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Agile Development – Understanding the Journey to a Successful Product

CXOs Guide to Agile Development

Staying ahead in this competitive business landscape and meeting the ever-changing customer expectations is one of the biggest challenges for enterprises today. Well, everyone has been there and that feeling of FOMO is quite overwhelming. Where market players are using all kinds of resources to hack their growth by 10x, and you, on the other hand, are just figuring out: What went wrong?

But trust us: It is not you, it is the mindset that persists to stick to traditional software development methodologies over agile development. Because common psychology is that, what has worked till now will keep working in the coming times too.

But, that is exactly where organizations go wrong. Resistance towards change is never going to equate growth, neither personally nor at an organizational level. Because who would like to get lost in a maze (waterfall approach) when there is a better way to move towards the goal in an iterative fashion (Agile approach).

Comparing Waterfall development with Agile Development

Agile Development revolves around moving things swiftly while reaping benefits for your business, such as:

  • Faster deliveries
  • Improved team collaboration
  • Flexibility to incorporate change
  • And, of course, fool-proof deliveries

This all-in-one solution works for the industry, then it should ideally work well for anyone who follows it diligently. The best part is that Agile Estimation is a thing now. How we do it? Read our eBook for a fair idea.

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In fact, we were able to deliver multiple client projects on time by sticking to Agile software development.

The success of some of our delivered software products such as Woo Club, Front Rush, Velti, and Soaq, talks about how Agile software development has led to faster and successful deliveries.

Is Agile Development Mainstream?

Organizations today claim to be doing Agile. In fact,

Statista report that demonstrates the number of people using Agile in their organization

But, not everyone gets it right!

Here’s the kicker: Agile is not a dose of medicine that will remove the virus instantly from the system. It is much more than that! The Agile Development process is not a pre-set trajectory, but a path that is for you to explore.

It is like a friend showing you the way home, but how you decide to reach there is completely up to you.

Discover your own path to Agile Development

Coming to the point – You might be already aware of the Agile Development methodology, yet scrolling through the basics wouldn’t harm.

Because branching out from the roots is always a good practice!

What is Agile Development?

In the words of Ken Schwaber (Scrum Development Creator),

Agile was introduced with an intent to “undo the damage that Waterfall had done.”

With the above-stated intent, 17 technologists brainstormed and came up with the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development,” which stated:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals & Interactions Over Processes & Tools
  • Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation
  • Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation
  • Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

Blending these values in an organization’s culture is one good path to a foolproof delivery.

There is another part to Manifesto for agile development, i.e., The 12 Agile principles. Here’s an illustration.

These are the 12 principles of Agile as mentioned in the Agile Manifesto

This was about the “by-the-book” definition of Agile.

If we talk in layman’s terms, Agile development approach revolves around focusing on two things, i.e., iterations and increments.

Agile Software Development is the anchor that holds together technology and work management to foster productivity and manage change while delivering timely results.

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With that clear, let’s move on to bust the myths that have been doing the rounds for some time now.

Top Three Myths Around Agile Development

Agile Development is puddled in a plethora of myths that lead to confusion down the line. The sooner you get the facts clear, the better. For the same reason here are the three myths that need to be demystified right away.

Myth 1: “A”gile and “a”gile are one and the Same Thing

Agile with Capital “A” is associated with software development methodology, i.e., a process that follows the values of Agile Manifesto to develop timely deliverables while celebrating collaboration across the organizational hierarchy.

It is more about doing Agile.

On the other hand, agile with a small “a” is associated with organizations following the values of Agile Development to drive productivity at the organizational level. If “A”gile is an online version, then “a”gile is offline, i.e., it is about following the values of Agile Development, but not for software development. Instead, it is applied to the way an organization works.

It is more about being agile.

Myth 2: Iterating means Repeating Increments

Read that again! You must be throwing these two words continuously at your teams, but do you know what they really mean? As in, do you have a clear picture of what they imply?

To be clear:

An iteration is a repetition of a process and an increment is the end result that is achieved at the end of each repetition.

Still, there are confusions around iterations that happen to linger on. According to Ron Jeffries, (one of the co-authors of the Agile Manifesto) iteration means to repeat a sprint cycle to create another increment.

Whereas, Alistair Cockburn (Yet, another co-author of Agile Manifesto) claims that iteration means to polish and rectify the already done work.

Now, in this hurly-burly situation, what should be your definition to iteration?

