In our area of advanced technologies almost any undertaking, whether it is a business venture or a creative personal project, needs an online presence and a proper IT infrastructure. Sometimes off-the-shelf software applications can meet the requirements. However, progressive ideas that can take the business to new heights or grab attention of millions of web users, usually have no analogues and cannot be handled by standard software products. Such ideas often involve innovations and one may need a complex custom software solution and a reliable software engineering company to breath digital life in his or her plan.
An important part of successful technical implementation of the project is to establish an efficient workflow and communication with a development team. There is an approach which is widely used in the software development industry for that purpose. It is called “agile software development”. Agile methodology has a long history: it derived from a lean production system developed by Toyota after World War 2. It helped the small factory to grow up into one of the world's largest car manufacturers. Later, the lean principles were adopted by IT companies and gave rise to various agile software development techniques.
Compared to conventional software development methods, agile is targeted at unique, complex and innovative IT systems. It promotes collaboration, teamwork, evolutionary development, continuous customer involvement and welcomes changes throughout the development lifecycle. Large upfront plans and comprehensive documents are devalued in agile. That makes the development process more flexible and adaptable to changing customer requirements. Evidently, agile is a great approach for one-of-a-kind projects and customers who are excited about working closely with the development team.
At the same time, agile methodology is not a panacea and it is not a perfect solution for each and every project. Due to its lack of formality, agile is not the approach of choice for customers or projects requiring accurate estimates, heavy documentation, careful scheduling and strict compliance with a plan.
The main positive aspects of agile software development are:
First-mover advantage. Agile provides fast delivery of working software with the core functionality. An early version with a basic set of features can be released to the public to tap the potential market, collect user feedback and determine what changes are required to improve the product.
Evolutionary development. Agile approach implies development in an iterative manner. New features are added continuously, with incorporating the client's feedback and change requests on each phase. This way the application evolves in line with the customer's requirements.
Flexibility and acceptance of changes. Clients do not need to plan every detail at the very beginning of their software project. On the contrary, they can define short-term requirements, examine results and then plan for the next stage again. It gives flexibility to change functionality and scope of the project at any stage of the development and ensures delivery of the right product.
Transparency. Agile provides a high level of openness and collaboration because close client/team communication works better than lengthy documents and contracts. All priorities, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Customers are kept in the loop and issues are handled sooner than in other approaches.
Customer satisfaction. The involvement of customers in the development team lets them monitor the process and reduces risk that the released software will not meet the client's expectations. Besides, constant testing guarantees that most bugs are caught early in the project and that the client gets a reliable and error-free application.
It is also should be mentioned that the following specific features of agile approach can be quite challenging if they are not controlled properly:
Lack of formality. In agile, most project work is done on-the-run without prior planning or preparation. Along with increasing productivity and accelerating the development process, it requires certain skills from the development team. If the software engineers are not experienced in agile this can create difficulties and delays, especially with large software systems.
High demands on the client's commitment. Ongoing client's involvement is a fundamental principle of agile and it requires a lot of commitment from the client. If the customer is not getting involved, this eliminates the benefits of the agile approach. It is also problematic when a client constantly suggests changes as this can significantly expand the scope and cost of the project.
Lightweight documentation. Agile approach puts an emphasis on delivery of working software but does not imply creating detailed documentation for every feature or update. It is quicker to develop an application without writing long specifications, but it can cause misunderstandings if the communication between the team and the customer is not organized duly.
Agile software development is good for many reasons. Even though its applicability is not universal, traditional development methods have longer release cycles and are not as responsive to changes in plans and requirements. Because of that, those approaches can fail to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation and consumer expectations these days. Thus, if you are starting a progressive project, demanding complex and offbeat IT solution, consider agile approach with its collaborative, adaptive and evolutionary development principles.