October 13, 2021

Exploring the Advantages of Agile Software Development

If You Think You’ll Ever Consider Hiring an Agile Shop—Read This First

 

When you say a word enough, it starts to lose meaning. Today, development teams throw the word “agile” around as much as Samuel L. Jackson says—well, you get the idea.

 

As agile becomes more of a buzzword, it starts to get further removed from its true definition. Today, it gets misconstrued all the time for what it’s...not.  Here’s a hint. Agile isn’t a system. It’s a mindset.

97% of companies use agile development methods in some capacity, but most teams still haven’t fully adopted the new mindset. We get it. Schedules that include hard-and-fast budgets with mega deliverables and due dates give everyone the illusion of security and control. Understanding why agile is more cost-effective goes beyond the usual “waterfall vs. agile” arguments. It’s not about choosing either one or the other. 

It’s about when and how to leverage agile development and achieve agile mindsets.

 

A Brief Explainer: What is Agile, Anyway?

Agile is often in the eye of the beholder. At its core, agile software development is about breaking down mega-complex projects into the simplest pieces and revising those pieces through tight feedback loops. Almost half of the principles in the Agile Manifesto come back to this quick, iterative way of developing software:

  • Continuous delivery of the product
  • Small, achievable tasks that can be completed and integrated quickly
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress
  • Constant pace of development
  • Regular reflection and continuous improvement

The other principles of agile are related to ensuring consistent communication, maintaining simplicity, and creating a supportive environment as teams assume more responsibility for organizing themselves. There are specific methodologies that support the agile mindset, such as Kanban and Scrum, but the overarching philosophy is consistent throughout all of them. Agile adoption helps 98% of the companies that try it, which is a good reason not to stray too far from the core mindset.

So what are the critical advantages of agile software development? Clearly, we’re biased, but these are our favorites. Consider these the Sketch “best of agile software development” playlist of sorts.

 

Continuous Everything

Leonardo da Vinci famously said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” The same can be said of software. Continuity offers advantages across the spectrum of development: 

  • Continuously building and rebuilding to find the feature that customers want and are willing to buy
  • Continuously delivering to production to prevent big batch, defect-ridden deployments
  • Continuously monitoring market conditions to harness change and take advantage of opportunities
  • Continuously reflecting on the teams’ process of delivery to make improvements

Retrospectives allow the team to take stock of what did, and didn’t, work from the last sprint. This way, each successive iteration is more productive than the last. Previous mistakes are not repeated, and teams are constantly learning how to become more effective

 

Self-Organized, Cross-Functional Teams

An essential component of agile development, cross-functional teams include people with a variety of complementary skills. For those complementary skills to mesh, people have to be able to work together fluidly. Tearing down silos facilitates that collaboration. Hire the right people, empower them to decide what’s going to work best for your stakeholders, and then move obstacles out of their way so they can work. 

 

Happier Customers 

If your projects take too long to deliver, then your customers will simply start using other solutions that follow the pace of change better than you do. Agile approaches are product management-focused, which means the customer gets involved earlier. 

This offers two key advantages:

  1. The users get a useful product earlier, which makes them happy.
  2. The users’ feedback can inform future feature delivery, which leads to products that are more valuable to them. Happiness ensues.

Improved Project Predictability

When “sustainable pace” pairs up with “working software is the primary measure of progress”, the end result is predictability. By relying on working software to measure progress, rather than meaningless milestones like “requirements complete” or “design complete”, stakeholders gain visibility into what’s being developed. 

When you further apply the concept of cadence by delivering that working software on, say, a weekly basis, you’re setting your stakeholders’ expectations about how quickly this working software will evolve. Development teams no longer need to worry about the precision of estimates (which takes a long time and comes at the cost of developing), and can rely on consistency of sizing instead. “132.5 hours” can become “2-3 iterations”.

This model opens up new options in terms of budgeting and forecasting. Budgets can be applied to products rather than projects, which creates a closer connection to value delivered. Controlling the budget and the quality of a product at the same time has a synergistic effect on the bottom line, leading to 60% revenue and profit growth.

 

Agile Development Reduces Risks

Risks aren’t just easier to predict for agile teams—they’re actually smaller, too. Small iterations focused on continuous delivery means there may be small missteps, but few catastrophic mistakes. It’s easier to correct the course, which means an agile project should always be able to get where it’s going, even if the first approach isn’t perfect.

Think of it this way: traditional development approaches are all about managing risk, while agile approaches are all about confronting risk head-on and eliminating it before it gets unwieldy. 

 

Reduced Friction Between Teams, Management, and Customers

You will always have an improved product if everyone who is working to make the product great feels great about working. Agile organizations have roughly 25% better engagement than their non-agile counterparts. Employees learn better communication skills as the team organizes itself, and it makes them feel closer to the work. Sticking to small, cross-functional teams also empowers better collaboration, which leads to improved personal relationships and increased accountability.

 

Create and Capture Value More Quickly

Agile DevOps teams focus on achieving (and delivering) a minimum viable product (MVP) as quickly as possible. While this may result in earlier delivery of value for your users, the real power in an MVP is what is learned

Agile approaches recognize that figuring out what users and buyers actually want is guesswork, and the better you get at testing those guesses and moving on quickly when those guesses are wrong, the faster you can deliver what they really want.

Teams might experience some growing pains during the agile transformation, but don’t freak out. Think of the advantages you’ll gain, get into an agile state of mind, and start adding more value for your users as soon as possible.

 

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John Krewson

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