Agile Software Development Cycle: The Ultimate Guide for Tech Leaders


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Challenges of Agile Software Development


Improving with Agile Today


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The agile software development cycle is the single most important tool modern companies have. Now used by more than 90% of companies in and around tech, its use has been proven to deliver a 30% increase in revenues more than 35% faster than businesses that do without. The benefits of adopting agile techniques go far beyond greater profits, however.

According to the latest State of Agile report 89% of companies report that their agile teams are built around people-centric values, a clear working culture, and leaders that are empowered to make impactful decisions on projects. The benefits of adopting agile are proven to positively impact both individuals and the organization as a whole.

However, we have to be clear about what we mean when we talk about agile. Often, features of agile processes are mixed up with those of methodologies such as Scrum or Kanban. So, let's take an opportunity to learn about each in turn and why these tools are so impactful for firms.

What is The Agile Software Development Life Cycle?

The agile software development cycle is an approach to software development defined by a series of stages a product transitions through from initial idea to final release and beyond. The complete agile life cycle defines a six-stage process that provides teams with the tools necessary to align themselves with the goals and objectives of the project at every stage.

Agile is often referenced as a methodology but it's more accurately described as a group of methodologies that each follow an agile approach. Scrum, Kanban, and XP (Extreme Programming) are three examples of the most popular methodologies teams deploy today. Later in this guide, we'll take a closer look at each alongside when to use them in different types of projects.

For now, it's important to note agile doesn't prescribe specific methods or technologies for development but instead outlines a process building towards an overall goal.

Six Phases of the Agile Methodology Software Development Life Cycle

1. Concept

The first step of an agile project should be to define a product owner within the team. This project management role will be responsible for decisions about timescales, priorities, and overall direction in close contact with stakeholders.

As agile custom software development kicks off it's up to the product owner to determine the project's scope. This primarily means defining the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to target for release.

During this process, the core features of the software should be defined in early documentation. The focus of agile techniques isn't to write these in stone at this stage but to note them down so they can be built on, modified, and added to as more information about the project becomes apparent.

Before leaving this stage of development it should be clear whether the project is practically feasible and worth pursuing with the time frame and resources available.

2. Inception

With project requirements outlined in principle, the next stage of development is putting the plans in place to build it. This phase is focused on building a team, gathering the tools, and creating a design to turn concept into code.

The UI/UX design team will typically mock up the user interface at this stage while the software team lays out the project architecture best suited for its requirements.

The inception phase of the agile software development cycle is the first in which you can get practical feedback from stakeholders. With the UI being put down on paper for the first time, you can begin to exchange ideas with the client. Checking in early and often during this phase can save a lot of time and many headaches later in the process.

As you leave this stage you should have a well-formed idea of what your project will look like as it reaches MVP and how it will function under the surface.

3. Construction

Typically the longest phase of agile development, the construction phase is where the bulk of the work in developing and testing within agile software development methodologies takes place.

The goal of this stage is to gradually build up a bare-bones version of the project with the core functionality necessary to begin interacting with the system. From there, developers work iteratively to improve the product in stages to create a more complete version of the application.

Iterative construction is at the heart of the agile software development cycle and the key to maximizing flexibility, increasing predictability, and lowering risks in software projects.

4. Release

When designers and engineers have finished building a quality MVP — the project is almost ready to meet its users. First, it has to go through a quality assurance process to kick out any bugs or defects left over from development.

These are often addressed in early alpha or beta releases where initial user feedback is sought, training takes place, and teams learn from users for the very first time.

The feedback gained at this stage of the project will prove invaluable for future construction iterations where features will be added, workflows upgraded, and the software generally improved to suit its audience.

5. Maintenance

With software now deployed and available to users, attention can turn to long-term maintenance, adding additional features, and providing customer support.

In practice, this means addressing new bugs as they're reported and creating functionality that falls outside of the MVP. In software that's been well designed with the right architecture and tools at the inception phase this process can continue for years or decades with upgrades and extensions adding to highly reliable software.

6. Retirement

When it's finally time to sunset a project then developers have the chance to break out of the iterative loop of construction, release, and maintenance to move into the end-of-life process. In most cases, this is due to the solution being replaced with something new or is no longer relevant to the market it's in — a game engine built to work for Adobe Flash, for example.

This process is often long with plenty of notice given to users to find an alternate solution or perhaps even open source the code where possible. Finally, developers take the project out of the marketplace and carry out any end-of-life activities needed to take the software offline.

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Why Use Agile?

The agile software development cycle has become ubiquitous because of the advantages it provides to organizations. Today, agile isn't just being used to deliver software but has been expanded to the entire product delivery cycle to include even hardware too.

In the latest State of Agile Report, organizations were asked how they use Agile today, how it's evolved within their company, and what benefits have come with its implementation. We've already touched on the increased revenue and faster time to market agile brings, so let's take a look at the remaining reasons organizations cited for choosing an agile software development cycle.

