According to a research, as much as 94% of software
development organizations are making use of the Agile Methodology for project development.
But what exactly is it?
The Agile methodology emerged as a new, iterative way of developing software applications. According to this type of project development, solutions evolve through regular collaboration between cross-functional development teams. It uses short development cycles called ‘sprints’ to focus on continuous improvement in the development of a product.
This project development methodology is result-oriented and is focused on adaptive planning, self-organization and short delivery times. In a business environment where demands, hardware, and competition are all swiftly changing variables, the Agile methodology is currently the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to delivering software that fulfills all business and customer requirements.
The previous ‘Gold Standard’
Before the Agile methodology came into existence, most organizations used the ‘Waterfall’ or ‘Linear’ approach to project development. This model consisted of a number of internal processes which are sequential and were usually implemented in a chronological manner. And the processes usually consisted of planning, designing, building, testing and delivering.
The Waterfall model placed a strong emphasis on initial planning, documentation and specification development which usually took 40% of a project’s time and budget with little to no scope of alteration. The approach worked well for the manufacturing industry but when used in software development, it proved to be slow, costly and inflexible and it’s inability to adjust the product to the ever-evolving market demands often resulted in a waste of resources and ultimate project failure.
The software development landscape needed a new development methodology as the waterfall approach left a lot to be desired.
And Agile was the solution.
As opposed to the traditional software development methodology, the modern-day Agile approach was officially introduced in 2001 by a group of 17 software development professionals as an attempt to make software engineering more flexible and efficient.
They called it the Agile Manifesto and it was based on 4 main values:
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Individuals and interactions over tools and processes
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Complemented with the 12 principles of Agile development:
- Highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Agile processes must harness change for customer’s competitive advantage
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, preferring the shorter timescale.
- Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project
- Build projects around motivated individuals
- The most effective method of conveying information to and within the development team is via face-to-face interaction.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- The team reflects on how to become more effective on regular intervals and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
- Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace.
Based on these 12 principles, the way Agile approach functions in smaller cycles called sprints. Each sprint is a miniature project in itself consisting of its own backlog, design, implementation, testing and deployment stages within the pre-defined scope of work.
With each sprint, a potentially shippable product increment is delivered. And with every new iteration, new features are added to the product resulting in gradual product growth. The main benefit of using an agile approach is that each product feature gets validated early in the development process and chances of delivering a potentially failed product gets much lower.
According to a recent research, here are some of the benefits using Agile provides over the traditional project development methods –
- Increased ability to manage constantly changing priorities.
- Better team productivity through daily task allocation.
- Greater project visibility due to its simple planning system
Agile is basically an umbrella term used for a lot of different techniques and methodologies sharing the same principles and values listed above, 40 to be exact.
Out of 40, there are only a few popular ones which organizations all around the globe actively make use of to deliver all their projects. Let’s have a look at some of them –
Scrum is by far the most dominant agile methodology used by almost 58% of all the agile organizations. The technique of Scrum is aimed at sustaining strong collaboration between teams and is based upon interaction between three major roles: Scrum Master (manager), Product Owner (stakeholder) and Scrum Team (developers).
In Scrum, teams work in sprints which are usually one to four weeks long. And the work to be done in each sprint is planned and tracked with the help of three main elements – Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, Sprint Burndown Chart. And the whole process is formalized through a number of recurring meetings like Daily Scrum, Sprint Planning and Review. Let’s gain a better understanding of each of them-
- The product backlog is a single source of requirements that might be needed in the project’s final product. The product backlog gets updated as new requirements, features, fixes or details are being reduced or added.
- The sprint backlog is a list of specific tasks the team must complete to deliver an iteration of functional software at the end of each sprint.
- The sprint burndown chart is a chart of the amount of work pending in a sprint. It helps teams and scrum master get a better idea of how much work is left to be done in a sprint and shows daily progress.
- The daily scrum is a meeting during which a team coordinates and delegates its work and sets a plan for the next 24 hours.
- Sprint planning is an event where the work to be done in an entire sprint is planned. It this meeting, where which work is supposed to be done and how is it to be done is planned from start to end.
