2020 has been a year of change, with both negative economic pressures as well as opportunities for growth. The pace of technological change, hyper-competition, and increased customer expectations have all been intensified by COVID-19.
The need for remote work coupled with demands by consumers for personalized, streamlined online experiences have pushed businesses to accelerate their digital transformation. McKinsey Research notes that the recovery from COVID-19 will be digital, with organizations transforming to “virtual, digital-centric, and agile.”
In 2021, we enter a year of transformation — of rapid innovation. To develop digital products at a pace that meet the demands of today’s consumers, businesses need their software development processes to be concise, rapid, and adaptable to customer needs. Agile software development has re-emerged as a leading choice to meet the demands of 2021 and beyond.
Earlier, businesses relied on traditional waterfall software development, completing projects in sequential phases. In this approach, products aren’t vetted by customers until they are complete, often leading to failure. By contrast, Agile software development takes an incremental, iterative development process. With Agile, both the requirements and the solutions evolve through an ongoing process of feedback and collaboration well suited to a period of constant disruption.
68.6% of business leaders define Agile as a holistic approach that focuses on customers’ needs and is quick to respond to changes in the marketplace.
Rooted in Empirical Process Control
Waterfall software development requires that everything be defined up front. We can predict what we need to do and set up simple steps. In contrast, Agile development methodology is rooted in empirical process control, a more adaptive process.
Empirical process control is about adapting to the unexpected. The three pillars of empirical process control are:
- Transparency — Knowing and sharing all the facts at every step
- Inspection — Being open to continuous improvement on the product, the team, and the software development process
- Adaptation — Adapting based on the feedback gathered during inspection
The purpose of Agile is to iteratively discover and develop an optimal solution. Agile provides an adaptable framework that results in faster time-to-market and measurable data points. Agile methodologies include Scrum, Kanban, Crystal, or Lean Software Development.
Flexible and Precise
The software development process is called “agile” for a reason, allowing for an incremental and iterative process that does a great job of incorporating feedback — both internal and stakeholder — to ultimately arrive at a product that meets the client requirements.
Businesses that adopt Agile methodology approach this planning phase with clear processes and mathematical formulae to define and prioritize user stories to create their product backlog (product requirements in the form of user stories).
Agile lets teams divide the project into workable modules (done in Sprints in the Scrum model) that each add a complete function to the previous release. These Sprints are clearly articulated goals that are reported on daily and at the end of each release.
While daily scrum meetings incorporate feedback quickly to each Sprint goal, the end of the Sprint allows us to further redefine the backlog to ensure our overall goals are being met.
Adaptability through Creative Destruction
Creative destruction is the process by which the new destroys what came before. We can look at this at a product development level, where feedback reinvents the product backlog, but creative destruction is also happening at a business level. Digital transformation is about introducing agility into how a business operates and the value being delivered to customers.
And it’s not just about using the Cloud or releasing an app — it’s about embracing creative destruction, rethinking old business models and experimenting to meet the needs of today’s marketplace.
Agile software development promotes innovation, speed, and adaptability, allowing businesses to more fluidly respond to changing conditions. Creative destruction recognizes that every part of business (including products) is constantly evolving.
All aspects of the product development process should be aligned under a strategic vision to discover, define, design & build, and deliver the results through continuous improvement. We express this through a digital transformation flywheel:
Built for Success
Agile software development and Scrum help deliver increments that are frequently tested and reviewed, adjusting the overall product and how the team works. Agile has helped many organizations respond faster to change, ultimately resulting in a more relevant product delivered in a shorter production style.
Source: CMG Partners
Agile can be leveraged beyond just software development, with the same philosophy helping organizations with their digital transformation, blending in principles of cross-functional collaboration, engagement, and lean processes.
Agile software development has very thorough checks and balances on the product backlog, processes, and the team to ensure you are building the right product in the most efficient way possible. These development practices clearly articulate user stories to make up the product backlog, followed by iterative and incremental development that better distributes risk:
Agile software development is about more than just Sprints; it’s a philosophy that supports collaboration of cross-functional teams, effective communication, and transparency.
Shorter Cycles Avoid the 90% Problem
When one large task is divided into smaller tasks, it becomes easier for the Agile teams to master the iterations and the smaller tasks. One of the core tenets of Scrum is actually getting the work done. Rather than creating an environment where teams are 90% done with several different tasks, Scrum focuses on completely finishing their set of backlog items within the Sprint.
This approach helps the team focus on polishing the smaller tasks rather than thinking of the larger product. With this level of focus, teams are able to reduce time-to-market. And despite an increase in planning and communication, the continuous feedback helps avoid costly re-work or misalignment of the product. Agile products provide transparency over the progress of the project as well, since each Sprint is well-defined toward the ultimate product release.
What are the Disadvantages of Agile?
While Agile can be a powerful philosophy, it is not the right approach for every project. Agile is best suited to projects that are complex and longer in duration, supporting the benefit of Sprints and feedback loops. However, there are many common mistakes in Agile software development that can derail even the most well-suited projects.
Despite the many advantages of Agile software development, organizations should be aware of the potential disadvantages, including:
- The Need to Define Clear Processes — A lack of clear processes often leads to teams becoming frustrated or sidetracked. Agile, as a philosophy, also requires that organizations evolve their processes and methodologies to suit the project, with evolutions of Kanban, Spiral, Lean, or Extreme Programming (XP) offering flexibility to support Agile software development.
- Time Consumption — When a project involves many dependencies, it can be more difficult to define Sprints or demonstrate work to date. The need for daily scrum meetings, reviews and retrospectives adds time of the project.
- Unpredictability — Agile methodology can result in many changes to the product design and backlog. While this can ultimately result in a product better aligned to support the business objective, teams must be adaptable to a level of constant change. There are also some key functionalities that can only be tested close to the end of the project, despite the impact such testing can have on the entire project.
In 2021, it is necessary for organizations to work faster and deliver more value. Agile product development promises to help speed up product delivery and support continuous customer satisfaction improvement.
Whether you are new to the Agile process or already have expertise with Agile and Scrum, we are here to help. At Net Solutions, we design, build, and oversee Agile projects with Design-Thinking-informed approaches that help create products your customers will love.