what is the agile methodology, and why is it so popular?

Agile has become one of those trendy buzzwords that's repeated so often it starts to lose meaning. If you work in IT, you've probably heard a manager claim they have an agile team, or a programmer describe him or herself as an agile developer. Though you might assume this means they’re flexible and able to adapt to new situations and projects, the true agile model is a lot more complex.

what is the agile method

Long story short, the agile methodology is an approach to managing IT and software development projects (though it’s spread into other fields, too). In 2001, realizing that their development projects were failing, often for similar reasons, a small IT team put together the agile manifesto.

The agile manifesto outlined four key values to streamline the software development process:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Based on this original agile manifesto, software developers and development firms have created several variations and principles.

the goals of the agile development model

When boiled down to the basics, the agile model is all about streamlining workflow and creating a nimble team that can handle ever-changing requirements. Being able to adapt, change, and grow is given priority over rigorous testing, approvals, and planning, which can hinder the effectiveness of the development process.

Goals of the agile model include: 

  • Improving customer satisfaction
  • Being adaptable and open to change
  • Cooperation on development teams
  • Efficient creation of working software
  • Streamlining the development process
  • Launching products and updates faster

the agile method versus the waterfall model

The waterfall method is a more traditional, linear workflow. It uses a sequential workflow to manage tasks. Each phase of development is heavily planned, and the previous phase must be completed before moving onto the subsequent one. For instance, the requirements planning phase must be complete before moving on to the design phase. The design phase must then be completed before moving onto the implementation phase, which must then be finished before moving into the testing phase. The waterfall method can be good for tackling massive projects which need to be broken down and distributed amongst smaller teams. However, it can be clunky. Delays or problems in one phase can ripple throughout the entire project lifecycle.

The agile model seeks to eliminate this kind of stage-based workflow. Instead, agile development focuses on collaboration and cross-functionality. Agile developers are adaptable and focused on continuous improvement. Instead of segmenting projects into stages, agile development tends to tackle projects as a whole. Agile workplaces tend to have a small but highly-skilled team that can fluidly handle all stages of implementation (i.e. planning, coding, and testing) at once. Under the agile model, small but complete software updates are unveiled frequently. Under the waterfall method, new products or updates may take longer, but they can also be much larger and more complex.

making the agile methodology work for you

There are a variety of different models and development methodologies built around agile principles. Over the past few decades, there has been an ever-growing list of agile adopters who credit the methodology with their success. Some of the biggest names in media, technology, finance and even government have adopted and praised the effectiveness of the agile methodology.

scrum methodology

Scrum is by far the most popular agile development model, most likely because it’s easy to implement and addresses some of IT’s biggest management challenges. The Scrum Alliance and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) program and its derivatives have become highly sought after IT certifications, with Scrum Master salaries in Canada starting around $70,000 and reaching well into the $100,000 range.

In the true scrum model, teams are made up of three roles: product owner (or the person requesting the work), scrum master (or project manager), and team members (or the development team.) In scrum, teams work in short ‘sprints’ which traditionally last 30 days, though the exact time a sprint lasts is determined by the scrum master. The sprint contains the entire project lifecycle, from design through to implementation and testing. After a sprint is over, it’s expected that a product is delivered.

At the beginning of a sprint, a meeting is held, led by the product owner, who explains the requirements for the upcoming project. Afterward, the product owner steps back and lets the scrum master lead. During a sprint, daily standing meetings are held by the scrum master to discuss the project status and brainstorm solutions to any issues that arise. The product owner is not allowed to intervene or ask questions during this phase. After the sprint concludes, the final, completed project must be delivered (presented to the product owner) and is either accepted or rejected.

hiring agile project managers (scrum masters)

Scrum masters are the facilitators on an agile development team, replacing traditional IT project managers. They’re the ones that manage the processes and ensure that the development team communicates. They ensure tasks are completed and that information is exchanged seamlessly. The role of a scrum master is to host scrums (or daily team meetings) and help team members stay focused on the tasks that will be completed during each sprint (the name given to each development cycle in the scrum methodology).

hiring an agile development team (developers)

The agile model prioritizes a flexible team that’s adaptable and capable of handling a range of different functions. Full stack developers are particularly appreciated in the agile model because they’re capable of handling programming at all stages of development.

The agile model seeks to eliminate specialists who have too narrow or defined a role. Instead of a large team of 15 highly specialized developers, each of whom is focused on one small part of the development cycle, an agile team will be comprised of a few developers with broader skill sets. For this reason, the agile model tends to work best at small or medium sized companies that have more compact teams. Corporations with large-scale projects that can’t be handled by a small team often find that a truly agile model is difficult to implement, though they may follow certain aspects of the agile methodology.  

When it comes down to it, adopting an agile method doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s an incredibly simple method that seeks to streamline projects and focus on producing tangible products. Quick but frequent updates are the focus of an agile team. The method works best for small companies and startups, however, it can be adopted at larger companies, with the right approach and dedication.

If you’re adept with the agile method, check out related jobs such as agile developer, full stack developer, and scrum master.

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