The agile methodology has become the go-to approach for organizations looking to deliver high-quality applications efficiently. However, it wasn’t always this way. To truly appreciate the success of agile, we must first delve into the history of software development methodologies and understand the stark contrast between the traditional waterfall method and the agile approach.
Once hailed as the gold standard of software development, waterfall methodology required extensive upfront documentation before any coding could commence. This meant that business analysts would spend considerable time drafting comprehensive business requirements documents, covering everything from strategic objectives to detailed functional specifications and user interface designs.
These business requirements documents would then be passed on to technologists, who would create technical requirements documents outlining the application’s architecture, data structures, functional designs, and more. Only once these documents were complete would the development phase begin, followed by integration and testing. The entire process could stretch over several years before the application was considered production-ready.
During the waterfall era, documentation served as the holy grail for developers. They were expected to know every detail contained within, and failure to adhere to a specific requirement outlined on page 77 of a 200-page document could result in reprimand. Moreover, the limited availability of software development tools meant that teams had to build many low-level components themselves, leading to significant time and resource investment.
Team communication was challenging in the waterfall model, as the reliance on technical specifications often resulted in a fragmented workflow. Changes to requirements were arduous, requiring lengthy review and sign-off processes. Consequently, implementing changes was costly and time-consuming. Additionally, due to the sequential nature of the waterfall methodology, stakeholders often had to wait months before they could interact with a working application. By then, their needs and preferences might have evolved, further complicating the development process.
Despite its initial appeal, the waterfall methodology had its limitations. It was designed for complex, monolithic systems and assumed that requirements would remain static. However, the advent of Internet applications and the need for rapid development brought about a shift in software development practices.
Driven by financial and competitive pressures, start-ups sought ways to streamline their processes and shorten time to market. This necessitated a more iterative and collaborative approach to development. Unlike the structured environment of enterprise legacy systems, start-ups had the freedom to experiment, adapt, and build applications tailored to their specific needs. They were keen on listening to user feedback and making changes accordingly.
Developers began challenging the waterfall methodology, favouring a more flexible and efficient approach. This movement gained momentum in 2001 when a group of experienced software developers, including luminaries such as Kent Beck, Martin Fowler, and Jeff Sutherland, came together and formulated the Agile Manifesto. This manifesto emphasized collaboration, self-organization, and the ability to manage constant change—a departure from the rigid and sequential nature of the waterfall methodology.
From these principles, the agile methodology for software development was born.
Agile development, when properly implemented, yields numerous benefits. Its inherent flexibility and adaptability allow teams to break down complex problems into manageable components. Development occurs iteratively, with continuous feedback from users guiding the process. If something isn’t working as expected, adjustments can be made swiftly, ensuring the project stays on track or even takes a different direction if necessary. Agile empowers each team member to contribute to the solution, fostering a sense of ownership and personal responsibility.
The agility of the methodology aligns well with the demands of modern development environments. By prioritising iterative development and leveraging feedback, agile teams can continuously improve the application and development process. This emphasis on ongoing improvement is crucial in a world where software requires constant updates and enhancements to remain relevant and competitive.
Moreover, agile development leads to happier and more productive teams. Engineers have a say in the workload they undertake and take pride in delivering tangible results. Product owners benefit from early software delivery, allowing them to adapt priorities based on the latest insights. Users, ultimately the beneficiaries, receive the software that fulfils their actual needs.
In today’s hypercompetitive digital landscape, enterprises must possess a high level of software competency to deliver exceptional experiences. Attracting and retaining top talent is essential for building outstanding software, and agile development offers a compelling framework for achieving both objectives.
As we reflect on the evolution of software development methodologies, it is evident that agile has revolutionized the way we approach development projects. By embracing flexibility, collaboration, and adaptability, agile empowers organizations to navigate the ever-changing landscape of software development successfully.
This article is based on an article originally written by Isaac Sacolick, a contributing editor to www.infoworld.com and a successful CIO who has led digital transformation, product development, innovation, agile management, and data science programs in multiple organisations. He has transformed underperforming businesses by delivering new digital products, investing in strategic technologies, enabling agile practices, outsourcing commodity services, and establishing performance metrics. He is the author of the books Digital Trailblazer and Driving Digital: The Leader’s Guide to Business Transformation Through Technology.