Introduction to Agile Project Management

Agile software development was created to address inefficiencies inherent in sequential development methods, such as waterfall methodologies. Creating software with an opaque assembly line process where specification, coding and testing are separate and done in strict order struggles to keep up with fast-moving markets requirements within which modern software products must compete. In order to retain market relevance and extract the highest productivity from development and business resources, companies are ditching plan-driven software methodologies for the responsive, continuous delivery model that the Agile Method offers.

The Agile Method

The Agile Method takes into account the unpredictability of non-trivial software projects that are the bane of plan-driven methodologies. Agile software development is centered on brief, concurrent development/test cycles and close collaboration between all stakeholders.

The Agile Method acknowledges the impossibility that all project requirements are known before coding begins. Participants in a waterfall development process know this also but compensate for missing requirements by padding the schedule to account for their disruptive effect at later development stages.

Unlike plan-driven methodologies, the Agile Method is adaptive and based on iterative requirements discovery. It compresses the typical steps of the waterfall method into sprints. To build a sprint, which typically has a lifespan of a day or two, specific functional component requirements are targeted. These are coded, tested and approved or disapproved by the agile team’s product owner. Feedback is gathered after each sprint, which is used to fine-tune the next sprint.

Principles of Agile Project Management

The original Agile Methodology outlines 12 principles that are essential to meeting the objectives of continuous delivery, intimate stakeholder involvement and self-motivated contributors:

  1. Satisfy customers by continuous delivery of working software
  2. Changes in requirements are expected, planned for and embraced
  3. Useful software is delivered regularly with the shortest possible frequency
  4. Cross-functional collaboration between developers, testers, and business development owners is essential
  5. Project contributors are empowered to make decisions within an environment of trust
  6. Face-to-face communication is the preferred method for information transfer among teams
  7. Useful, working software is the fundamental measure of project progress
  8. Development must occur at a consistent, sustainable rate
  9. Technical excellence and sound design principles must be adhered to at all times
  10. Simplicity is essential in order to maximize the amount of work that is not done
  11. Teams should be self-organizing and self-managed
  12. At each iteration, teams incorporate feedback to adapt to changing circumstances

Benefits of Agile

The Agile Method is widely recognized as the best solution to the problems inherent in building software products of high quality and market relevance. Agile Methodology has a number of valuable benefits:

  • Delivery of working software is frequent and predictable.
  • The rapid, iterative nature of agile development teams means shorter time-to-market and time-to-revenue.
  • Major and minor product revisions are seamless within a continuous delivery environment.
  • Defects are found quickly and when they have the least impact to the overall schedule.
  • Stakeholders are actively engaged and progress is transparent, which leads to the highest business value.
  • The right product is delivered in the end without surprises.
  • Market relevance is achieved by a process that embraces change.
  • Motivated, decision-empowered teams are not waiting to catch what other teams throw over the wall.
  • Contributors expand skills that provide increasing value to the organization

Differences between Agile and Waterfall

  • The waterfall process works well only with fully specifiable projects. Agile has built-in requirements discovery/coding/testing iterations that deliver usable software early and often.
  • Traditional software development is control-centric, whereas agile methodology distributes responsibility.
  • Waterfall development prizes skills specialization, whereas agile contributors fulfill multiple roles.
  • Waterfall development utilizes functional silos, whereas cross-functional collaboration is the key feature in agile development.
  • Contributors are guided by planned tasks in waterfall methodology. In agile methodologies, product features guide activity at any moment in time.
  • Waterfall development engages customers at the beginning and end of the process, whereas customers are active participants throughout agile software development.

The Agile Method has become the de facto standard for competitive, nimble software development products driven by fluid market requirements. Compared to plan-driven methodologies, such as the waterfall process, the seeming informality of agile methodologies may present a challenge to the status quo, but their clear benefits outweigh these concerns in the long run.