Agile Software Development Methodology & Principles


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The Agile development methodology represents the convergence of incremental, iterative, and adaptive software development along with the fundamentals of evolutionary project management. The resulting methodology has seen widespread use since the introduction of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development in 2001, and it has viable applications in everything from DevOps and project management to large-scale construction projects, manufacturing, biopharmaceutical research, and more.

What Are Agile’s 4 Core Values?

Agile’s entire framework revolves around the program’s core values. Many of the 12 Agile Principles are directly based on these values, and you’ll see them as recurring themes throughout much of the Agile framework and in Agile software solutions.

Individuals and Interactions

The first of Agile’s core values places the emphasis on individuals and interactions rather than processes and tools. Although it’s still critical to have access to the right tools, it’s even more important to have a cohesive team of individuals that understand how to use the tools at their disposal. The same can be said about processes, policies, and procedures. Most professionals can easily be trained in Agile workflows. Likewise, experienced and motivated managers can quickly be taught the fundamentals of Agile project management, Agile product management, or a more generalized version of the Agile development process.

Working Software

Fundamentally related to Agile software development, the second core value highlights working software over comprehensive and complicated documentation. Instead of explaining how your software works, make it easy and intuitive enough for the end-user to sit down and begin using it right away.

Customer Collaboration

Much like the second core value, this one relates more to the software development aspect of the Agile methodology. However, it extends to other products and services that offer custom-tailored solutions, too. This level of collaboration is crucial when developing new software solutions to meet unique customer needs. Without understanding their specific challenges, roadblocks, and requirements, and without hands-on collaboration to address these needs, it’s next to impossible to create a comprehensive solution. The same can be said for any project that relies heavily on the input of customers or end-users.

Responding to Change

Change is inevitable. Priorities are often reorganized, schedules change, and goals evolve. The original writers of the Agile Manifesto knew they were still on the cusp of modern software development when they prepared the document in 2001, and they understood that the Agile development process would likely be modified throughout the coming years. Such levels of acceptance and flexibility are a part of why Agile is still relevant today. Organizational leaders, project managers, and teammates not only need to anticipate and accept change, but they also need to respond to change in a timely manner. While it’s crucial to follow any established plans, outlines, or deadlines, it’s also important to make adjustments throughout the project lifecycle and accommodate changes whenever possible.

What Are Agile’s 12 Principles?

Much like the core values, the 12 Agile Principles are heavily centered on themes of communication, collaboration, and operational efficiency. However, they go a little deeper by including the need for continuous learning, simplicity, professional diligence, and more.

1. Prioritizing Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction is the top priority of the Agile framework. It’s a recurring theme in Agile’s core values, and it’s the first of the 12 Agile principles. According to the method, customer satisfaction can be obtained through two strategies:
  1. Establishing communications early to satisfy the customer’s immediate needs
  2. Keeping the customer updated until the final project deliverables are submitted
The first of the 12 Agile principles is all about communicating with the customer. Even in cases where you can’t meet their exact needs, these lines of communication can help you identify challenges, diagnose technical issues, and collaborate with the customer.

2. Welcoming Changing Requirements

Project requirements often change. Not only is this true in software development, but it’s a fact in any industry that offers custom-tailored solutions and non-standard services. When following the Agile methodology, it’s important to welcome these changes at any phase in the project’s lifecycle – including those introduced at the last minute. Implementing last-minute changes and revisions can help your customers gain an edge over their competition and, as a result, boost your reputation. Conversely, failing to implement their requested changes – regardless of how late they are – could have negative repercussions for your project team or, in extreme cases, your entire organization.

3. Delivering Frequent Software Updates

Provide your customers and end-users with frequent updates throughout the entire project lifecycle. In the case of software development, these updates should include some amount of functionality. If possible, establish a strict schedule for updates and, more importantly, stick to it. Providing working updates every Thursday or Friday, for example, gives your team the opportunity to highlight everything they’ve been working on throughout the week. These updates aren’t limited to software development. Even if you can’t produce a usable solution, product, or prototype, it’s still possible to create weekly or monthly reports to keep your customers informed.

4. Collaborating Throughout the Project Lifecycle

Agile is also about collaboration. It’s a key component of the fourth of Agile’s 12 principles and it’s mentioned in the third core value. With so much emphasis on collaboration seen in the Agile methodology, it’s safe to say that it was a top priority when the original framework was first envisioned – and it should remain a priority in any project. But the Agile methodology isn’t just about collaborating with customers. The framework stresses the importance of both internal and external collaboration.
  • Internal: Project managers, team members, and executive staff.
  • External: Customers, end-users, and partners.

5. Trusting Individual Team Members

As a project manager or leader, it’s vital to have team members that you can trust. Not only are they trusted to keep any company secrets, but they need to be reliable and dependable enough to meet their obligations – regardless of any tight deadlines or changing requirements. The Agile methodology takes this trust even further by encouraging project managers to structure their projects around the strengths of individual team members. By providing the tools, direction, and support needed, the best project managers can empower their teams and ensure success before a project has even begun.

