In short, Agile is an approach to project management that is so widely used today in software development.
Agile is so prevalent today with software development teams that most think it’s an approach to software, but this is a more limited definition that what it was intended to be.
In this article, we are going to discuss how agile started, what are Agile methodologies, principles, and practices, and explain why it became so popular. We will also take a couple of minutes to discuss Scrum and its roles.
History of Agile
Some people know that the ideas of Agile as a business management approach started sometime in the 1970s. These ideas emerged as a reaction against the standard project management approaches at the time.
In that same year, Dr. William Royce published an important paper that discussed the development and management of large software systems.
In his paper, he discussed the idea that a software project should be handled as a physical product. What he meant was that software projects also needed to have an assembly line where each phase had to be completed before the software team started working on the next stage.
However, Agile didn’t become official Until February 2001.
This month, a small group of people became so tired of the status quo and the traditional methods of software development that they decided to find an alternative, more efficient, and a more effective approach.
These 17 technologists represented a variety of different software development methods and areas, so they had all the required experience and knowledge needed to handle such an immense task.
And so, they drafted the Agile Manifesto.
The Agile Method Explained
Agile refers to a group of software development strategies and methodologies that are based on iterative developments.
Agile allows software development teams to collaborate and be able to adapt their projects to meet their goals and their deadlines.
Agile methods promote teamwork, self-organization, adaptability, accountability, and frequent inspection.
Agile encourages the use of engineering best practices for the rapid delivery of high-quality software and the use of the best business approaches that align with the software development process with both the needs of the customer/product owner as well as the goals of the company.
You may also hear the term “Agile Development” a lot thrown around, but it’s simpler than you think. Agile development refers to development processes that align with the concepts of the Agile Manifesto.
As stated earlier, the Agile process divides the process of developing software into time-boxed phases. The period allocated for each phase is referred to as a sprint.
A sprint is complete when the period allocated for this particular phase expires. This means that regardless of whether the team member thinks the development is satisfactory, they can not work on this project any longer.
Once a sprint is complete, the next one begins. This means that each phase of the project must be done in its time frame while still maintaining its quality and without drifting away from the company’s goals.
Who Uses Agile?
There is no official list of companies that use Agile.
Although we know that Agile is very popular with software development teams, most companies that do Adopt Agile don’t openly discuss their choice to use it, and you will know the reasons behind later in this article.
One company who openly decided to use the Agile method is IBM.
They stated that using the method means significant organizational changes and that they believed that many Agile Software development teams would be more successful when they partner with a trusted guide.
Agile software development practices and methodologies can provide help for clients and the teams developing the software to avoid common pitfalls.
Agile 4 Core Values
The Agile Manifesto that was crafted in 2001 stated four core values on which groups of people using the Agile practices should use as a guide. They stated what should software development teams focus on and what they should prioritize.
- Focuses more on interactions and individuals rather than tools and processes
- Working Software outweighs comprehensive documentation
- Customer Collaboration is of higher priority than contract negotiation
- Process Adaptability to changes rather than following a plan
Agile 12 General Principles
- Satisfy the Client by delivering highly valuable software continuously
- Always embrace the changes in requirements regardless of where you are in the process of developing software
- Deliver working software within the shortest timespan possible
- Both the developers and the business professionals must collaborate throughout the whole duration of the project
- Face-to-face conversations are preferred for transferring information between parties
- Creating an environment of appreciation, empowerment, and trust is key to motivating people to build the project
- The primary measurement of progress is working software
- The Agile Process must promote sustainable development. Developers, users, and sponsors should be able to maintain an indefinite and constant pace.
- Constant attention to technical quality and excellence will promote agility
- Simplicity is an essential part of effective agile management.
- Self-organized teams will produce the best results
- Teams should regularly reflect on how they can increase their efficiency and adjust their behavior accordingly
There’s a bit of confusion here, so we better start by clearing things up.
Agile Methodologies are the parts that make Agile projects, while Agile frameworks are different implementations of Agile, such as Scrum which we will be discussing later on.
With that out of the way, it’s time to learn about some of the most common Agile Methodologies and their meanings.
The customer should have an understanding of the business needs as well as the operational constraints of the project. A customer should provide guidance during the software development process.
Acceptance Testing/Beta Testing
The Acceptance test confirms that user stories are complete by matching the user action scenarios with the outcome desired. It’s also sometimes referred to as user testing or application testing.
A Planning Board is used in an agile development project to track its progress. The first step is iteration planning which is then followed by writing stores on cards and pinning them up in the order of most to least significant on the planning board.
An Iteration is one development cycle. Repetitions are measured in periods such as one week or two weeks.
An Application domain creates a shared language between business and IT.
A Release is a deployable software package. A Release is a culmination of several iterations of development.
A Release plan is a continuously-evolving flowchart that describes the features delivered in each release to come.
