In the rapidly changing world of modern information technologies, the ability to adapt to new circumstances can be one of the essential qualities of your business. A company that provides custom software development services must balance the need to fit into the budget and deliver the product that will satisfy you and your target audience. The task may seem daunting since it’s pretty hard to foresee all possible issues a development team may face, and potential reworks will require additional costs in future. Luckily, there’s a software development approach that enables close interaction with customers during the whole project and allows rapidly changing the course of development according to received feedback.
Agile software development effectively implements a simple concept: if you want to know what your customer thinks about the project’s direction, just ask the customer. The incremental model of software development allows avoiding assumptions when it comes to making critical decisions. The simple yet elegant solution has become so popular that 71% of companies use Agile in one way or another. Today, we’ll consider the main feature of Agile software development methodology and look at some of the most popular ways of its implementation in practice.
Four Values and Twelve Principles That Changed the World
It all started in 2001 when 17 IT specialists gathered together to discuss making the world a better place. As a result, the Agile Manifesto was created. It describes four core values and 12 principles allowing more lightweight software development. Long story short, this manifesto describes an ideal approach implying that the cornerstones of a solid software product are: close individual interaction, focus on working software, collaboration, and ability to accept changes. According to the Agile methodology, the road to customer’s satisfaction lies through the continuous delivery of valuable work results. In our case, a working app.
To achieve this goal, software companies had to reject traditional development methods, such as the Waterfall Model. Nevertheless, this well-proven approach can still find its use today. For example, if you work on a small project and don’t want to overcomplicate things. However, adding new features is not an option when discussing the Waterfall Model since it consists of strict phases following one after the other.
The team has to follow the initial plan since it embodies the results of protracted negotiations between the project manager and the customer. In this scenario, the customer must remain calm and patient for quite some time until the final version of the product is ready, which may take a while. If some brilliant idea pops into the client’s head during the process, adding it to the project won’t be an easy task because the Waterfall model is not responsive to change.
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On the other hand, Agile allows revising, evaluating and changing the process at each iteration. And there are dozens of them. Acceptance to changes is at the very heart of the Agile software development methodology. To make the whole project more flexible and reduce the likelihood that something will break when new changes are made, the process of software development is divided into so-called sprints or iterations. The Agile team decides what amount of work can be completed during the next iteration, and after its end, the new version of the software product is delivered. The customer can check the Agile team’s work results and provide feedback accordingly to which the new iteration will evolve.
To make things more transparent, let’s consider the Agile software development cycle. For example, say you want to fuse Tinder and Netflix and create an app that allows people with similar tastes in cinema to find each other and watch movies online together. During the concept stage, your main task is to identify which business opportunity each project involved in the product will bring. For example, you can ask yourself a set of questions such as: “Is live video chatting important, or its implementation will only waste your time?” Also, you have to estimate how much time it’ll take for the Agile team to implement the project and prioritize the tasks accordingly.
During the inception stage, the agile team members are identified, and they can discuss the initial requirements with the customer. These requirements will be then implemented during the first sprint. For example, you may decide that the Agile development team must, first of all, build an online video player that allows multiple users to watch movies with no delays or lags and hold conversations via text chat at the same time. According to this requirement, the Agile team can assign responsibilities among its members and define when the work is completed for each sprint.
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During the iteration phase, the Agile team is developing the software product itself. This work is based on product requirements, and customer’s feedback gathered after the previous iterations. The Agile development team starts the next sprint after the previous one is finished. It continues until the final software product is completed and it satisfies the customer. It depends on the specifics of a project how long it will take to complete the sprint, but usually, each lasts 2-4 weeks. For example, the Agile team can develop an online player we were talking about earlier during the first sprint. After the work is done, this software product version can be tested and demonstrated to the customer. You, a customer, can provide the Agile development team with your opinion on the app’s current state. For example, say you decide that IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes integration into your app is an excellent idea. This info will be used to define the requirements for the next iteration.
The release stage includes the final testing and fixing all the detected bugs. For example, the video player takes too long to load, or search algorithms can’t bring 80s horror fans together. All these problems must be detected and solved by the Agile team during this phase. After it’s done, the software product can be moved into production.
During the production stage, the main task for the development team is to maintain software and ensure that all users understand how to work with it and face zero problems. However, nothing lasts forever, and, at some point, the retirement stage comes. During this phase, the development team must perform all end-of-life activities. For example, it’s necessary to inform customers about the approaching end of the software life cycle. The team must also remove the system release from production. Usually, this happens when a software system must be replaced by a new release or becomes outdated and no longer performs its business functions.
Agile Development Models
In the previous chapter, we only outlined how the Agile approach to software development works. In practice, according to the specifics of a project and customer’s preferences, the Agile team can use one of many available methodologies. There’s no shortage of them, and describing them all lies beyond the scope of this article. However, we’ll consider three methodologies mentioned most often when it comes to Agile software development.
Scrum is probably the most widely used Agile methodology, and there’s a reason behind such popularity. It provides an easy-to-implement yet efficient way of controlling the Agile development process and keeping it as flexible as possible. The product owner, who sees the project from the stakeholder’s perspective, is responsible for the backlog management. The Agile team can use the backlog to prioritize the functionality of the software product. Backlog consists of features that must be implemented during the iteration and briefly describes how an end-user can profit from them. Besides, it can include bug fixes.
After the priorities are established, the Agile team can start developing the app and undertake to deliver intermediate versions of the software product by the end of each sprint. Then, after the sprint is finished, it’s time to see the backlog again. This time, the main task for the Agile team is to look at it with a fresh perspective and decide which features must be delivered during the next sprint.
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The main feature of Kanban is its focus on visualization. This Agile software development methodology literally allows you to keep the whole software project in front of your eyes. The Agile team can visualize the workflow using a Kanban board. If you’ve ever used sticky notes to visually represent a complex project as a set of tasks that move from left to right as the task progresses from “scheduled” to “completed”, you’ll understand the concept with ease.
The Kanban methodology implies that the Agile team uses a set of cards to visualize the workflow on the board split into several columns. Then, during the work on the project, the tasks selected for the current iteration go through the following stages: ToDo, Estimated, In Progress, and Done. With this simple approach, the Agile team members always know how much work they will do during the sprint, and they’re confident that no new tasks will be added. In addition, it allows balancing the workflow and helps the Agile team stay motivated during the whole software development process.
The main goal of Extreme Programming, also known as XP, is to enable a fast pace of development and continuous delivery of software. To help achieve this goal, the Agile team must be prepared for close customer interaction, frequent feedback, neverending planning, ongoing QA activities, and close cooperation with colleagues. In addition, the team delivers working software at frequent iterations to improve its quality and ensure the flexibility needed to act fast when new requirements come from the client.
In software development, choosing the most straightforward approach is not always a good decision. The Waterfall approach that may look clear and simple on paper in real life may cause more problems than a seemingly confusing Scrum. If you work in a rapidly changing business environment, you have to remain flexible instead of stubbornly moving along the once chosen path like a hundred-ton tank. Agile software development is a methodology that helps you move towards your goal in small steps while maintaining the ability to change the direction of movement on each of them. Outdated development methods, on the other hand, offer you to make a long jump. It may look like the shortest way to your goal. But in this case, you will have to accept that the decisions you made at the start cannot be undone. If something goes wrong, all that remains for you is to try to enjoy the flight.
If you want to learn more about Agile software development and its benefits for your business, feel free to contact us.