There are a seemingly endless number of tools and methodologies to pick from when it comes to software project management. However, not all methodologies are appropriate for all projects.
Agile stands out as one of the most popular methodologies, and with good reason. Companies adopt agile methodologies to increase team performance, boost project versatility, encourage the diversity of ideas, improve customer satisfaction, and achieve earlier releases. Due to its measurable benefits, agile has swept the world since its inception. But does that mean every project warrants agile processes? The simple answer is no.
Agile can be an excellent way to manage a project and one that offers some unique benefits. But Agile methodologies aren't some silver bullet that guarantees a successful project. Some projects are simply better suited to Agile methods than others.
With this in mind, let's take a deeper look into the Agile methodology. First, we'll consider the secret behind Agile's success (the values and principles it deploys). Then, the advantages and disadvantages. And lastly, discuss when it works and when it doesn't.
After reading this post, you should be able to confidently answer questions like "what is agile used for?" and "Where is agile methodology used?".
The Secret Behind Agile's Popularity
This year marks 20 years since the creation of the "Manifesto for Agile Software Development," a highly influential document that sparked a new way of working for companies across the world. But why did it create such a bang? After years of projects that failed, were sluggish, or buried developers in paperwork, the world was ready for something new.
Software developers wanted more flexibility and processes that actually allowed them to ship software on time. In other words, developers wanted to rebel against sluggish IT corporations that were making their job harder.
That's precisely why 17 software developers came together to create the Agile Manifesto. The document identifies four fundamental values and 12 principles that software developers should use to guide their work.
When people use the word Agile, they're typically referring to one of two definitions:
- A value system or philosophy that many developers and startups use.
- A collective or short-hand name for agile approaches and techniques that overlaps with Agile's core values.
Whether we're talking about philosophy or agile techniques, the same two principles lie at the heart of Agile's success - its core values and methods.
An Agile Explosion
While Agile has long been a popular methodology in the tech world, the COVID-19 pandemic has rocketed Agile to popularity levels never seen before. In a world where remote working and distributed workforces are the norm, Agile stood out as the methodology that could produce the best results.
In fact, a report by Digital.ai found that Agile adoption grew from 37% in 2020 to a whopping 86% in 2021. Significantly, growth in non-IT lines of business also rose substantially, suggesting that agile is firmly taking hold in the mainstream.
Source: 15th Annual State Of Agile Report
Respondents cited visibility, managing priorities, and alignment between business and IT as the strongest positive impacts of Agile adoption.
Agile Manifesto Values
We talk about agile philosophy, but how do you define a philosophy? Put simply, Agile philosophy is marked by the flexibility and speed of the team and maximum transparency of work processes.
Essentially, Agile isn't about paperwork, reporting, and a rigid plan. Instead, it's about constant and continuous communication with the client and a willingness to respond quickly to project changes as they arise.
To understand why Agile philosophy is the way it is, let's dive into the four core agile manifesto values that drive it.
The four core values of Agile as outlined in the Agile Manifesto are:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
Agile places more value on people than processes and tools. Why? Because if processes and tools are viewed as the primary way to manage development, people must conform to the limits of the processes and tools. This limit-inducing conformity makes it hard to accommodate new ideas and new requirements. Tools and processes must serve the team, not the other way around. As a result, in Agile approaches, employees choose the tools and processes that work best for them. Lastly, responsibility for the end result is shared among the team rather than falling on one set of shoulders.
Working software over comprehensive documentation.
Ultimately, the goal of the Agile team is to make a finished product that appeals to the customer's target audience. Essentially, flashy reports are of no use without a working product. That's precisely why Agile is focused on creating and releasing a minimum viable product (MVP) as quickly as possible rather than wasting time with technical documentation and reports. With Agile, your product doesn't need to be perfect for it to be released. Does it perform the essential functions? If the answer is yes, it's good enough for release. Any improvements can be factored into subsequent versions.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
The client's primary want is for a working product. This is precisely why the agile team should strive for results over meeting the formal requirements of the contract. Additionally, it's essential to always be in touch with the client to promote mutual decision-making. For example, through communication, you might agree that some details are less important, and the developer can solve the task more efficiently by shelving those details.
Responding to change over following a plan.
Agile is all about responding to the situation as it develops, rather than sticking to the plan at all costs. Unfortunately, unwillingness to break from the plan often leads to a product nobody wants.
Agile Manifesto Principles
The Agile Manifesto is based on 12 principles intended to foster a working environment focused on the customer and support the ability to respond quickly as user needs or market forces change. For example, the first principle in the Manifesto is "Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software."
In other words, satisfying the customer is always the number one priority. Every development task must have value rather than being done for development's sake. The other principles outlined in the manifesto help achieve this goal. For example, some other principles include:
- Welcoming change in requirements, even late in development.
- Daily collaboration between developers and the business.
- Give the team the tools they need and trust them to get the job done, and trust them to do it.
- Working software is the ultimate measure of progress.
- Deliver working software frequently.
Lastly, Agile teams strive for simplicity and self-organization. No one person is responsible for everything or makes all the decisions.
