What is agile software development?


Agile software development is a strategy that emphasizes iterative processes, as well as collaboration between multiple teams or stakeholders. Although the agile methodology is now relatively outdated, it remains important as a foundation for other popular practices, such as DevOps and Site Reliability Engineering.

Agile software development was born in the early 2000s, when a group of developers released the “Agile Manifesto. “Back then, software development tended to be slow and projects often missed development deadlines. The agile methodology aimed to correct these issues by promoting what its advocates saw as a more efficient and rapid approach to development. creation and deployment of software.

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How does Agile software development work?

Agile software development is founded on two main principles: iteration and collaboration.

Iteration

Iteration allows developers to break complex software development workflows into smaller, more manageable parts. Instead of setting ambitious development goals, such as releasing a full set of new app features within a year, developers are focusing on implementing the new features one by one, over a short period of time. time. As a result, the application evolves iteratively.

When agile methodology emerged, iterative development presented an alternative to the ‘waterfall’ development model, which prevailed at the time. The waterfall approach requires the release of major software application updates on an infrequent basis. So the development model looks like a series of waterfalls, with the functionality of the app remaining unchanged until it receives a significant set of updates.

The waterfall approach can create challenges for developers. It is generally more difficult to set a realistic timeline for implementing a wide range of new features than for implementing individual features. Additionally, because new features often depend on each other, issues that arise during the development of one feature can cause delays in the development of other features, thus disrupting the entire development process.

The development of waterfalls can also be problematic for users. Users typically have to wait long periods of time for the app updates they want. They may also face significant learning curves when updates arrive, as the app will have changed dramatically with little up front preparation.

By prioritizing iterative feature update cycles, agile development aims to make developers’ lives easier while improving the user experience.

Collaboration

Agile development’s emphasis on collaboration reflects an effort to ensure that software updates meet stakeholder needs.

Before the agile movement, developers typically decided which software features to implement with limited feedback from users or the IT engineers responsible for managing the software. As a result, developers sometimes implemented features that were of little value to users and / or made applications difficult for IT teams to manage.

Agile aims to avoid these problems by encouraging close collaboration between developers and other stakeholders. Agile doesn’t go as far in this regard as DevOps, which explicitly prioritizes close collaboration between developers and the IT team and promotes specific processes to enable collaboration, such as CI / CD. Yet agile emphasizes collaboration as a general principle, and agile thinking is often seen as a precursor of the DevOps movement (which emerged in the late 2010s).

What are the advantages and disadvantages of agile software development?

As stated above, the main advantages of agile software development are as follows:

  • Manageable application update cycles, which reduce the risk of delays;
  • Rapid app improvements for users;
  • Gradual change with each update of the application, reducing the learning curve for users;
  • A strong ability to implement functionalities that stakeholders find valuable; and
  • Improved alignment between developers and IT teams.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of agile software development is that it takes a lot of effort to orchestrate it. Planning iterative update cycles is more work than identifying a large amount of functionality to be implemented over a long period of time. Likewise, collecting feedback from various stakeholders is more laborious than allowing developers to decide for themselves what to build.

Additionally, agile development teams can fall into the trap of constantly implementing minor new features that never translate into significant application change. In other words, it can be difficult to create a completely new version of an app, as teams focus on small iterative updates rather than major revisions. However, developers can avoid this problem by figuring out how to reach major development milestones through small changes, rather than implementing new features on an ad hoc basis without a long-term application roadmap.

Examples of agile software development

Agile software development has a variety of uses in the real world. Here are several below.

Go from stunt to agility

The classic use case is to migrate from a cascading development process to an agile process. To date, many teams have already taken this leap. But for organizations that still depend on slow release cycles and / or lack close collaboration between developers and other stakeholders, the transition to Agile is a key step towards global modernization.

Refactoring a monolithic application

Agile development can help refactor so-called monolithic applications (that is, those that operate as a single process and are based on a code base) into a microservices-based application. Microservices applications functionally divide the application into discrete services, each with a separate code base. While developers could theoretically build a microservices application without using Agile, an agile approach makes it much easier to update each microservice individually to iteratively change the application.

Transition to DevOps

Agile software development is not the same as DevOps. DevOps requires specific processes, like CI / CD, while agility is more of a philosophy than a specific methodology.

Nonetheless, agile emphasizes many of the same fundamentals as DevOps. Therefore, developers often use Agile as a stepping stone to DevOps.

Build a larger team

Since agile development breaks up complex development operations into smaller components, this is a useful strategy for organizations that are growing and need an efficient way to manage projects. A development team made up of a few coders can be successful with a waterfall approach, but large teams may need agility to keep development operations efficient and manageable.

Digital transformation

Organizations that embrace agile software development can often come together to become more innovative, digitally-driven operations. By making development operations more flexible and efficient, agility helps teams better leverage digital assets and respond faster to technological changes.

Summary

Agile software development may not be cutting edge anymore, but it remains a fundamental part of the number of companies approaching software development and innovation. It’s also a vital stepping stone to other modern development practices, like DevOps.


Gordon K. Morehouse