Since 2001 when Agile was popularized by a group of software developers who wrote the Manifesto for Agile Software Development the term has been heard a lot. It gained numerous supporters over the years thanks to its flexible and adaptable structure that is in demand in the current business environment. And even though, Agile methodology is not a panacea and can’t serve every kind of a project.
Among the supporters of Agile methodology there are tech giants such as IBM and Microsoft, as it helps them grow and scale much faster, but as simple and appealing as this approach may seem it still requires a huge amount of training and restructuring within teams in order to show its full potential.
What is agile software development?
Let’s start with the basics. Agile software development is a software engineering approach where the project requirement develops during the process with the help of collaboration between cross-functional teams and the final users, making the process more flexible.
What separates agile methodology from others is the focus on the people who are doing software development and how they work together. Collaboration is the key aspect to finding solutions. While the idea is there, team members are self-organized it doesn’t mean that there is no management involved, but the role of the manager is evolving into leadership, calling for more support.
In the era of technological advancement and ongoing innovation Agile methodology fits well with it’s adaptable approach to arising changes and challenges. Rather than focusing on working on the whole project and delivering it at once, it targets client satisfaction and continuous delivery on the project.
Principles of an agile team
The agile software development team is a cross-functional group of professionals that have all the necessary capabilities and sufficient skills to create a functional product. Having professionals with different backgrounds and knowledge helps to approach the project from a fresh point of view and bring new ideas to the table.
The size of an agile software development team may vary, but the key roles stay the same - a team leader, team members, product owner, and various stakeholders.
An agile software development team is characterized by its ability to maintain a flexible approach regardless of the complexity of the project. To be able to do this, agile teams are built upon these principles:
- Communication and feedback - regular revision of work make agile software development project move from one stage to the other without experiencing major feedback. Being open to give and receive feedback enables software engineers to adjust the product faster.
- Adaptability - fast-paced agile methodology requires its team members to be flexible and adapt fast to the changing requirements without interrupting the development process.
- Trust - transparency requires each team member to trust the rest of the stakeholders involved in the development process and provide them with a safe environment where mutual trust can be established.
- Collaboration - the foundation of a successful agile software development team lies in the ability to work together to find the best solutions to the project and exchange necessary knowledge.
- Engagement - readiness to face changes and keep an open mind while learning from others and respecting their opinion is what helps agile teams to move at a faster pace compared to other software development methodologies.
Benefits of agile
Even though agile methodology has a number of benefits to it, it shouldn’t be used for all the projects without analyzing project needs and requirements. Such factors as urgency, complexity, team organization and others define whether or not you should apply it. When you evaluate your project requirements, keep in mind the benefits that agile software development has to offer.
Breaking the project down into smaller more manageable pieces allows the development team to focus on the quality of the product, testing, and collaboration. Ongoing testing allows the team to make the adjustments and improve product quality as they go so that by the time it is ready for the first release, it has been already adapted to the market needs and doesn’t need major changes.
The close involvement of the product owner and testing with the direct and indirect users helps to develop software that meets end customer’s needs in the best way possible. It also allows the development team to deliver the product to the market faster and start generating revenue early.
As mentioned above, the functional product is ready to meet the marker early and therefore can start making money for its owner much faster. By working closely with the product owner, the development team is able to prioritize the functional features of the app and avoid long delivery cycles.
The agile software development method eliminates almost all risk of the absolute failure of the project and allows developers to detect the necessity for vital changes during the early stages of the project. The mindset that accepts changes as new challenges and the direction for improvement and errors as the necessary information to learn from also helps the team to stay motivated and not get discouraged by smaller setbacks.
The collaborative culture of agile software development helps the teams to get their work done faster and minimize the need for going back to fix major defects. Dividing work into smaller chunks and testing it as soon as possible optimizes the product delivery and helps to narrow down the timeline.
Adaptability or flexibility of this approach is what gained it so many supporters. It allows the project to navigate the changing market and business needs without the necessity to implement core changes, which saves both time and money for the clients.
The most popular agile methodologies include such names as Scrum, Kanban, Lean Development, Crystal and Extreme Programming. In reality, there are many more methodologies that differ from one another, but all follow the same Agile mindset of continuous improvement.
Probably the most well-known methodology of Agile family, Scrum is characterized by having small development cycles called sprints. Transparency, inspection, and adaptation are the three core principles of Scrum.
- Constant focus on quality results in fewer mistakes
- Helps to reorganize priorities, bringing forward the sprints that haven’t been completed yet
- Smaller sprints motivate software developers to meet the deadlines
- The roles within the team are not well-defined which can confuse team members
- Focusing on the smaller parts may lead team members to lose track of the project as the whole
The main focus of Kanban methodology is continuous delivery. Kanban uses transparency and open communication to maintain the “just-in-time” workflow and not overload the software engineering team with development tasks. It helps to improve the workflow and optimize the processes thanks to its visual information interpretation.
- Very helpful in task organization
- Shorter cycle times can deliver features faster
- Possible to make changes mid-cycle
- Allows balancing the numbers of tasks every team member carries out
- Helps to implement sudden changes in requirements
- The tasks in the Kanban board can be misunderstood or misinterpreted
- No time frames associated with each cycle can lead to delays in delivery
The main goal of Lean Development is to optimize the efficiency of software by eliminating unnecessary waste. Lean Development has 7 core principles at its foundation: Eliminate Waste, Build Quality In, Create Knowledge, Defer Commitment, Deliver Fast, Respect People, and Optimize the Whole.
