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What is agile development?

Last updated

11 May 2023

Reviewed by

Sophia Emifoniye

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Software development is a fast-paced industry that demands flexibility and the ability to adapt to new trends. Agile development makes this possible. 

It allows for the design of cutting-edge products that sync with user needs and market trends. As a result, it has become a universal new way of managing projects. 

Want to know what agile development is? Here is everything you need to know, including how it can benefit your business.

Agile development’s uses

Agile development is a project management philosophy that aims to make software development efficient and flexible. It’s about being responsive to the markets if a situation demands it. 

It proposes an incremental methodology to software design, seeking the continuous delivery of working products in quick iterations taking 1–4 weeks. 

The philosophy has a clear vision of a team-oriented approach to software development, and constant collaboration between teams is essential. 

Companies use agile development when:

  • Projects must deliver value

  • Requirements are unpredictable and may change frequently

  • Frequent customer feedback is necessary

  • Projects are complex and require frequent iterations

  • Projects involve a high degree of risk

Why is agile development important?

It ensures that teams complete projects on time

Agile development breaks big tasks down into short sprints. Working in sprints makes it easier to predict the release date of the final product. 

It improves communication 

Communication is key between the product owner, scrum master, and development teams. Face-to-face meetings are a crucial component of agile development. It ensures that every stakeholder knows the project status, eliminating potential confusion.

It simplifies projects and eliminates risks 

Breaking down projects into shorter cycles means project managers can reduce risks, assign resources accordingly, and predict costs for long-term projects. 

This approach ensures clear visibility, so teams can spot obstacles before they escalate. 

It acknowledges customer needs 

A customer may need project changes, which agile development supports. It also allows development teams to make changes quickly without affecting the project timeline.

What agile isn't

Many people have misconceptions about agile, so let’s look at what agile is not:

It’s not a cure for all your product delivery challenges

In other words, agile isn’t a solve-all solution that works for every team. Not every project is well-suited to agile. However, with the right team and oversights, it can work. 

People assume that agile means no plan

Agile doesn’t mean you don’t have a plan. It means you’re flexible enough to accommodate valuable shifts. It is a disciplined approach that requires complete project planning.

Agile is not a thing you do

Although it’s a culture and a mindset, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Agile is not an excuse to produce low-quality products

Just because the next incremental iteration is a couple of weeks away doesn’t mean the current phase is not worth attention. 

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What are agile methodologies? 

Agile is an umbrella terminology for several methodologies. 

The popular agile frameworks are Scrum and Kanban. 

Scrum methodology

Scrum aims to foster sustainable collaboration between teams working on complex projects. It is suitable for long-term projects that require stakeholder feedback. 

Scrum divides the entire scope of work into smaller cycles called sprints. This allows product teams to review working software and ensure it meets business requirements frequently. 

Sprints last 1–4 weeks, and teams must follow work plans strictly. 

There are three roles in scrum methodology, and each member has predefined roles:

Scrum master

This is the team leader who confirms the team fully understands the customer's requirements. Some responsibilities of a scrum master are:

  • Enabling close collaboration between roles and functions

  • Safeguarding the team from any obstacles that may prevent efficiency

Product owner

This person runs the product from a business perspective. They’re usually a stakeholder or customer actively involved in providing timely feedback after every sprint. 

Scrum team

The team usually has up to seven members responsible for product implementation. 

Kanban methodology

Kanban is a simple, powerful approach to developing software. 

In Kanban, development uses workflow visualization. 

The teams can change their work plan anytime, prioritizing the work in progress. This limits its scope to match the development team's capacity. The team can take the next item from the backlog when they've completed a task. 

Unlike scrum, no standard procedures are necessary. 

What are the agile principles? 

The fundamental principles of agile development are:

Efficient and face-to-face communication

In agile methodology, much importance lies in effective communication and teamwork. Software development is a human activity that requires quality interaction between people. 

Therefore, it values communication between individuals over processes and tools. Agile teams work together daily at every step through face-to-face meetings. 

Face-to-face communication is the most efficient way to convey information and ensure the process stays on track. 

Some practices for efficient face-to-face communication are:

 Frequent demonstration

  • Collaborative backlog grooming sessions

  • Daily standup meetings

  • Pair programming 

  • Sprint planning meetings

Very short feedback loop and adaptation cycle

Agile methodologies focus on delivering value frequently. It facilitates high levels of collaboration through short feedback loops. These feedback loops aim to gather insights and identify areas for improvement to develop high-quality software. 

The agile methodology works with short-term development cycles, allowing stakeholders to validate the product and advise how to improve the next release. 

With project development becoming increasingly unpredictable, it’s almost impossible to predict the final requirements of a project. Countering this challenge is agile development. 

It rapidly responds to change rather than following a plan. Its central theme is adaptability, and it welcomes changes even in the late stages of software development. 

Instead of waiting until the last development stages to gauge success, agile teams regularly track key metrics. 

Quality focus

A unique quality of agile development is that teams focus on customer needs much more. They pay close attention to technical details to maintain quality.

Customers are constantly involved, so agile companies can deliver quality products. Development teams collaborate with customers to integrate all requirements.

