Agile is defined as an iterative software development approach where value is provided to users in small increments rather than through a single large launch. Agile teams evaluate requirements and results continuously, which leads to the efficient implementation of change. This article covers the meaning, life cycle, methodology, and examples of Agile.
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What Is Agile Software Development?
Agile software development methodologies often called Agile, preach flexibility and pragmatism in the application delivery process. This iterative software development approach delivers value to users in small increments rather than through a single large launch. Agile teams evaluate requirements and results continuously, which leads to the efficient implementation of change.
Using Agile gives teams the ability to create value in the face of a dynamic market and fast-paced competition while maintaining speed and efficiency. Creating a pan-org collaborative work culture is a crucial tenet of Agile as it drives teams to work together with a deep understanding of individual roles within the system.
Agile also mandates testing throughout the development cycle. This allows teams to make changes whenever required, alert each other of potential problems, and consequently gives them the confidence to create and release high-quality applications.
The core values of Agile are embodied in the Agile Manifesto, which was created by a group of software development personnel in 2001. This manifesto outlines four key concepts that encourage lightweight development, outlined below.
- Prioritize people over tools & processes. While the latter is undoubtedly essential, meaningful individual interactions are a vital driver of the software development process and help create an effective response to business needs.
- Well-built application comes before in-depth documentation. Agile doesn’t completely do away with documentation but focuses on giving the development team only the information they need to meet their goal, such as user stories.
- Replace contract negotiations between the project manager and client with frequent collaboration. The product can take shape according to the customer’s vision more effectively if they’re involved throughout the development process rather than just at the start and end.
- Respond to change swiftly & effectively. Agile dismisses the notion of change as an undesired expense. Instead, it values change and encourages short iterations to allow for modifications to be made quickly and easily.
Apart from these core values, the Agile Manifesto outlines 12 principles for development teams to improve their functioning:
- Divide large tasks into smaller pieces for quick completion
- Focus on customer satisfaction through the speedy and continuous delivery of value
- Ensure the creation of processes that drive sustainable efforts
- Accept changing requirements, even if introduced at a later phase in project
- Welcome change as a means to achieve a competitive advantage
- Give motivated team members the work environment and trust required to complete requirements quickly.
- Acknowledge that self-organized teams deliver the best work
- Measure progress based on work completed
- Complete work at a consistent pace
- Ensure regular collaboration between project and business teams throughout the project duration
- Regularly reflect on how one can adjust team behavior to enhance effectiveness
- Finally, constantly strive for excellence.
Implementing Agile requires a shift in the culture of traditional companies as it drives the clean delivery of isolated components rather than an entire application at once. Today, Agile has replaced the Waterfall software development model in most companies. However, it may be replaced or merged with DevOps as the latter grows in popularity globally.
Agile Software Development Life Cycle
The Agile life cycle sees developers strategically move the application from conceptualization to retirement.
Listed below are the steps of this cycle:
In the first step of the Agile life cycle, the product owner defines the project scope. In the case of multiple projects, the critical ones are prioritized. Depending on the organization’s structure, personnel may be assigned to more than one project at once.
This stage sees the product owner and the client discuss essential requirements and formulate basic documentation based on the finalized project goals. This documentation, perhaps in the form of a product requirements document (PRD), will include the proposed aim of the project and supported features. The time and cost of the project are also estimated at this stage.
The in-depth analysis carried out during conceptualization helps determine feasibility before work starts. Developers can aim to complete only the most critical requirements as one can add more in later stages.
Once the project is conceptualized, the next step is building the software development team. In this stage, the product owner checks the availability of team members and assigns the best available ones to the project. The product owner is responsible for giving these team members the required resources.
Once the team is set, it will begin the design process by creating a mock-up of the user interface and, perhaps, a few user flow and UML diagrams. The project architecture is also built at this stage. The designed elements are then shown to the stakeholders for further input.