6. Sharing Information With Face-to-Face Communication

Communication is critical to the Agile process. It’s another running theme of the framework in general, and it plays a role in nearly every one of the Agile core values and principles. While today’s society puts such an emphasis on digital communications like email, instant messaging, and SMS, Agile encourages face-to-face communication whenever possible. Project briefs, meetings, and project reports are highly effective in localized, face-to-face environments. Since this isn’t always possible, especially with the recent surge of remote workers, teams, and customers, virtualized solutions are the next best thing.

7. Measuring Progress According to Software Functionality

This Agile principle goes hand in hand with the third principle of delivering timely and frequent software updates. Whereas the former gives your customers and end-users a means of measuring your team’s progress over time, this principle gives your internal project team – including leaders and other stakeholders – a metric for success. Many teams achieve this through the use of Agile sprints. These sprints represent a specific timeframe, which usually lasts for a period of two weeks to one month. Specific goals are set ahead of time that make it easy to gauge project progress and productivity.

8. Promoting Sustainability

The Agile framework was designed with long-term sustainability in mind. Although it is usable in many short-term projects and initiatives, concepts like Agile sprints and scrums really lend themselves to long-term and continuous projects. Like many of the other principles, sustainability isn’t the sole responsibility of the project team. Some responsible parties include: It’s up to all of these groups and individuals to maintain a constant, efficient pace until the project is completed. Once that point has been reached, the Agile methodology is easily applied to the next project, and so on.

9. Paying Attention to Technical Details

Attention to detail – especially technical specifications – leads to technical excellence. It’s a great way of measuring success and, in many ways, can separate a great team from mediocrity. Depending on the scope of your project, this kind of professional diligence can help protect your customers’ data or spare your organization the cost of regulatory fines for non-compliance. For a software development team, for example, taking the time to close security gaps and address bugs can prevent data leaks and other exploits before they even occur.

10. Maintaining Simplicity

Since Agile was originally created with software development in mind, it makes sense that it’s meant to be as simple as possible. Computers are, after all, designed to make everyday life simpler. It’s natural to include simplicity as a major element of both Agile development and Agile project management. Although simplicity is a key component of the Agile method, it should never come at the cost of quality or efficiency. This principle merely serves as a reminder of the value and importance of brevity when managing long-term, multi-phase projects with many moving parts.

11. Creating Self-Organizing Teams

Mastering this principle will help tremendously when it comes to achieving simplicity, communication, and collaboration throughout the project lifecycle. Since self-organizing teams are capable of succeeding with little to no supervision or micromanagement, and because most of their communications are kept within their immediate team, it’s easy to understand how they simplify much of the Agile process. As noted in the original Agile Manifesto, the best ideas and designs originate from self-organizing teams. However, it’s the project manager’s job to assemble an effective and efficient team in the first place.

12. Learning on a Continuous Basis

The final Agile principle requires your team to embrace new ideas and learn new concepts whenever they have the chance. Moreover, it calls for your team members to adjust their professional strategies in an effort to become more effective and productive over the course of time. Project managers should also be open to continuous learning. Even the most experienced leaders can pick up new habits and trends from the younger generation of professionals, so it’s important that they’re receptive to these ideas and willing to adapt when needed.

Agile Methodologies in Software Development

The Agile methodology was originally developed for use in software development. Although Waterfall alternatives existed before the creation of the Agile Manifesto, the principles introduced in the text ultimately supported various development methodologies that have since become classified as Agile. Some of these Agile methods include:
  • DSDM: Also known as Dynamic Systems Development Method, the roots of DSDM pre-date Agile. Nonetheless, it’s based on the same principles.
  • XP: Often referred to as Extreme Programming, XP focuses specifically on the analysis, development, and testing phases of Agile software development.
  • FDD: Feature-Driven Development, or FDD, is an interactive, incremental Agile method that is ideal for tracking project progress, delivering regular status reports, and identifying errors.
Other strategies exist, too. While many of them revolve around software development, some have been specifically developed for a certain industry, profession, or role.

Agile Methodologies in Project Management

The Agile methodology was soon adapted to project management soon after the release of the Agile Manifesto. Recognizing how the values and principles of Agile software development could be applied in other areas, the original Agile project management methodology was created. Today, multiple frameworks exist, including:
  • Kanban: Originally developed to support lean or just-in-time manufacturing, Kanban implements the Agile workflow and supports themes of efficiency, sustainability, and progress reporting.
  • Scrum: This framework was developed to manage projects within the field of software development, but it’s commonly seen in areas like sales, marketing, and others.
Just like software development, additional strategies exist for Agile management and other fields. Regardless of the Agile methodology steps you take, your entire project will reap the benefits.

Making Agile Work For You

Although it was originally designed for software development, the Agile methodology is used in any industry that values team collaboration, customer communications, and operational efficiency. Long-term success with Agile revolves around an organization’s ability to adapt to Agile’s core values and principles, the experience of project leaders when implementing Agile practices, and the cooperation of everyone involved.

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