Top 8 Benefits Agile Can Bring to Businesses

  • Increases collaboration both within and between teams.
  • Better individual alignment with overall business needs.
  • Creates a better work environment for teams.
  • Increases visibility over the complete application development cycle.
  • Creates a better end-user experience.
  • Enhances predictability in design and construction phases.
  • Reduces risk in new projects.
  • Enables better customer service through software fixes.

Agile Methodologies Used in Software Development Today

The way agile is used in organizations varies relatively significantly both between teams and between projects with varying technical requirements. While Scrum is almost ubiquitous, Kanban remains highly common too and a combination or blend of both approaches is far from uncommon.

So let's take a look at the key characteristics of these methodologies today.

Scrum

Used by nearly nine out of ten firms responding to the survey, Scrum is almost synonymous with Agile itself.

Defined by sprints, short development cycles of 1-4 weeks, Scrum breaks down large bodies of work into manageable chunks to be built in iterations. One of the key guiding principles of Scrum methodology is that the project should be shippable, if bare bones, at the end of each sprint.

The major advantages of scrum come from the ease with which managers can plan and track progress against incremental sprints. Similarly, the ability to deliver a continuously improving product to clients for iterative feedback provides clear alignment at every stage of progress.

Kanban

In contrast to Scrum, Kanban is used in just over half of organizations leveraging Agile today. For these teams, it boasts a strong visual overview of projects and excellent accountability on tasks.

Rather than distribute the project by time, Kanban breaks down the software by task — assigning one or more team members to each task on a Kanban board.

The strengths of Kanban primarily come from its accountability, visual overview, and incremental approach to development tasks. Even at a glance, it's easy to understand which team members are responsible for each task and where the project is in terms of its functionality.

Kanban is better suited to projects likely to change as implementation details become clearer over time. The visual ad-hoc style of assigning new tasks is well-suited to smaller releases with fewer pre-defined goals.

Hybrid Agile Approach

More than a quarter of agile software development agencies report using a combination of both Scrum and Kanban in their workflows to realize the benefits of both. This approach more than any other highlights the flexibility and adaptability of the agile software development cycle within organizations.

Challenges of Agile Software Development

Like any technology or approach to building high-quality software, agile is something that takes time, knowledge, and experience to import into an organization. The most pressing problems in the field often come from the earliest stages of adopting agile methodologies or from scaling these practices to meet larger and more complex projects.

The three biggest challenges organizations cite when adopting agile are:

  • A lack of leadership participation in approach and implementation.
  • Not having enough knowledge of agile processes and methods.
  • Cultural resistance to change within the organization.

While two of these problems have origins in cultural fit and the third is a problem of simply time and experience in the field — all three share the same solution.

Working closely with a knowledgeable partner such as an agile software development agency builds the agile culture and practices necessary from the top down. In most cases, overcoming the biggest hurdles of adopting agile methodologies is as simple as getting leadership buy-in at the start, partnering with experts for implementation, and going all-in on learning and processes to see projects through to the end.

Improving with Agile Today

The opportunities opened by adopting agile workflows for software engineering and product development are vast. Agile works to improve engineering quality and speed while at the same time enhancing workplace culture, increasing collaboration amongst teams, and aligning a business with its goals and objectives.

To realize these benefits within your organization you simply need to partner with the right agile software development agency to lead the way forward. For our help, submit a brief here and let us match you with a team of agile experts built by hand to deliver your next project

FAQ:

What is the Agile Software Development Life Cycle?

The agile software development life cycle is a series of stages defining how a software system is designed, built, deployed, and managed throughout its lifetime. The focus of agile software development is an iterative approach built to provide teams with the opportunity to explore multiple avenues of approach and find the best solution for the long term.

The advantages of agile development come from breaking down large monolithic projects into a series of manageable units of development. By working on a project this way, teams can maximize flexibility and discovery while staying accountable and aligned.

What Are the 5 Phases of Agile Methodology?

The five key stages of agile methodology start with the initial concept or idea, move on to the design or inception, work on the construction of the software, release the software to its users, and move on to long-term maintenance of the product.

How these are carried out in practice will vary slightly according to the methodology chosen and the team implementing agile. The most common agile approaches, Scrum and Kanban alter how they split tasks between team members with slightly different structures according to the project goals.

What Are the 5 Stages of SDLC?

The five stages of the software development life cycle are:

  • Stage 1: Planning and analysis. The most fundamental stage of SDLC — where business requirements and technical goals are compiled and documented.
  • Stage 2: Design. Project architects, UI/UX designers, and developers work together to put together a high-level plan for the construction of the software.
  • Stage 3: Construction. Developers build the solution iteratively, adding features and functionality as the project progresses through various stages.
  • Stage 4: Test. Testers run the software against its original design documents to kick out any bugs, verify it does what it's supposed to, and look out for any flaws in the system
  • Stage 5: Maintenance. The software enters a long-term phase as it's deployed to users. Here, bugs are fixed as they arise, features are upgraded as needed, and packages are kept up-to-date with security patches as needed.

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