE2, Managing Successful Programmes, and PMI-BOK.[6] The previous version (DSDM 4.2) had only contained guidance on how to use DSDM with Extreme Programming.

DSDM and the DSDM Consortium: origins

In the early 1990s, rapid application development (RAD) was spreading across the IT industry. The user interfaces for software applications were moving from the old green screens to the graphical user interfaces that are used today. New application development tools were coming on the market, such as PowerBuilder. These enabled developers to share their proposed solutions much more easily with their customers – prototyping became a reality and the frustrations of the classical, sequential (waterfall) development methods could be put to one side.

However, the RAD movement was very unstructured: there was no commonly agreed definition of a suitable process and many organisations came up with their own definition and approach. Many major corporations were very interested in the possibilities but they were also concerned that they did not lose the level of quality in the end deliverables that free-flow development could give rise to.

The DSDM Consortium was founded in 1994 by an association of vendors and experts in the field of software engineering and was created with the objective of "jointly developing and promoting an independent RAD framework" by combining their best practice experiences. The origins were an event organised by the Butler Group in London. People at that meeting all worked for blue-chip organisations such as British Airways, American Express, Oracle and Logica (other companies such as Data Sciences and Allied Domecq have since been absorbed by other organisations). The DSDM Consortium is a not-for-profit, vendor-independent organisation which owns and administers the DSDM framework.[7]

DSDM Atern

Atern is a vendor-independent approach that recognises that more projects fail because of people problems than technology. Atern’s focus is on helping people to work effectively together to achieve the business goals. Atern is also independent of tools and techniques enabling it to be used in any business and technical environment without tying the business to a particular vendor.[8]


There are eight principles underpinning DSDM Atern. These principles direct the team in the attitude they must take and the mindset they must adopt in order to deliver consistently.

  1. Focus on the business need
  2. Deliver on time
  3. Collaborate
  4. Never compromise quality
  5. Build incrementally from firm foundations
  6. Develop iteratively
  7. Communicate continuously and clearly
  8. Demonstrate control

Version 4.2

As an extension of rapid application development, DSDM focuses on information systems projects that are characterised by tight schedules and budgets. DSDM addresses the most common failures of information systems projects, including exceeding budgets, missing deadlines, and lack of user involvement and top-management commitment. By encouraging the use of RAD, however, careless adoption of DSDM may increase the risk of cutting too many corners. DSDM consists of

In some circumstances, there are possibilities to integrate practices from other methodologies, such as Rational Unified Process (RUP), Extreme Programming (XP), and PRINCE2, as complements to DSDM. Another agile method that has some similarity in process and concept to DSDM is Scrum.

In July 2006, DSDM Public Version 4.2[9] was made available for individuals to view and use; however, anyone reselling DSDM must still be a member of the not-for-profit consortium.

Core techniques

MUST have this requirement to meet the business needs.
SHOULD have this requirement if at all possible, but the project success does not rely on this.
COULD have this requirement if it does not affect the fitness of business needs of the project.
WON'T represents a requirement that stakeholders have agreed will not be implemented in a given release, but may be considered for the future.


There are some roles introduced within DSDM environment. It is important that the project members need to be appointed to different roles before they start to run the project. Each role has its own responsibility. The roles are:

Critical success factors

Within DSDM a number of factors are identified as being of great importance to ensure successful projects.

Comparison to other IS development methods

Over the years a great number of Information System Development methods have been developed and applied, divided in Structured Methods, RAD methods and object-oriented methods. Many of these methods show similarities to each other and also to DSDM. For example, Extreme Programming (XP) also has an iterative approach to IS development with extensive user involvement.

The Rational Unified Process is a method that probably has the most in common with DSDM in that it is also a dynamic form of Information System Development. Again the iterative approach is used in this development method.

Like XP and RUP there are many other development methods that show similarities to DSDM, but DSDM does distinguish itself from these methods in a number of ways. First there is the fact that it provides a tool and technique independent framework. This allows users to fill in the specific steps of the process with their own techniques and software aids of choice. Another unique feature is the fact that the variables in the development are not time/resources, but the requirements. This approach ensures the main goals of DSDM, namely to stay within the deadline and the budget. And last there is the strong focus on communication between and the involvement of all the stakeholders in the system. Although this is addressed in other methods, DSDM strongly believes in commitment to the project to ensure a successful outcome.

See also


  1. Keith Richards, Agile project management: running PRINCE2 projects with DSDM Atern. OGC – Office of Government Commerce. The Stationery Office, 31 jul. 2007.
  2. Plonka, Laura, et al. "UX Design in Agile: A DSDM Case Study." Agile Processes in Software Engineering and Extreme Programming. Springer International Publishing, 2014. 1-15.
  3. Abrahamsson, Pekka, et al. "New directions on agile methods: a comparative analysis." Software Engineering, 2003. Proceedings. 25th International Conference on. Ieee, 2003.
  4. Keith Richards, Agile project management: running PRINCE2 projects with DSDM Atern. The Stationery Office, 2007.
  5. DSDM Consortium. "DSDM Atern: the Handbook." DSDM Consortium (2008).
  6. The DSDM Agile Project Framework manual, 2014 pages 4, 16
  7. "Terms and Conditions of Community Membership" (PDF). DSDM Consortium. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  8. DSDM Atern Handbook 2008
  9. (www.dsdm.org)

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dynamic Systems Development Method.
  1. Hedman, J.; Lind, M. (2008). "Is there only one Systems Development Life Cycle". My library My History Books on Google Play Information Systems Development: Challenges in Practice, Theory, and Education, Volume 1. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 105. ISBN 9780387304038. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
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