Well, feel free to be a “self-proclaimed” co-author by choosing to go by either ”The Ron” style or “The Alistair” style.

Myth 3: Scrum and Agile are One and the Same Thing

Most of the time, people confuse Agile Development and scrum to be one and the same thing. But, that is not so!

Simply put, Agile is a process followed for software development whereas scrum is one of the ways to implement the underlying process. The idea of the scrum is to work in small teams to accomplish a task at hand.

In a way, scrum has its own unique way to implement each of the values mentioned in the Agile Manifesto. Have a look:

Showcasing how scrum incorporates the four values of Agile Manifesto to make it work

Why you Need Agile in Product Development?

A continuous change is where the true essence of Agile Product Development lies.

In any given moment we have two options: To step forward into growth or step back into safety – Abraham Maslow

And, Agile Software Development is all about that; accepting the change for good that brings along the value when compared to traditional approaches.

The following value proposition chart demonstrates the importance of Agile over the traditional approach in terms of four parameters – Visibility, adaptability, business value, and risk.

Comparing value proposition of Agile and traditional software development methodology

For clarity around why the Agile Development process model is a change worth a try, we have come forward with the advantages & disadvantages that many organizations need to be aware of before making the big shift from the available traditional methodologies.

The Benefits of Agile Product Development

Businesses are vouching for Agile Product Development, and why not when the probability of its success shows significant potential.

A research by StackOverflow that shows the number of software developers who prefer Agile development

For a fair idea, let’s move on with talking about the top six benefits that the popular Agile methodology entails.

  • Speed to Market

Sticking to Agile Development practices is a savior as it helps in learning from previous mistakes and successes alike to understand what works and what does not. In fact, it helped us too, in understanding how shorter delivery cycles mattered.

It is all that it promises to be. Agile Development methodology focuses on fixing the defects along the road to Agile Transformation and managing iterative deliveries on a 1-2 week sprint basis.

12 to 18-month delivery cycles1-2 week iterative deliveries

  • Flexibility

Adaptability and acceptance to change is the biggest perk of choosing Agile Development.

The Agile Development process offers the flexibility to prioritize software features based on available user stories. Each of the sprint timelines comes as an opportunity to develop a new product in increments alongside incorporating changing requirements.

Transparency through communication + Self organizing teams = Flexibility

  • Risk Management

The best part of the Agile Development model is its ability to identify the bugs as early as possible. The end of every sprint marks the beginning of the testing phase.

If any particular section of code has bugs, it gets identified and fixed there and then. In the end, we can say that it is always safer to implement small and continual releases in comparison to the bigger/delayed releases.

This risk & release frequency graph can help you understand better.

Risk & Release Frequency graph for Agile development

If you follow the BLUE line, you are in risky territory. Things build up over time and the only thing in the end that remains is unproductivity and untimely deliveries.

On the other hand, the YELLOW line is the safe path that leads to better places. It is associated with smaller releases distributed over a shorter timeline, thus making the journey towards the ultimate goal a lot smoother.

Just remember,

Continual delivery = Diminished risk

  • Cost Control

The time of interval of each of the sprints is already defined when following the Agile Development methodology. The same goes for the cost predictions that are made well in advance and divided in accordance with the different sprints. This simply means that there are cost transparencies and control over additional expenditures.

In the end,

Cost control and transparency = Happy clients and fewer confusions

  • High Quality

When one large task is subdivided into smaller tasks, it becomes easier for the development team to master the iterations and the “smaller task” at hand. Simply said, smaller and manageable units can be looked after in a convenient fashion, thus ensuring high quality in the end.

Small manageable units + Early detection & error fixture = Overall quality

This overall quality is what everyone should aim for!

  • Productivity

When every member of the development team stays focused on one task at a time without being overloaded in a puddle of infinite tasks, productivity increases.

The agenda of Agile Development is to master one thing at a time, and that is exactly what saves a project from failures.

Small tasks with organized roles = Better focus and productivity

These are the benefits that you would enjoy when your organization adopts Agile Development methodology

The Cons of Agile Product Development

It is Agile everywhere! But, it does not mean that it is always a profitable scenario for developers striving for success with their software release. The good side of Agile Development process might give you a brighter picture, but what about its darker counterpart.

Sometimes an organization needs to deal with the Agile shortcomings too. Here are some of them.