- The sprint review is usually done at the end of each sprint where the team shows the work done to the product owner and answers questions about the product increment. Further course of action to increase the product value is also discussed in a sprint review.
Scrum technique works best when dealing with complex long-term projects with no fixed release date or where stakeholder feedback may drastically change product requirements.
Translated as ‘visual signal’ from the Japanese language, the Kanban project development methodology focuses on the visualization of workflows and prioritizes the work in progress (WIP). Kanban is a simple yet powerful agile project development methodology used by 48% of agile organizations.
The project development in this method is based on the workflow visualization through the Kanban Board, usually represented by sticky notes or cards and a board.
Each project development task in the backlog is represented with a card and team members co-operatively work on completing those tasks one-by-one, putting them in work-in-progress as they do it.
It boosts employee collaboration and brings in better transparency into the workflows. To give you an example, Trello – the famous online work collaboration tool brings the essence of Kanban to life.
Kanban works best for short projects and is more focused on doing small pieces of work as they come up.
The combination of the traditional waterfall software development & project management approach and agile is known as the Hybrid approach.
About 23% of organizations admitted that a combination of both the approaches works well for them rather than using them separately.
By using the agile methodology in their traditional waterfall processes, organizations increase their chances of releasing successful projects. As an example, project planning can be done in sprints, testing iterations can be done as soon as their development is complete and feedback can be gathered regularly with the help of sprint meetings and the project can be altered according to the feedback received then and there.
Using the hybrid approach, there is less uncertainty for stakeholders when it comes to project planning and requirement specification as it can be done with the traditional waterfall approach and software can be developed iteratively using the agile methodology.
The Bimodal approach also is a combination of both the Waterfall and Agile methodologies introduced by Gartner in 2014. It is the approach of managing two separate but consistent styles of work: one focused on agility and the other on predictability, handled by two different teams with different goals.
The goal of the traditional team is to provide stability to the project by maintaining applications and core-systems to support long-term business goals and the agile team works on adopting innovations and rapid delivery.
Sharing the same origins of Kanban, Lean philosophy of software development focuses on being efficient and eliminating as much waste as possible.
Lean philosophy of software development is based on these 7 basic principles:
The main aim of the Lean agile methodology is to deliver more value through less effort, investment and time.
- Amplify learning
- Eliminate waste
- Decide as late as possible
- Deliver as fast as possible
- Empower the team
- Build integrity/quality in
- See the whole
It is an iterative and incremental framework which enables organizations to follow the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) development technique. The product is then worked upon based on collective owner and customer feedback. The developers use this collective feedback as a base for future development in this methodology.
This methodology is preferred most by startups as it allows them to allocate budget on features that they are sure will increase the value of their product.
XP or extreme programming focuses more on optimizing the technical aspects of software development and provides agile teams with a number of tools to enhance the quality of their engineering processes. It is basically a set of certain coding practices which enables developers to adapt to fast changing requirements.
The most commonly used XP practices are –
- Test-Driven development (TDD)
TDD is an engineering technique which uses automated unit tests to facilitate the software development process. In this technique, the unit tests are written first before the coding itself as opposed to the regular development cycle where testing is usually done after the coding part is done.
Test-driven development helps developers write their code in such a way that it passes all the unit tests easily from the get-go, increasing the quality of the final product.
Code refactoring is a process used to weed out clutter and duplications from the final code.
With each successful iteration, its usual for a product code to get bloated. Code refactoring helps keep the code succint, simple, easy to maintain and prevents overall software rot.
- Pair programming
This extreme programming technique involves pairing two developers to work together on a single project where one developer writes the code and the other developer actively supervises it, making suggestions and navigating his teammate throughout the entire coding process.
A team of two is expeceted to be more efficient, creating better software designs and committing fewer mistakes.
The Agile methodology is often considered as a single textbook tactic to optimize an organization’s development processes but it’s much more than that. As we stated earlier, there are more than 40 agile frameworks used by organizations out there which follow the same agile values and principles mentioned in the Agile Manifesto. Out of them all, we have mentioned the most successful and widely used agile frameworks that have been proven to increase the overall performance of development teams and increase organization revenue by as much as 30%.
If you are also looking to go agile, the frameworks mentioned above are your best bets in making agile work for you.