A Planning game is a meeting. This meeting is attended by both the IT teams and the business teams.
In this meeting, both teams should put their focus on choosing stories for an iteration or a release.
A story is a specific business that is assigned to the software development teams. Stories are often broken down into small components so that the IT team can work to deliver them in one development iteration.
Development teams need to run a time-boxed investigation before estimating a story. These stories are called Spikes.
A Stand-up is a daily progress meeting that's held within the development area, and in it, everyone stands up and meets. Stand-ups help keep everyone engaged and motivated
A Time-boxed task is a task that must be accomplished in a defined period of time
A Wiki is a server program that allows for collaboration between users working on the creation or forming of the content of a website.
The Velocity is the budget of story units that are available for planning the next development iteration. It is dependent on the measurement taken from previous iteration cycles.
The Benefits of Agile
Agile is advertised as a method or approach that satisfies everyone involved. It helps to organize teams and makes customers and users happy with the end product. So, let’s see how Agile benefits everyone involved.
- Benefits to Development Teams
Work will become more enjoyable to development team members who will enjoy seeing their work used properly and valued relatively.
Non-positive work will be reduced considerably with Agile, and they will be given a chance to spend more time doing work that they enjoy, value, and which adds to their experiences.
Since requirements are chosen to maximize value to customers, their working software will be valued by everyone involved
- Benefits to Customers
Customers are happier when the vendor becomes more responsive to their development requests. Features that deliver outstanding value are developed more quickly with shorter cycles.
Agile provides shorter development cycles than the traditional ‘waterfall' approach and customers like that more as it gives them an edge over their competitors.
- Benefits to Vendors
Vendors will be able to reduce waste when they focus the development efforts of high-value features.
Time-to-market will also be reduced compared with traditional methods thanks to the increase in efficiency and the decrease of overhead.
Customer Satisfaction is also crucial to vendors, and it will be improved as well due to improved customer retention. Customer references are also expected to become more positive.
- Benefits to Project Managers
Project Managers find that planning and tracking are more comfortable when using Agile processes compared to more traditional methods such as the waterfall.
This is because Agile focuses more on Task-level tracking. Agile also promotes the use of Burndown charts to track and display daily progress.
Other Agile Processes such as Stand-ups also make Project Managers more aware of the state of the project throughout the entire project development process.
This awareness is critical in monitoring the project and can make all the difference in the world for catching and addressing issues in short periods.
- Benefits to product managers
Typically, product managers fill the role of Product Owner and are responsible for satisfying customers and meeting their needs. They do that by making sure that the development work aligns perfectly with the needs and requirements of customers.
Agile benefits product managers by making this alignment easier. This is done by providing frequent opportunities to prioritize and re-prioritize their work. Agile ensures the best delivery value possible is achieved.
- Benefits to PMOs and C-Level Executives
Agile provides PMOs and C-Level Executives with bird’s eye visibility into the state of the development project at all times.
External stakeholders and other personnel in the project management office are then able to use this high visibility to make better-informed planning decisions.
They will also be able to adjust their strategies at any time thanks to the hard information at hand instead of counting on speculations and guesses.
The Criticisms of Agile
There are three main criticism points of Agile:
- Agile is more developer-centric than user-centric (focuses on the developer and not the user)
- Agile puts more focus on processes for developing code and getting requirement and focuses less on product design
- Agile methodologies are inefficient in large organizations and do not work for all types of projects
What is Scrum
There are many process frameworks for Agile. The most common of these is Scrum, which is a management framework with abilities to control and manage the iterations and increments in all project types.
These are lightweight and, if needed, can be used with other agile methodologies for excellent results and in different engineering practices.
Scrum has gained popularity and quickly became the most widely used framework for agile development thanks to its far-reaching abilities.
But, what is a process framework?
A process framework is a specific set of practices that should be followed for the process to be consistent with its framework. In the case of Scrum, the framework requires the use of Sprints as development cycles, while the XP framework requires pair programming, for example.
What does ‘lightweight’ means?
Scrum is referred to as a lightweight framework, which means that it keeps the overhead of the process to a minimum to maximize the productive time that will be available for getting the work done.
A Scrum Process is set apart from other Agile processes by a set of specific concepts and practices.
These concepts and practices are divided into three categories:
- Scrum Roles
- Scrum Artifacts
- Time Boxes
Scrum is used often to manage complicated software and product development with the use of iterative and incremental practices. Scrum Processes can significantly increase productivity and reduce time to benefits, especially so when compared to more traditional approaches such as the waterfall.
Scrum processes enable businesses and organizations to adapt and adjust to rapidly-changing requirements easily and smoothly for them to be able to produce a final product that meets the ever-evolving goals of the business.
An Agile Scrum Process can provide significant benefits to organizations as it helps them to:
- Increase the quality of their delivered products
- Expect changes and cope with them smoothly
- Provide better estimates in less time
- Have more control on the project schedule and current state
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