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Finding Value in Agile Software Development

Posted on November 27th, 2012

Agile Software DevelopmentAsk someone the most effective method to develop software and you’ll likely get a wide range of answers. There really is no right or wrong way. It’s really just a matter of using what is most effective for your team.

Two of the most popular methods, Waterfall and Agile, both have their place in software development but in contrasting scenarios. Waterfall uses clear requirements gathered before the development starts. Agile uses incremental development in the form of short “sprints”.

Our development team has always found the Agile software development method to work best and we highlight the reasons below.

Waterfall vs. Agile

As mentioned earlier, the waterfall method is built around all the requirements being gathered before any development occurs. Detailed documentation of how the new software is supposed to look and act are agreed upon by the customer and development team ahead of time.

The software development process then goes through a number of stages from design all the way down to installation and maintenance. The reason it is called the waterfall method is that each stage follows from the previous one when it has been completed, cascading down like a waterfall.

This makes the waterfall approach somewhat inflexible. Customers are often unclear about their requirements initially and waterfall makes it difficult to change the requirements later on. Such changes require more time, and therefore, project cost increases.

On the other hand, Agile software development is based on incremental development. This means that you create deliverables early and refine them through several iterations with the customer. Requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration among customers and development teams.

Less time is invested upfront for documenting requirements when the development process uses Agile. Instead, successful delivery is in part dependent on customer feedback regarding new releases of the software. Customers often gain a better idea of their requirements as the software development progresses. This approach makes it much easier for customer requirement changes to be made on the fly.

Benefits of Agile Development

So what’s the benefit with using Agile? In the world of software development, the benefits are plentiful.

Reduces Risk

What business doesn’t want to reduce risk?

The Agile approach provides a far better opportunity to mitigate risks as they arise.  Being responsive to change instead of following a plan as with waterfall, risks can be addressed before spinning out of control.

This is accomplished by breaking down the development process into “sprints” or short, iterative time frames of development. At the end of each sprint, a working release of the software is provided to the customer. Sprints allow the development team to adapt quickly to changing needs during each individual sprint. This prevents the team from having to practically start over from the beginning to work any new requirements in.

Accommodate Change in Development

Changes in needs and scope have always been primary sources of trouble for a software development project. It often leads to late delivery, missed schedules, and unsatisfied customers. But the iterative approach takes changing requirements into account from the beginning.

Users are going to change their minds as the software is developed—it’s inevitable. And they have every right to do it. As they learn more about the technology, their own business needs, and see working releases of the software, new ideas and requirements are created. Forcing users to accept the system as originally imagined is not just unrealistic, but detrimental to the success of their business.

Higher Quality Software

With an iterative approach, flaws are detected and corrected earlier in the software development lifecycle. Performance and functionality issues discovered early can be reduced, as opposed to being discovered at project delivery. QA testing through each sprint, as opposed to executing toward the end of the project, results in a more thoroughly tested product. Since all these critical functions are tested time and again over several iterations, the result is higher quality software when handed off to the customer.

All these benefits combine to achieve what all businesses want – saved time and money. Each provides a small piece of the puzzle in speeding up project delivery times and thus, reducing cost. The benefit of having flexibility in a project, especially software development, allows a business to find higher project success rates.

Has your business adopted the Agile methodology? Tell us why or why not.

For more information on our software development services, please contact us.