What are the benefits of Agile development?
There are various software development methodologies in use at the moment, but most of the companies choose between the traditional way to develop software or the Agile philosophy.
To understand why Agile is beneficial to your software development team, as well as to the organization, we need to start by understanding the differences between an Agile project and a more traditional Waterfall project.
Once Waterfall development is understood and its problems acknowledged we will intuitively ask ourselves what was the response to these challenges.
Heavyweight methodologies such as Waterfall, Spiral, Iterative, or the V-Model are considered to be the traditional approach to developing software.
The Waterfall model is based on a well-structured plan consisting of Requirements Analysis, System Design, Implementation, Integration and Testing, Deployment, and Maintenance. All these phases are cascaded to each other as progress is seen as flowing downwards, comparable to a waterfall.
This sequential series of steps begins with a well-documented, clear, and fixed set of requirements. Also, the product definition is stable and determined at the beginning of a project.
As external factors change, such as the market or the business priorities, the product sometimes needs adjustments over time. With the Waterfall approaches, this shouldn’t happen as it fights against the software delivery process. This model doesn’t take into account the need to accommodate change or adapt during the development process. Any alterations will take the whole process back to stage one – documentation and requirements analysis. This is frustrating for the team and it can take a hit to your product’s profitability and delivery time.
Still, the Waterfall model has some undeniable advantages too. One of them is that by splitting your deliveries into multiple stages it is easier for the project manager to maintain control over the development process. This is why many experienced project managers still prefer the Waterfall model, as it helps them create a clear schedule in advance.
The history of Agile
Agile is considered to be the response to the business landscape asking for adaptive planning, evolutionary development, and early delivery.
The term Agile was first used in 2001 when the Agile Manifesto was published by a group of 17 tech and business professionals. They met to discuss the software process and were looking for alternatives to traditional software development. Under the name of the Agile Alliance, they developed a set of practices that have become known as the Agile Fundamentals.
The main focus of Agile development projects is to deliver high-quality working software frequently, allowing companies to maintain their competitive advantage.
Ever since the Agile Manifesto and its underlying twelve principles were created, the model gained popularity in the industry and among the software engineering community.
As stated by its authors in the Manifesto of the Agile Alliance, listed below are the Agile values and principles:
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it, and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value on the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
The principles behind the Agile Manifesto are as follows:
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
- Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Agile methodologies are usually targeted toward small- to medium-sized teams building software in the face of vague and/or rapidly changing requirements.
The Agile mindset itself continues to evolve, all the way to the most recent developments including frameworks for large scale multi-team Agile.
Advantages of Agile software development
Considered lightweight in nature, the Agile methodologies are adaptive and embrace change to the requirements in any stage of the project. This helps position technology in an on-going alignment with your business goals.
Relying on continuous collaboration with the customer and rapid delivery of useful software, the Agile model offers businesses an opportunity to get an early return of investments. Furthermore, it aims to impose a minimum bureaucracy within the development lifecycle and involve the customer’s feedback frequently. The resulting outcome is a customer-centric organization, striving to enhance customer satisfaction. This is crucial in order to offer excellent Customer Experience (CX).
One of the core values of Agile is putting the spotlight on people and interaction, rather than processes and tools. This means that your product will become successful through the input of both the team and the customer, nurturing a trust-based work relationship.
Driven by a business landscape that is continuously changing, customers need the maneuverability and speed that an Agile software development team can offer. This Agile way of thinking provides a better output by acknowledging the opportunity to constantly refine the product and allowing change.
Disadvantages of Agile software development
Now that we’ve taken a look at the Agile benefits, let’s take a look at the disadvantages as well.
An analysis is required for each project, as they can be very different and some can benefit from a more predictive, traditional approach. If the goals and requirements are not clear or if the project manager of the team is used to working with a Waterfall model, Agile may not work as expected.
Common feedback is that with Agile development it can be more difficult to quantify the costs and how long the total project will take to deliver, compared to Waterfall. The mitigation for this is delivering the product incrementally, starting with the most valuable requirements first.
The term Agile is used as an umbrella reference to a number of lightweight software development methods such as Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Feature Driven Development (FDD), Lean, and Kanban.
These working models are not new in the product development industry, as they are derived from the Lean approach. Originated from the manufacturing industry, Lean was used as a way to optimize production in order to reduce time and resources.
In the same way, when implemented according to the principles above, the Agile methodologies transform the software development process. It becomes more adaptable to change and therefore less costly and more time-efficient.
In the beginning, following the Agile Manifesto, the most commonly used Agile methodology for product development was Scrum.
Scrum is an iterative and incremental Agile software development framework. It focuses on small, self-organizing teams, working in short cycles, under the guidance of a Product Owner.
Scrum Roles include the Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Scrum Team.
The Product Owner is representing the client and often someone from the product management team or a key stakeholder. The Scrum Master is responsible for making sure that the Scrum team has all the necessary tools to be as productive as possible. A regular Scrum team has between 5-9 members, with a flat hierarchy, all members being considered equal.
Scrum consists of four Ceremonies:
- Sprint Planning – a meeting at the beginning of each sprint, where the content of a sprint backlog is defined.
- Sprint Review – a meeting where all interested parts can see what was done in the last sprint and adjust where needed.
- Sprint Retrospective – an opportunity for the Product Owner and the Scrum Master to evaluate how well Scrum is working for them and create a plan for the next steps.
- Daily Scrum Meeting – takes place every day and it’s a discussion about what the team did the day before and what it will do during the current day to achieve the sprint goal, as well as potential impediments.
The cycle of the Scrum iteration
Scrum also has Artifacts that each Scrum Team needs to be aware of during the development lifecycle like: Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Product Increment. The Product Backlog is a collection of desired features for the product. The Sprint Backlog is a set of tasks to be completed in the current sprint. And finally, the Product Increment is the output of a Sprint Backlog consisting of all items that are Done and potentially shippable.
The term Kanban comes from Japanese and it literally means “signboard”. This Agile method to manage workflow doesn’t define any roles or ceremonies in the way that Scrum does, but it is based on three basic principles:
- Visualization – the Kanban board with columns representing every stage of the work process helps the team visualize the process and make sure that nothing is forgotten
- Minimum passage time – called cycle time, it shows the time spent passing the project from the “to do” to the “done” stage
- Limitation of Work in Progress (WIP) – articulates the maximum possible items in the in-progress column, helping the team stay focused. This reduces waste and improves quality and flow.
Find references below:
- Course: The Fundamentals of Agile by Stephen Haunts | Pluralsight https://app.pluralsight.com/library/courses/agile-fundamentals
- Course: Kanban Fundamentals by Steve Smith | Pluralsight https://app.pluralsight.com/library/courses/kanban-fundamentals
In today’s competitive and ever-changing business environment your company operates under the pressure of innovating faster and on a superior level, in order to achieve the best results in terms of return on investment.
Agility is also required as we need to quickly respond and adapt to the unfolding COVID-19 crisis to be able to continue delivering services and value to our customers. Whether working in the office or from home, your team members need to be able to harness the full potential of a collaborative approach in order to build systems resilience.
In conclusion, Agile enables improved communication within your team and with your customers. It fosters continuous learning and therefore adaptability to the environment. Regardless of the Agile project management framework, your team is using, as long as the team members stick to the principles and the core values they will continuously deliver high-value functionality early to customers. This will help minimize the impact on the course of the company’s growth.