  • Issue with Incremental Delivery

When the development team works on the portions of the software one at a time, it might sometimes lack the cohesiveness that is expected from the end product. So, there is always a risk the organization needs to be prepared for before moving forward.

  • Lack of Resource Planning

Agile is an incremental process that relies on the “plan-code-test-repeat” model. If there are any bugs that are found at the end of the sprint, the development team cannot predict beforehand as to how many more sprints, resources, and time would it take to master the software development process.

  • The Infinite Loop

Moving onto the next fragment of the code relies on the success of the previous sprint. If there are any bugs at any stage, they need to be addressed there and then. These iterations, in turn, sometimes results in falling into the infinite loop of development.

These were the three key disadvantages of Agile Development methodology. There are more of them, but let the good side of Agile take the front seat for now.

You know by now why we need Agile, but what about how to do it. The underlying process of doing Agile is the top priority of enterprises today.

The Most Important Question – How to Actually Do Agile?

The idea of doing Agile looks like a decorated aisle waiting for you, but the journey to that aisle is not at an arm’s distance. If you are feeling a bit naive about the process, there is nothing to panic about.

Just breathe, and let the journey begin.

First things first, Agile is not about going by the plan, instead, it is about swerving from the plan according to what suits the project needs best.

Something like this:

Agile journey should be a playful journey rather than following the crowd

On personal grounds, we have been following Agile for a while now and have our own defined ways of developing software products. Needless to mention, we try and make sure that we stay pretty close to the values and the principles of the Manifesto.

Here’s a glimpse of the Agile Development cycle that is a mix and match of other available approaches.

That is our idea of implementing Agile.

This is a pictorial view of how Net Solutions implements Agile Development methodology

On a very frank note, we measure the success of our Agile process on-Client satisfaction

That is how Agile works for us!

Lastly, there is something that enterprises today need to be aware of. If you have been continuously following Agile, the new buzzwords in the market might not sound so surprising. Or, do they?

Differentiating Between Fake and Real Agile

Imagine how would it feel when you go through the entire Agile Transformation journey and someone tells you that your Agile approach is FAKE.

And, there are fair chances that might be true.

More than 90% of senior executives give high priority to becoming Agile, while less than 10% see their firm as currently highly Agile ~ Survey by McKinsey & Deloitte

It would feel like the entire Agile Transformation journey has gone into the drain and while you sit back and contemplate “The Why,” your productivity goes back to square one. Because you are implementing AINO (Agile in Name Only).

Or, you could be on a full denial mood:

“How can you say that. We are already Agile.”

Irrespective of you accepting the defeat, your Agile Transformation failure might be for real. This is how a failed Agile journey looks like:

Demonstration of a stalled Agile development journey

If such is the case, the Department of Defense (DOD) has come forward with signs that will help identify a fake Agile approach. Here they are:

  • There is no ongoing communication with the end-users
  • The organization has no established feedback means between the users and the development teams
  • Requirements are not clear at any phase of the development process
  • Manual or lets’ say traditional approaches are still in use

If that happens to you, remember- It is not over! You can always start again by re-implementing the Agile Transformation loop and seeking help when needed.

Pro-tip: Start with early-stage Agile, i.e., an Agile Transformation that is incomplete. See how the small changes turn out and then slowly proceed towards making for the whole transformation.

You can always take inspiration from big players like Microsoft and their step by step journey towards Agile Transformation.

Agile Development: Staying One Step Ahead in the Competition

The basic idea behind following Agile Development in this fast-paced technological era- To adapt and respond to the changing dynamics to attract value in the end.

Remember, following Agile alone is not enough. The right technology and the talented pool of staff are equally important.

Once all the elements are in place, it would definitely be a win-win situation for all the parties involved! And, there are enough real-life business examples in the market to follow to see their Agile journey.

Also, remember that it will not take a day, a week, or a month to attain the badge of agility. Sometimes it might take years!

The tip is to start small and strategically move towards promoting agile habits so that your business is able to create real value at each step involved in the product development process.

Adopt and respond to change with Agile Development

Abhay S. Kushwaha

About the Author

A sales/advertising/marketing enthusiast, Abhay got addicted to the Internet in mid-90s and has kept pace with its evolution and technology. This wide and deep exposure has helped him successfully lead multiple teams at Net Solutions. He's also involved in the (F)OSS movement and writes a personal blog about disparate things that interest him, ranging from science to performing arts.

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