All this lets the team fully establish the requirements in the design and figure out application functionality and how it will all fit into the existing system. Frequent check-ins by the business team will ensure that inception stays on track.
The construction phase, known as the iteration phase, is where most work happens. This is usually the longest phase, with the dev team and the UX designers collaborating closely to bring together the requirements and feedback and interpret the design into code.
The construction goal is to create the application’s basic functionality before the first iteration (or ‘sprint’, as described below) ends. Additional secondary features and minor modifications can occur in future iterations. The main goal is to swiftly create a working application and implement improvements for client satisfaction.
When the team enters this stage, the product should be nearly ready to release. However, before this can happen, the QA team must test the application and make sure it is fully functional according to the decided project goals. Testing also takes place to ensure that no bugs and defects exist in the code; if any are found, they must be reported swiftly and fixed by the dev team. Clean code is a cornerstone of this stage.
This phase also includes user training, the creation of the system, and user documentation to support it. Visualizing the code is helpful here. Once all the defects are ironed out, and user training is completed, the final iteration of the product can be taken live and released into production.
5. Production and maintenance
Once the application is released successfully and made available to end users, the team moves into maintenance mode. This phase sees the dev team providing continuous support to ensure smooth system operations and quash any newly found bugs.
The team will also be on call to offer additional training to customers and resolve post-live queries to ensure that the product is used as intended. Developers can also use the feedback collected during this stage to plan the features and upgrades for the next iterations.
The application may be slated for retirement for two reasons: replacement with a new version or the lack of a use case due to redundancy or obsolescence.
If an application enters this phase, the first step is to notify users of the impending retirement of the software. Next, one must ensure a smooth migration to the new system. Finally, the dev team must complete all the pending end-of-life activities and cease the support provided to the existing application.
Sprint planning in Agile
Each Agile phase outlined above leads to the creation of numerous software iterations. These iterations are created as the dev team repeats its processes to refine the application and create the best possible version according to the determined project requirements. These iterations are ‘sub-cycles’ contained within the larger Agile software development life cycle.
The Agile life cycle divides work into ‘sprints’ to complete these iterations. The goal of each sprint is to produce a working application. A typical sprint should last for 10 business days (2 weeks).
Outlined below is the typical sprint workflow:
- Planning: Each sprint starts with a ‘sprint planning meeting’, in which team members get together and decide which objectives will be addressed through the upcoming work round. During this meeting, the product manager must prioritize work from the task backlog and assign tasks to specific members.
- Development: Once the plan is in place, the team works to design and develop the application according to existing guidelines.
- QA testing: After the application is developed, the QA team tests it thoroughly, drives the correction of any errors or shortcomings, and documents the results.
- Delivery: Post testing, the application is ready for deployment and is presented to all relevant stakeholders and customers.
- Assessment: After delivery, feedback is collected from customers and combined with other relevant information for implementation during the next sprint.
Sprint planning meetings are helpful, but the team should also meet regularly (if possible, daily) to take stock of the sprint’s progress and sort out any clashes. Collaboration and receptiveness to change are key components of the Agile life cycle and a proven way to keep the process moving effectively.
Agile Software Development Methodologies
Agile software development is not a singular framework of methodologies. Rather, it encompasses numerous project management frameworks.
Listed below are four well-known Agile methodologies:
Scrum is perhaps the most popular Agile project management methodology. Sprints define it, and it advocates maximizing application development time and achieving the product goal. This goal is a big-picture value objective that comes closer to realization with each sprint.
A team following the Scrum methodology begins its day with a 15-minute meeting to synchronize all activities and chalk out the best path for the day ahead. The product manager can take this opportunity to check on the ‘health’ of the sprint and the project’s progress.
Although Scrum is popularly associated with software development, one can use it successfully in most business contexts.
|Advantages of Scrum||Disadvantages of Scrum|
The term Kanban has Japanese origins and is associated with the concept of ‘just in time’. This method splits a ‘Kanban board’ (board or table) into columns. Each flow within the project is shown in columns as a ‘card’, and the information changes as developments move ahead. A new card is added whenever a new task is introduced.
