Three Insights to Make Agile Development Work for You

Written By Christina Lynch

In a head-to-head test, Agile software development is almost always judged as superior to the older and more traditional Waterfall framework. Instead of organizing a product’s development sequentially and over a long series of phases, as the Waterfall method dictates, the shiny future promised by Agile is—as its name suggests—significantly more responsive to change.

In contrast to the Waterfall approach, Agile methods break development into an integrated series of chunks. Each team works on planning and testing an aspect of development in a short period of time before moving on to the next “chunk.” By rapidly moving between iterations, a project can adapt to changes that would otherwise derail the entire endeavor.

A further consideration is the affect that Agile and Waterfall have on the people who use them. Human beings enjoy working together, and even those who don’t must admit that they achieve more when then do. Unlike Waterfall methods, Agile emphasizes the importance of increasing efficiency through more collaboration, empowering developers, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

Therefore, if you want the best out of software development for you and your team, it’s better to begin using or sticking with Agile.

Whether you’re a newcomer to Agile or a veteran, by applying the following rules, you can be sure to maximize the effectiveness of Agile approaches in your software development methodology:

1. Be prepared to “Kill your Darlings”

Agile systems allow its users to axe any element of a project that isn’t beneficial or utterly essential, no matter the amount of effort that went into creating them.

Being ready to kill one’s darlings is, coincidentally, a piece of advice commonly given to budding authors. Just as a writer may agonize over the perfect phrasing of a sentence that later does not fit into the plot, a software developer can frequently spend weeks at a time manufacturing programming solutions that later become obsolete as the requirements for the project change.

By breaking up development into short streamlined chunks, Agile—by design—prevents accretions of precious lines of code and encourages developers to start again when necessary. Instead of working a project around the limitations of defunct software, Agile developers are able to create original solutions and thus be more efficient.

2. Adopt Agile to loosen formalities rather than create new rigid systems

Starting a new management method doesn’t need to be a carte blanche invitation to invoke new rules, conventions, or multi-level bureaucracy.

One of the central tenets of Agile is to prioritize the development of working software over the limitations that excessive documentation and bureaucracy can create. Agile systems facilitate efficiency and inspire creativity by abolishing the need for members of the development team to meticulously follow regulations or produce documentation.

There is no new rulebook or exhaustive set of guidelines to replace those of older systems. Agile introduces a new mindset.

One example is the case of Alistair Cockburn, a progenitor of Agile who worked as a consultant for IBM back in the early 1990s. He studied the most and least successful development teams to determine what factors were influencing their results. He found that the most successful teams favored group discussions about ideas and working creatively as a team.

The least successful teams were those obediently following formal company protocols and wondering why they were failing. Cockburn’s analysis led him to champion the use of Crystal Methods, a family of Agile methods designed to replace tedious written documentation in favor of unrecorded face-to-face interactions.

It’s possible to implement change without requiring a new set of guidelines to be learned and adhered to. Agile methods can often overhaul the organization of software development with little more than a change in attitude.

3. Transition to Agile gradually from the ground up

Transitioning an entire company to Agile methods is not as simple as starting out that way. This is because converting to Agile is more than just implementing a new method of organizing projects; it’s overturning your entire ethos of project management. Thus, for it to work, the Agile view must be accepted and represented by the organization as a whole, rather than just those in management.

Take, for example, a development team accustomed to the Waterfall model. Their working ethos reflects “high stakes”: infrequent deadlines on a large volume of important work. Throw this ethos into an Agile framework where teams are required to meet deadlines more frequently, and they may be left floundering.

However, by gradually transitioning the ex-Waterfall team to the Agile framework, you can encourage them to come up with their own solutions and systems that reflect the Agile ethos.

By the time the organization has completed its move into Agile, members of the development team will have had time to grow accustomed to the expectations required of them and how to organize their work accordingly. They will be more likely to uphold the values of Agile, inspiring cohesion by empowering the decisions and mindsets of their colleagues.

Increasing Velocity Requires Increasing Agility

The present rate of technology change is rapid and profound. Agile is a valuable opportunity because it helps you capitalize on this rather than fret about its consequences.

For a company like Helastel, the sheer agility of Agile equips us to keep up with the constantly evolving technological landscapes of the development process, user preferences, and market conditions.

But Waterfall is not obsolete, and shouldn’t be maligned as such. It’s wise to apply many different methodologies to software development, and there remains certain instances where use of the Waterfall approach could be considered optimum.

By the same token, we must ensure that Agile never becomes a white elephant. Agile is pure gold if you know how to properly deploy it; however, if its principles become more important than its purpose, it will have outlived its usefulness.