The Agile methodology first emerged decades ago, and it’s since become one of the foremost approaches to software development. Today, “agile” has become a buzzword that appears in many industry discussions with little explanation, making it easy to recognize the phrase but not its meaning. So, what is agile development, and why should software developers understand it?
Agile development tools have seen skyrocketing adoption, with 86 percent of software development teams using them in 2021, up from 37 percent in 2020. As Agile practices become more common, understanding them is becoming increasingly important to succeed in software development.
The Agile Manifesto
Agile development aims to improve efficiency and flexibility by focusing on smaller, incremental steps. It came about in 2001 when a group of software industry experts met in Snowbird, Utah, to discuss the sector’s future. The group produced the Agile Manifesto, encompassing four core values for this new approach to software development.
These four values are:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
The core values of the Agile Manifesto and the twelve principles that expand on them hold that development should be people and collaboration-focused, practical, and flexible. While the Agile mindset doesn’t entirely ignore things like documentation and having a plan, it holds these other areas as more crucial should a conflict arise.
Learn more about the Agile Manifesto on Project-Management.com: Agile Manifesto Principles & Values 2022
Agile methodologies and processes
Since Agile is a mindset and not a specific set of practices, the Manifesto doesn’t outline any tools or workflows developers should follow. However, as it’s grown, several agile software development processes and methodologies have become common among practitioners.
The most popular Agile methodologies include Scrum, Kanban, lean development, and extreme programming (XP).
According to Zippia, Scrum is the most popular Agile development methodology, with 61 percent of Agile adoptees using it. This framework breaks workflows into short periods called sprints, where teams focus on specific goals for one to two weeks. Regular meetings enable teams to reflect on and report their challenges and successes, improving future sprints.
Explore top Scrum tools: Best Scrum Tools for Agile Project Management
Kanban is another common Agile methodology that emphasizes real-time communication and transparency. It uses four basic principles:
- Visualize the workflow.
- Limit the amount of work in progress.
- Focus on the flow.
- Continuous improvement
In practice, Kanban uses highly visual project management to keep teams aligned on their goals and progress. Like Scrum, it encourages collaboration and frequent reviews to enable ongoing improvements.
Find the right Kanban software for your organization on TechnologyAdvice: Best Kanban Tools & Software
Lean development takes the principles of lean manufacturing and applies them to software production. It focuses on eliminating waste of all kinds from project workflows and maximizing communication with customers to enable fast improvements. To cut waste and provide the most value, lean development prioritizes small, critical batches over larger, more versatile projects.
Extreme Programming (XP)
Another popular agile software development process, extreme programming, focuses on five values:
XP is highly people-focused, promoting fast, informative feedback loops and close collaboration with users. Like Scrum, it divides projects into short, one-to-two-week intervals to improve quality and responsiveness.
Benefits of Agile development
Agile development has many advantages, but one of the most significant is its efficiency. Breaking projects into smaller, achievable goals eliminates wasteful workflow practices and makes it easier to deliver quality products on time. With labor shortages hitting IT, faster time to market is particularly advantageous right now.
Agile’s focus on flexibility is also beneficial. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how economies, users, and trends can change dramatically without much warning. Adapting to unforeseen difficulties is critical to ensuring long-term success and minimizing roadblocks.
This flexibility also means that specific Agile methodologies and processes can adapt to meet different projects’ unique needs. An emphasis on collaboration and feedback loops helps teams produce a higher-quality product, as they’ll recognize and address potential flaws faster.
Challenges with Agile development
While agile development has proven effective in many scenarios, it has its limitations, too. Perhaps its most notable obstacle stems from one of its most significant advantages: flexibility. Since the agile mindset doesn’t outline specific tools or processes, it can be hard for teams to implement effectively.
Many teams also encounter conflicts stemming from company culture. Agile teams need psychological safety to communicate and collaborate. If workers could face backlash from managers or coworkers for asking questions or challenging ideas, they quickly lose the benefits of feedback loops and collaboration. They’ll speak up less and fall back into the status quo, which is counterproductive to the Agile philosophy.
While breaking projects into smaller goals can help make them more manageable, it’s also easy to go too far in this area. Shorter deadlines and an emphasis on efficiency can lead to highly stressful environments, which aren’t conducive to productivity and can be harmful to workers.
Using Agile to address development needs
Understanding Agile development is the first step to implementing it effectively. If software development teams want to make the most of their projects, they need to determine which Agile approaches and tools can help them. Even with potential challenges, the benefits of implementing an Agile approach can lead to sustained, ongoing success.
Read next: Best Agile Project Management Tools