- Allows the team to focus on the most important tasks
- The clear priorities help to shorten the delivery time
- This methodology can be adapted to the most projects of any scale
- Requires clear idea supported by documentation to avoid errors during the development process
- The team needs to be dedicated to follow the Lean principles
In the foundation of the Crystal methodology lie human-powered principles such as People, Interactions, Community, Skills, Talent, and Communication, aiming to deliver the best possible software development process. Crystal methodology believes that people can find their own ways to optimize and improve work according to the changing requirements and environment.
- It promotes closer communication and interaction within the team to optimize the software development process
- Offers small cycles with frequent deliveries to ensure the quality of the product
- The adaptable approach makes it easier to implement changes
- Lack of pre-defined plans may affect the development process
- The constant need to communicate and exchange information requires team members to be based pretty close geographically
Extreme Programming or XP is based on the principles of simplicity, communication, and feedback. XP is very similar to Scrum methodology, with the difference in the length of sprints: Scrum uses 2 weeks to 1-month sprints, while XP uses up to 2 weeks option.
- Constant testing makes the software development process more agile than with other methodologies
- Short timeframe and visible goals help to motivate the development team
- Simpler code allows faster revisions according to the feedback received
- Needs the team to be based in close time-zones to enable fast-paced communication
- Focus on the code can result in a weak design
These are only a few of the many Agile methodologies that gained popularity. When choosing the right one for your agile software development team you need to evaluate your team capabilities as well as the project requirements in order to choose the best one.
Building the team
When you think about agile software development team you are probably thinking of a group of professionals that function together as a well-oiled mechanism that is 150% efficient and delivers 50% faster, people are on the same wavelength and everything just comes together. That would be possible in a perfect world, but unfortunately we don’t live in one.
There is no one perfect solution or a secret to building a highly-effective agile team, but here are some tips that can help you put together a solid team and help it adapt and grow along the way. Always remember that you are working with people, not machines and it might take a bit more than following the beaten path to help open up to their full potential.
Don’t rush it
It takes time for people to get used to each other, create a trustful environment and learn about the ways other team members work. Well-organised operation and harmonious work comes as a result of failed attempts, mistakes, misunderstandings combined with determination, resilience and engagement.
Ongoing learning and adaptation to requirements lies in the principles of Agile approach, so the same applies to people when they first come to work together. Rather than focusing on one grand success that will define your team, focus on smaller improvements and achievements that reflect the progress your team is making.
Though people in agile team do need to have their own duties and responsibilities it is important to get everyone involved in the success of the final product. If team members are accountable only for their own area of responsibilities the whole idea of agile team is losing its sense - first of all because the key word is “team” which means everyone together, and second because agile approach focuses on cross-functional teams rather than individual functions.
The environment where everyone is working towards a mutual goal advocates for better collaboration thanks to everyone’s engagement and desire to help others find best solutions to existing challenges.It makes people look for feedback rather than hiding from it because it gives a fresh perspective and helps to lose tunnel vision.
Recognizing everyone's efforts to contribute to the mutual achievement is important to drive engagement with the project. That works both for leadership and peer acknowledgement that reaffirms the fact that all members of the team are responsible for both failure and success.
Embrace the changes
Agile doesn’t overthink procedures and processes, focusing on the results and outcomes of the project. That gives it a lot of flexibility but also brings challenges like the constant risk of changes. And changes are inevitable. It could have been easier if the rules were set in stone, but then the whole idea of agile would lose its sense.
The ability of an agile software development team to respond to occuring change is much more important than maintaining the original course of action. Flexibility within the team requires it frequently reevaluate priorities and adjust processes accordingly.
Every change is a possibility to improve your final product and focusing on that would benefit the team mindset rather than dreading changes or considering them as mistakes or failure. Use change of the scenario as a starting point and build on that.
Collaboration is everything
Effective collaboration is undeniably one of the most important attributes of a successful agile software development team. After all, open communication and ongoing learning lie in the principles of agile methodology. Empowering collaboration within the team is necessary for it to operate effectively and evolve as one.
Even though collaboration implies team members working together and exchange ideas and opinions, effective collaboration requires a clear separation of work duties and objectives where every team member has his own area of responsibility. Failing to provide this independence may result in creating a mess in the project, performing duplicated tasks and misunderstanding between the team members.
Defining and solving challenges together help cross-functional teams to come up with more effective solutions, rather than when a sole software developer tries to solve it. Collaboration within agile teams calls for regular and personalized communication between team members.
The key to making the best out of collaborative efforts is establishing trust between everyone in the team. A safe and supportive environment promotes engagement between professionals involved in the project and the creative approach to complex problems. It is gained through gamification and interactive activities that help to look at problems in a visual and entertaining way and unleash collaborative power within the team.
Often collaborative approach may result in a conflict arising, but this could also be a source of inspiration. We imply a healthy non-violent conflict, that could be in a form of disagreement or having different opinions. While being open to learning about others’ opinions and accept that you might not know it all, being able to communicate and explain your point of view is helpful for finding solutions and team growth. If team members are avoiding conflict and there is a lot of silence present you might need to have a better look at trust between team members and teach them how to navigate conflict in a productive way.