While Agile's principles and values help guide effective projects, Agile itself isn't a rigid development method. However, Agile's powerful ideas have birthed several widely used frameworks:
Scrum - One of the most commonly used Agile frameworks in software development. Scrum methodology focuses on how to manage tasks within a team-based dev environment. The primary artifacts (information disseminators) in Scrum are User Story, Task, Backlog, Sprint Backlog, Product increment, and Extensions.
Kanban - The Kanban framework focuses on increasing focus and decreasing waste while meeting customer needs. For example, there's a limit on how much work a developer can have "in progress" on the Kanban board. Put simply, if the "in progress" task list is at capacity, new work can't be pulled in until an item moves to the following status. This is done to increase focus and reduce multitasking. Kanban also has a greater emphasis on flow and visualization than other Agile methods.
Lean - Lean prioritizes eliminating waste, increasing learning, and delivering the end product as quickly as possible. The primary philosophy of Lean is to eliminate all waste. In other words, non-value-adding and unnecessary activities are reduced. It also puts a strong focus on developing automated, standardized systems that protect from human error. Additionally, in Lean, all knowledge and findings are documented to be shared with others and promote a more knowledgeable team.
Extreme Programming (XP) - The goal of XP is to produce higher-quality software. It does this through several guiding principles. For example, pair programming (where two team members work on the same code together, one writing the code and the other reviewing it as it's written). Other principles include unit testing of all code, a flat management structure, code simplicity, and not programming features until they are actually needed.
Agile Advantages and Disadvantages
Let's start with the advantages of Agile:
- Focusing on individual tasks becomes easy because each stage of development is essentially its own project.
- Customer satisfaction is typically higher because the customer is always involved in the decision-making process.
- Willingness to make changes as challenges arise allows products to be brought to market faster and reduces the need for anything to be redone after completion. As a result, agile is fast and efficient.
- By using time-boxed, fixed schedule sprints, new features are delivered frequently. This leads to a higher level of predictability, both for feature releases and costs and scheduling.
That wraps up the main advantages of Agile, but it’s worth noting that this isn’t an exhaustive list.
Now for the disadvantages of agile (nothing is perfect!):
- Frequent meetings or brainstorming sessions with the team or the customer can be a distraction. Once a team member's concentration breaks, it might take them up to an hour to get it back.
- You can get lost in improvements. For example, new requirements after each iteration might result in work not moving forward. Moving to the next stage of development might be slower than expected.
- Because documentation happens throughout the project and often on a last-minute basis, some details can slip through the net.
- Teams may get side-tracked due to a lack of processes.
The good news is, you can mitigate agile disadvantages with a project manager who is experienced in agile environments.
When Agile Works
Agile has the power to streamline development, maximize flexibility and efficiency, and get a working version of a product quickly. If your project meets the following conditions, you can be confident that an agile management methodology is appropriate:
The project is technologically complex. A complex project benefits from incremental releases and continuous testing. It ensures costs are kept down, and the end product is fit for purpose.
Team experience . You have an experienced and well-disciplined team who know how to put Agile into practice and can guide newcomers through challenges.
Long projects - The longer the project, the harder it comes to predict and plan development. Agile is inherently more predictable than other frameworks.
Novel or experimental products - If there are a lot of uncertainties about the product, working out all the functionality in advance is impossible. However, with Agile, the product can be created in small steps and issues worked out along the way.
An abundance of ideas - If the number of ideas for a project exceeds the team's capabilities or capacity, Agile is the preferred approach. Implementing lots of ideas simultaneously is risky because it's impossible to tell in advance which ones will be successful or add value.
When Agile Doesn't Work
Agile might be more popular than ever, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right fit for every project. There are several situations where using Agile methodology might not be a good idea.
For example, if the development team or client is unavailable or unwilling to collaborate frequently (for example, open to daily communication), Agile is not a good fit. Consistent feedback is necessary for a successful Agile project.
Typically, we also find that Agile works best in startups or with small teams. However, in big teams, Agile starts to run into problems like delayed launches, breakdowns in communication, or even total failure. Why? Because in large projects, the chain of communication becomes stretched. At any one time, you can have multiple groups of programmers and other specialists all working on their part of the project, and things struggle to come together cohesively. It's a case of "too many chefs spoil the soup."
"Large companies can't use Agile" isn't a hard and fast rule, but rather a general pattern. For example, big companies like Google, Facebook, Uber, and Netflix often run into problems using Agile, but they still manage to run successful Agile projects. They can do this because their chains are well structured and work almost flawlessly, allowing problems to be resolved as they come up. However, most large companies don't fall into this category.
Lastly, some industries, like banking, law, and medicine, have higher documentation requirements and struggle to be as flexible on this point as organizations in other sectors.
The correct methodology is the one that suits the specific conditions of each project. Our team follows Agile methodology, but we don't try to make a square peg fit in a round hole. Instead, we combine a variety of frameworks to our projects to get the best results. This approach has proven to be very successful in the projects we've worked on so far!
If you want to find out if our methodology is suitable for your project, please don't hesitate to contact our specialists.