A complete guide to Agile Software Development

Each agile framework has its own practices, terminologies, and tactics. Learn each agile framework is for software development.

Each agile framework has its own practices, terminologies, and tactics. In this article, we'll explore each agile framework in depth.

What is Agile Software Development?

Agile Software Development frameworks or agile methodologies as they are otherwise known, comprise of software development frameworks that rose to prominence in the early 2000s.

These frameworks were derived from a document known as the Agile manifesto. The Agile Manifesto has a set of values and principles that aimed to make software development more flexible and help teams incorporate change into product requirements during the development process.

The term agile can be viewed as an umbrella term for a variety  of development methodologies that incorporate the principles of the Agile manifesto. Some of the most common Agile frameworks used by teams today include frameworks such as scrum, kanban, lean, extreme programming, and feature driven development (FDD).

Different Agile Frameworks

1. Scrum

Scrum is a popular agile framework that focuses on shipping usable software incrementally in short cycles. These cycles usually vary from a couple of weeks to a month.

Scrum Overview

A scrum team is usually cross functional in nature. It consists of a development team which includes QA and design experts if needed. In addition to the developers, there are specialized roles such as the product owner and scrum master who form part of the scrum team.

The team scopes down the product to create a sprint (which may last a few weeks). The aim is to develop a usable component every sprint and continue to incrementally develop components in further sprints. These components come together to form a feature-complete product.

Scrum aims to make the product development process more dynamic and makes it easy to incorporate changes in requirements. Also, as testing happens every sprint, the quality of software being developed is much higher.

Major advantages of using Scrum

  • Large products can be divided into sprints which are more easily manageable.
  • Scrum makes it easy to incorporate changes in the product during the development process.
  • Scrum focuses on estimating user stories which helps improve visibility and predictability of shipping features. This is done by adding details to a user story known as acceptance criteria and by breaking the user story down to actionable subtasks.
  • Cross functional teams usually face less roadblocks since multiple meetings called scrum ceremonies are held to keep the team organized and due to the collaborative nature of work.
  • Scrum has a wide range of metrics that can be tracked to improve performance. The most often used is a burndown chart to track metrics and progress.

Challenges Scrum teams may face

  • Getting started with scrum is usually much harder as it requires time and effort to be invested in bringing teams up to speed with concepts of Scrum.
  • As it is drastically different from traditional waterfall based methods, teams may be uncomfortable working with sprints at first.
  • Scrum teams required specialized roles such as product owners, scrum masters and coaches.
  • Teams usually struggle with estimation when they get started with Scrum.This leads to missed targets and is often demoralizing for teams.

2. Kanban

The Kanban methodology is an agile framework that focuses on visualizing a team's workflow to surface bottlenecks and deal with them.

Overview to Kanban

Kanban focuses on creating a kanban board with columns representing the status. Items are then mapped onto the board in their respective columns. As the team works on and complete their respective items, they move these items to subsequent columns.

The focus of Kanban is to focus on one kanban card and finish it completely before starting to work on another item. This helps prevent distractions and improve the focus of the team.

Kanban teams restrict the number of items in each column (called work in progress limiting). This prevents teams from adding new items without finishing old ones first.

Columns that are constantly at maximum capacity prevent the team from adding new items. Teams can identify blockers and improve their process when this happens by using a cumulative flow diagram.

Some major advantages of using Kanban

  • Kanban is one of the easiest agile frameworks to implement.
  • Kanban boards drastically improve visibility of work without changing any existing processes.
  • Kanban requires minimal team restructuring and can work for all kinds of teams.
  • Features/user stories are continuously deployed in Kanban.

Challenges with using Kanban

  • Kanban puts less emphasis on testing (as opposed to some of the frameworks like Scrum). The onus is on the team to identify a workflow that ensures that highest quality is maintained.
  • Kanban teams sometimes suffer from large lead/cycle times.
  • Kanban might not be a great fit for teams that need to completely revamp their process as it focuses on incremental improvement.

3. Lean Development

Overview to Lean Development

Lean Software Development (LSD Framework) is an agile approach that focuses on building and market testing a product via an MVP. It is otherwise known as the MVP Framework.

Lean software teams scope down the product to remove all the nice-to-have features and focus on building the bare bones functionality. This is then sent out to the customers to be tested. The team moves on to building the next part of the software only if results and market feedback are satisfactory.

If the MVP fails to move the needle, the teams goes back to the drawing board to build and release a new MVP.

Is the LSD framework a good fit for your team?- Lean is one of the least scalable agile frameworks. - It is a great fit for teams working on products with a high risk of failure. This is why lean practices are encouraged in early stage startups with little or no traction in the market.

Advantages of Lean Development

  • Lean development is highly flexible. It doesn’t have many rules except for the overall approach towards building MVPs.
  • It can be implemented quickly regardless of how small the team is.- It eliminates unnecessary requirements and helps the team focus on building only what matters.

Disadvantages of Lean Development

  • LSD framework is probably the least scalable agile methodology. It can not be used for mature products.
  • The constant iteration and focus on building MVPs could sometimes slow overall product progress.

4. Extreme Programming

Overview to Extreme Programming

Extreme Programming (XP) is an agile software development methodology that aims to help teams develop high quality software, as efficiently as possible. Like scrum, it also seeks to make it possible to incorporate changing customer requirements during development cycles.

At its core, XP is focused on developing software through iterations but focusing on retrospecting with the aim to find out what works. Once a positive practice has been identified in the retrospective, XP recommends the team to take this practice to extreme levels during the next iterations.

Some examples of best practices that XP teams have been known to focus excessively on are: - Design- Simplicity- Code Review- Incremental Development- Integration Testing

Advantages of XP

  • Increased focus on shipping software on time is a core value of XP. Teams make decisions of best practices around the timely delivery of working software.
  • XP encourages constant feedback on not only the product but also the process being used.
  • Best practice review for QA processes are also encouraged at the end of every iteration. This ensures that high quality software is delivered.

Disadvantages of XP

  • There is a constant focus on retrospectives and meetings which may not suit all kinds of teams.
  • Extreme Programming is better suited for teams that are in the same location. Remote teams may have a tough time collaborating in an XP environment.

5. Feature Driven Development (FDD)

Overview of FDD

Feature driven development (FDD) is an agile framework that recommends building software products by breaking them down into features. Features in an FDD context are similar to user stories in the scrum framework.

An agile team following an FDD framework goes about building the product in 5 steps :

  1. Develop an overall model of the product
  2. Create a feature list
  3. Plan the features one by one
  4. Design each feature
  5. Develop Each feature

Advantages of FDD

  • FDD is fairly straightforward to implement. It offers an overall agile framework, built around features and expects the team to implement best practices around it.
  • It breaks down the product into smaller chunks and forces the team to focus and complete each feature separately. Once features are specified, teams can implement best practices from other frameworks and use what suits their team the best.

Disadvantages of FDD

  • There is a heavy reliance on the team member who is developing the initial overall model of the product.
  • There is not much focus on documentation.
  • It may be difficult for very small teams to fully adopt FDD.

If you're evaluating an agile project management software, we put together a comparison of the best agile tools for you.