Kanban drives transparency and communication by allowing members from across teams to see the project status at any given time. Its primary focus is team capacity, which is especially useful for iterations with multiple minor changes. Besides software development, Kanban is useful for business departments such as HR and marketing, as it drives visibility for all team tasks.
|Advantages of Kanban||Disadvantages of Kanban|
3. Extreme Programming (XP)
This typical Agile framework focuses on discovering the ‘simplest way to make it happen’ while deprioritizing the long-term product goal. Its core values include simplicity, communication, courage, respect, and feedback. XP’s highest priority is customer satisfaction, and it encourages the team to accept changes in project requirements even at later stages of the development process.
Teamwork is also a key component of XP, with customers, managers, and team members working closely to ensure the efficient creation of the best possible application. In XP, testing takes place from day one, and feedback is continuously collected to enhance quality. Activities such as pair programming are encouraged in this engineering methodology.
|Advantages of XP||Disadvantages of XP|
4. Lean Development
Directly adapted from Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing; this software development method pushes the team to mercilessly scrap every activity that does not add value to the product.
Its seven core principles are:
- Ruthlessly delete everything that doesn’t matter for product quality
- Focus on quality development
- Create knowledge through valuable documentation
- Don’t plan development without a complete understanding of the business requirements
- Deliver value to the customer as quickly as possible
- Communicate regularly, manage conflicts swiftly, and develop a culture of respect
- Finally, don’t focus on partial optimization and ensure that the whole application is high-quality
|Advantages of Lean||Disadvantages of Lean|
Examples of Agile Software Development
How does Agile work in the real world? Let’s look at an example of traditional software development using the Waterfall methodology versus Agile software development.
|A specific application with numerous advanced feature requirements must be ready for sale in 8 months.|
|The team would dedicate 15% of the project time (around five weeks) to gathering and analyzing the requirements.
Designing a basic yet accurate wireframe of all application features would take around 20% of the project time (approximately 6.5 weeks).
Translating the design into code and testing it would take approximately 40% of the project time (13 weeks).
System and integration testing would take around 20% of the project time (another 6.5 weeks).
Developers would spend the remaining time on user acceptance testing by the marketing team.
|In Agile, the project is broken up into numerous iterations, all of which would be of the same duration (between 2 to 8 weeks). The team delivers a working application at the end of each iteration.
For this example, let’s assume that the project is split into eight releases of 4 weeks each.
Instead of spending five weeks gathering and analyzing requirements, the business and development teams will work together to determine the essential features that are required by the end of the first iteration (or sprint).
The team will deliver a working application with the predetermined features by the end of the first sprint.
Once the application is ready, the teams will collaboratively determine whether the application is headed in the right direction. They will also decide what changes can be made and which features can be added in the subsequent iterations based on priority.
This methodology allows the marketing team to show a working application to the customer within just four weeks (compared to 8 months). Feedback can be collected and passed to the developers, who will implement it in future iterations.
In the example with the traditional Waterfall methodology, only after the 8-month process is complete does the customer experience the actual product. Also, if the need for significant changes arises, developers must push the release ahead by a few weeks.
It is clear why Agile is far more effective than Waterfall. In the Agile example, by the end of 8 months, the application will not only be ready and already in wide use but also significantly more refined than if produced using the Waterfall method.
Agile drives continuous delivery and prioritizes customer satisfaction. This software development methodology delivers a working application with new features every few weeks. Customers can experience the latest iteration of the application and share their feedback, which is then processed by the development team in future iterations.
Frequent collaboration between the business and development teams is a core tenet of Agile. All stakeholders keep an eye on the project’s progress and fine-tune the requirements, thus ensuring the efficient delivery of a high-quality product at the end of each sprint.
While Agile has replaced the Waterfall model in most companies, it can become obsolete, or combined with DevOps, due to the growing popularity of the latter discipline.
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