Testing is an integral part of product development, so the overall quality of the final product is greater. 

As the development team works in sprints, they can thoroughly test each stage to confirm it meets quality standards. 

What are the benefits of agile development methodologies?

The benefits of the agile development approach are endless and include:

Customer benefits 

Agile development methodology maximizes value to the customer. As they are part of the process, teams can make changes to prioritize customer requirements. These tailor-made deliverables are likely to improve customer satisfaction

Vendor benefits

Agile methodology reduces the go-to-market time for products, so software vendors can release new products much faster. 

Development team benefits

With agile development methodology, teams have increased autonomy and authority over their decisions. For instance, designers, coders, and developers get to decide how to build a product. This results in increased team morale and continuous improvement

Product manager benefits

Agile methodology ensures teams detect errors and produce the best quality per the product requirements. 

It allows a product manager to check the team meets the product's specifications and features. Thorough testing at every step provides quality products. 

Product owner benefits

Agile development methodologies allow product owners to divide workflow into sprints, making it easier to estimate the time and cost of product development. 

Cost-estimating strategies are based on previous sprints, leading to better planning and more cost savings. This allows product owners to deliver a product with fewer resources. 

PMO and C-level executive benefits

Company PMOs and chief executives can monitor the project and give regular feedback to the team. For these executives, agile development guarantees transparency, allowing for controlled workflows. 

Eleven common agile software development pitfalls

Here are the common pitfalls you may face when using agile methodology:

1. Incorrectly planning sprints

Improper sprint plans can derail the entire project. The team may fail to break down the backlog, and the product manager may overcommit or skip deadlines. 

Before each sprint begins, stakeholders should meet and determine each team member's goals, task load, and responsibilities. 

2. Micromanaging all activities

It’s common to micromanage tasks rather than delegate them. Micromanagement damages team morale and prevents the software development team from achieving its goals. 

3. Not hiring a skilled scrum master

It may be tempting for organizations to take over scrum master tasks. Project managers often attempt to reduce costs by not hiring the right people for specific tasks. 

Failing to hire a dedicated scrum master means the organization misses benefits such as adaptability, flexibility, and short feedback loops. 

4. Lacking documentation 

In agile development methodology, documentation may lack detail. Without proper documentation, teams may get sidetracked. This could lead to missed deadlines and frustration. 

In addition, minimal documentation means the project could easily run beyond the original scope or go astray. 

5. Insufficient agile education 

Lacking awareness of agile methodologies is among the top reasons the transition fails. 

Not all team members understand agile, so some expectations and efforts will closely align with older models. 

Many organizations don’t educate their teams on agile, which leads to:

  • Development teams implementing agile without understanding why

  • New members getting confused about the expectations and goals of agile development

  • Missed deadlines 

  • Poor quality products

Training all stakeholders on agile software development principles, frameworks, and practices of agile software development reduces issues.

6. Improper communication 

Communication issues can become a significant hurdle for larger teams. Since agile software development values collaborations over processes, adhering to this principle is challenging for distributed teams. 

7. Taking too many feature requests from the customer

It can be costly if the customer demands too much. Development teams can become overwhelmed and lose track of these requirements if they’re unsure which to prioritize. 

8. Not setting clear goals

A common misconception is that agile development does not require clear milestones. However, this is not true. With clear goals, software development teams may find it easier to manage workflows. 

9. Assuming that agile means faster

People often assume that agile means faster results, but that’s not always the case. 

10. Lack of feedback loop 

Not engaging all the necessary stakeholders can lead to missed objectives.

11. Poor resource planning 

Poor planning can become a profound challenge if projects become more complex. 

Agile business analysis in an agile business environment

Agile business analysis focuses on maximizing business value while applying agile principles

A business analyst helps product owners analyze the business domain and product backlog. They break bigger problems into small parts for efficiency. 

The roles of a business analyst are:

  • Making the product's owner decisions more effective

  • Analyzing impacts of agile methodology and areas for improvement

  • Recognizing business needs

  • Facilitating dialogue about customer requirements with the development team


What is the customer's role in an agile project?

A customer provides early feedback to confirm product development is on track. They communicate project needs and ensure the team meets them. 

What is agile customer experience?

This is an organization's ability to adapt strategies in an uncertain customer environment and respond to evolving needs. 

What is the best way to satisfy customers in an agile project?

Satisfying customers is as simple as delivering a product that offers them value and meets the requested features. Directly involving them in product development lets your team incorporate their feedback. 

Why is customer involvement crucial in the agile development method?

Customers can see progress and provide valuable feedback. In addition, customer involvement means agile development is customer-centric. 

What is the timeboxing technique?

It’s a project planning technique that allocates specified timelines to a task. You divide schedules into separate timeboxes, each having a budget, deliverables, and a deadline. Timeboxing uses time productively and improves performance. 

What is an example of an agile timebox?

Daily standups are where teams quickly update each other on project progress. 

What is the 80/20 rule in agile?

This is also known as the Pareto principle. In agile development, 80% of the outcome results from 20% of the development team's effort. 

For instance, 20% of the resources in sprint planning should be on logistical and tactical details, while 80% should be on long-term strategic plans.

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