Agile
October 7, 2019

Project Management

Agile Software Development: Quick Tour to the Basics

By Pavel Kukhnavets

Agile comprises different approaches to software development with the emphasis on incremental delivery, strategic planning, team collaboration, and continual learning.

Have you ever wondered why so many software development startups around the world use Agile methods?

Agile is a powerful concept that allows developers to quickly react to changes when they work on projects. It’s about proactive thinking, constant understanding of the project progress, defining uncertainties, and timely adapting to them. This software development approach has quite a rich history. With its current popularity, Agile seems to keep rocking the software development world in the nearest future.
Let’s figure out what are the Agile main principles and best practices.

What is Agile software development?

Agile software development is more than a set of frameworks; it is a philosophy. The famous Agile approaches, such as Scrum, Extreme Programming, or Feature-Driven Development, are used to help businesses respond to the changeability that is typical of iterative development. Requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between teams. This dynamic environment requires a suitable development approach. 

In general, Agile software development is a common term for a set of frameworks based on the values and principles expressed in the fundamental Agile Manifesto and the 12 Principles behind it. The main goal of the Agile software development life cycle is to empower development teams to create and react to changes in order to succeed in an uncertain environment. For this, Agile includes such practices as pair programming, test-driven development, planning sessions, stand-ups, and sprints. 

See below for the 12 Agile Principles.

Twelve principles of agile

The main thing that separates Agile from other software development approaches is the focus on people and the way they work together. That is why the role of managers is so crucial in Agile. Managers are responsible for choosing the best team members with the right skills and abilities to work.

When was Agile born?

To understand Agile development roots, we need to go back to the 1950s and Toyota’s Lean manufacturing. Those days the ideas of Lean and Kaizen, connected with continual and iterative improvement, were discussed for the first time. 

The history of Agile and Lean

In 2001, 17 software developers got together to consider lightweight software development methods in Utah, the U.S. Their meeting resulted in a groundbreaking Agile Manifesto.

The declaration of Agile principles streamlined the software development process as it discouraged inefficient practices, such as useless meetings, heavy documentation, and rigid adherence to process. Nowadays, Agile is applied everywhere, and different businesses around the world are boasting about being more agile than competitors.

Agile software development vs. Waterfall: What is the difference?

There is no ideal method that you can apply to any project. However, there is a tendency of moving from the traditional Waterfall methodology toward the adaptive Agile.  Both methodologies perfectly represent the Software Development Life Cycle models and both have their admirers. Nevertheless, the confrontation “Waterfall vs Agile” is now not so obvious and tense as it used to be a couple of years ago.

Waterfall implies development in strict phases, sticking to the original requirements and project scope. Waterfall project managers negotiate features, milestones, and resources, while customers finalize requirements before the development stage begins.

In fact, Waterfall makes the development process lengthy as the project manager tracks every movement of the project through each handoff. Another drawback of this approach is poor responsiveness to changes, which results in a longer time required to deliver robust software. 

Agile starts from the frustration with the traditional Waterfall methodology. The approach is aimed to accommodate change and the need for faster software development.

Agile project managers typically facilitate the work of the development team; they eliminate bottlenecks and help the team stay focused on a regular basis. It is more about hours, feature selection and prioritization, as well as useful meetings.

What are Agile software development methodologies?

The Agile family covers several popular methodologies, each of which has its values and principles.

Scrum

Scrum framework assists development teams in addressing complex adaptive problems. According to Scrum, effective teamwork is enhanced with leadership philosophy, accountability, and self-organization. The implied engineering best practices allow delivering high-quality software fast.

A Scrum cross-functional team works as a unit to reach a common goal within a sprint (2-4 weeks). This implies the adoption of certain values, artifacts, roles, ceremonies, and rules. Scrum roles include a Product Owner, Scrum Master, and an entire Scrum development team.

Lean

Lean originated from the Toyota production system that revolutionized the manufacturing of physical goods in the 1950s. The methodology helps companies in all industries to improve processes, eliminate waste, and boost innovation. 

The Lean framework is perfectly applicable to software development because it generally follows a defined process and results in the delivery of tangible value. Three main concepts are included in the Lean methodology: continuous improvement, respect for people, and lightweight leadership.

Kanban

Kanban is a visual workflow management method popular with Lean teams. Most people involved in Lean development use convenient Kanban boards to visualize the product design process. Kanban helps teams work together more effectively.

There are 3 basic principles of this framework:

  • Visualize what you will do today
  • Limit the amount of work in progress (WIP limits)
  • Enhance flow. When one task is finished, the next backlog item with the highest priority comes into play.

Kanban methodology means continuous collaboration. It encourages active learning and constant improvement by defining the best possible team workflow.

XP

Extreme Programming (XP) is a software development approach based on such values as simplicity, communication, feedback, respect, and courage. This allows teams to work together following clear guidelines and see where they are. The methodology takes its name from the idea of taking to “extreme” levels those traditional software engineering practices that were proved to be strong.

XP is aimed to improve software quality and responsiveness in the condition of changing customer requirements. This implies close teamwork to deliver high-performing software at frequent intervals, usually every 1 to 3 weeks.

DSDM

Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) is the methodology that includes specific roles with clear responsibilities, several best practices, and 8 principles. These principles are:

  • Focus on the business needs
  • On-time delivery
  • Collaboration
  • No quality compromising
  • Building incrementally from firm foundations
  • Iterative development
  • Continuous and clear communication
  • Visible control

DSDM supports delivering strategically aligned business benefits as early as possible, which lets companies maximize ROI.

The method prioritizes schedule and quality over functionality. Developers who work in accordance with DSDM use the MoSCoW prioritization technique that helps to break down the project scope into 4 types of requirements:

  • Must have
  • Should have
  • Could have
  • Won’t have

FDD

Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an iterative and incremental Agile approach that organizes software development around making progress on features. According to the FDD context, features are not necessarily product features in the commonly understood sense. They are more like user stories in Scrum. 

Feature-Driven Development means following a five-step development process that is built around discrete “feature” projects. FDD project lifecycle involves:

  • Developing an overall model
  • Creating a features list
  • Planning feature by feature
  • Designing feature by feature
  • Building feature by feature

Crystal

Crystal combines the collection of Agile software development approaches that focus primarily on people and team collaboration in the course of a project. Professional skills, talents, and communication are essential. The concept highlights that the software that is critical for the business should have priority. 

The family of Crystal methodologies consists of the following elements: Crystal Clear, Crystal Orange, Crystal Red, Crystal Yellow, Crystal Maroon, Crystal Diamond, and Crystal Sapphire. All of them have specific characteristics. For example, Crystal Clear suits comparatively short-term projects managed by no more than six developers working in a single workspace. Crystal Orange looks better for projects that require a team of up to 40 members and have a lifespan of 1-2 years.

Summary

Agile is one of the most powerful concepts in the world of software development. To see how it works, you can choose any of the frameworks, practices, or principles discussed above. 

Have you already tried some of the approaches? Feel free to share your Agile experience and tips in the comments feed.

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