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Your All-in-One Guide to Agile Software Development

Agile Software Development is an extremely popular set of methodologies for creating new software using an iterative approach. Using these methods and practices, Agile teams can create higher quality products, deliver value faster, and be more adaptable to change. Some of the most popular Agile methodologies include Scrum, Kanban, and Lean. If you’re thinking about going Agile but you’re not sure where to start, then you’re in the right place – read this Agile guide to learn more about this software development approach as well as the challenges and benefits that come along with it!

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What is Agile Software Development

Agile Development actually refers to a whole collection of methodologies that emerged as a result of, and are based on, the original Agile Manifesto published in February 2001. In Agile, software requirements and solutions naturally evolve throughout the course of the project, instead of being a) defined exhaustively upfront and b) delivered all in one bundle at the end. Using this approach provides an efficient and flexible way to create software piece by piece, learning and improving as you go, rather than sticking to a rigid plan like in traditional software development. Agile is also characterized by the use of cross-functional, self-organizing teams. Before we dive into the Agile software guide, let’s explore where it came from first.

Related reading:
Agile and DevOps Maturity in Safety-critical Product Development

Origins of Agile Software Development

The origins of what we now call Agile can actually be traced as far back as 1968 (and some might say even earlier) with iterative and incremental software development methods becoming increasingly popular in the early 1970s. By the 1990s, software development teams were experimenting with different lightweight methods which now form part of the collection of Agile Software Development methods. Developers were extremely frustrated with traditional approaches which were so over-planned and over-regulated that many projects were canceled halfway through or failed to meet business objectives because of how long it took to carry them out.

In the early 2000s, industry leaders reached a breaking point: they could no longer keep up with the pace of market evolution and customer demands. The industry as a whole needed a faster and more flexible way to consistently produce new software. A group of 17 developers met in Oregon to discuss how it could be done, and less than a year later, after the same group met again in Utah, the Agile Manifesto was born. This manifesto popularized the approach and lays out the key values, principles, deliverables, practices, and behaviors that characterize the Agile methodology we know and use today.

Benefits of Agile Software Development

1) Increased user focus

In Agile software development, the user always comes first: user stories are a great example to illustrate this. User stories are a way of creating project requirements from the perspective of the user needs, and often read something like: ‘As (user name/type), I want to (do something), so that I can (achieve a goal).’ Defining product requirements through user stories, combined with the practice of frequent demos and feedback sessions, ensure that the product is as user-focused as possible.

2) Improves product quality

Consistent testing, as well as user feedback, is a huge priority in Agile. This is one of the elements which results in a higher quality final product. Another principle of Agile which helps this area is the concept of continuous learning and optimization. As Agile software teams conduct different types of check-in meetings (stand ups, retrospectives, demos) throughout the project lifecycle, there are many more opportunities for discussion and improvement, which overall leads to better results.

3) Allows for change

In traditional software development, the requirements are exhaustively planned in advance and then the team tries to stick to the plan without deviation. Unfortunately, this often creates costly mistakes and delays, as the team isn’t set up to adapt to new information or feedback which inevitably comes up throughout the project. In Agile, teams continuously adapt and reprioritize as they go along, and each iteration presents an opportunity to incorporate feedback and address changes.

4) Higher stakeholder engagement

Previously in software development approaches, teams did not have a lot of opportunities to interact with customers directly. They typically received instructions from higher-ups and carried them out without any customer contact. In Agile, the customer (similarly to users) is involved in decision-making processes right from the start. Their feedback is consistently incorporated going from iteration to iteration, in order to deliver an end product that meets their requirements and increases customer satisfaction.

5) Faster delivery and time to market

To this day, delivery speed is still one of the most popular reasons for companies to undergo a transition to Agile Software Development. In the KPMG Global Agile Survey 2019, over 68% of organizations stated that being able to deliver products faster was one of the main reasons to try Agile. The focus on iterative development and continuous delivery makes it possible to respond to customer demands faster, experience fewer errors and delays, and as a result, get products on the market quicker than ever before. This is also important when it comes to keeping up with and (ideally) staying a step ahead of competitors.

Next up:
Your Roadmap for the Agile Scaling Framework Landscape

Challenges of Agile Software Development

Although Agile has been an industry buzzword for years now and the benefits of the approach are well-known, an Agile transformation still doesn’t come without its own challenges. Here are a few of the main ones which are widely reported to be a problem in organizations all over the world:

1) Change resistance

People’s ways of working, as well as company beliefs and values, can be very deep-rooted and difficult to change. In KPMG’s Global Agile Survey 2019, 59% of respondents said that “culture and performance management” was their key challenge when it comes to Agile transformation. So it’s no wonder that focusing on culture and people is just as, if not more critical, than an emphasis on processes, practices, and tooling. It doesn’t matter how great your shiny new tools are if teams are not open to different ways of working. 

In order to successfully transition to Agile, you have to make sure everyone on the leadership team is on the same page and aware that project management practices will change. Getting their buy-in and support, and having them act as examples for the rest of the organization to follow, can be a huge help when it comes to going Agile.

2) Selecting the right methodology

Choosing the right methodology for your company size, project, team, and capabilities is crucial to the success of your Agile transformation. Different Agile methodologies are suitable for different types of projects. 

To give you an idea, Scrum continues to be one of the most popular Agile methodologies, with 84% of Agile teams choosing the lightweight approach as of 2020. Dynamic Systems Development Methodologies is similar to Scrum, but with extra rules for governance which might make it more appealing to larger organizations looking to test Agile waters. Meanwhile, Lean and Kanban are more like a continuous way of working that emphasizes core Agile practices. If you’re interested in learning more about these popular approaches, check out the link below to see our Scrum & Kanban guide!

Learn more:

When and How to Use Kanban and Scrum?


3) Inconsistencies and poor communication across teams

Agile projects also typically involve many different teams, as they work in a cross-functional model. This is why solid communication and consistent practices are crucial for implementing Agile. Team members (especially for distributed teams) need to be talking all the time for a project to turn out well, using proper communication channels.

4) Having the right expertise and training in your team

One of the key factors for Agile success is having people with the right skill sets and attitudes on your team, giving them the tools they need, and letting them get on with it. However, in order for that to work, you need to have people who are ready to fulfill the specific roles you need for your Agile project. You also need everyone involved to have a fundamental understanding of the Agile concept itself, as well as the methodology you have chosen to use. Ways of managing this include using an Agile coach, going through Agile training as an organization, and using tools that support Agile ways of working.

Want to learn more about Agile and how it can benefit your organization? Check out our Agile Software Development Guide:Download Agile 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Agile Software Development

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