What are the most common reasons to adopt Agile?

I have been asked several time about what would be the best reasons to consider investing into the implementation of Agile methods. Here are my thoughts.

Need to reduce technical debt

Agile software development encourages to add any defects, feature changes or other maintenance tasks to the product backlog. The team reviews the backlog during each sprint planning to determine what to address next. Thus, each sprint provides opportunity to fix defects along with new feature development.

Easily and quickly adapt to change

Working in time-boxed iterations means the team does not need to wait on a lengthy requirement change, review and approval process. Any change or maintenance item is added to the backlog and allotted to an upcoming sprint based on priority and business need.

Creating alignment between development and testing

Agile software development requires collaboration and involvement that is unusual in traditional plan-driven projects. Before each sprint, the entire team reviews, validates, and agrees on which user stories to assign to the sprint. The developers, testers, and product owner work together to accomplish the items assigned to the sprint. The team meets daily to keep aligned. Each user story developed during a sprint gets verified to ensure it meets the customer’s needs.

Minimize risk via agile software development and test

Although teams do their best to plan all phases of a plan-driven project, there is usually a level of uncertainty that is not common in Agile software development. Traditional software development approaches leave product testing and release to the end of the project leaving it open if the final product meets the customer’s needs. Developing a product in sprints allows teams to quickly determine if they are on track and to adjust almost immediately if needed.

Delivering higher quality product

In plan-driven projects the planned phases are usually packed so full of features that developers must rush to complete them and little time is left for testing which impacts the quality of the product negatively. In Agile projects, the team does not attempt to develop all features at once. Instead, the team assigns a smaller subset of features to each sprint. This allows developers to have more time to really complete those items before release at the agreed upon level of quality. Agile encourages continuous integration (i.e., merging all developers’ working copies to a shared repository several times a day). This gives developers the chance to test issues frequently and address them immediately. Working on a product in small incremental releases ensures that each sprint results in a fully tested and working product.

Performing user-focused testing

Agile is about more than just adapting to change. It is about delivering what is most valuable to the customer. As such, the product owner works closely with the team to help them gain a clear understanding of what is needed. In Agile software development, user requirements are captured  as “user stories.” These stories define an action that provides value to the customer. The user-focused concept of user stories is a stark contrast to the rather lengthy list of requirements developed in a traditional development methodology.

Improve stakeholder engagement

For Agile software development to be successful, it is important for the product owner to be fully engaged throughout the process. That level of engagement does not happen in plan-driven projects. In plan-driven projects, stakeholders aren’t inclined to participate past the requirements gathering phase and only re-engage during user acceptance testing (UAT). Unlike plan-driven, agile product owners are very active participants in Agile sprints. This level of involvement gives them a sense of ownership that encourages further engagement and helps recognize issues early and address them accordingly.

Achieving greater customer satisfaction

The product owner actively participates in the sprints during the Agile development and testing process. Their participation in this manner ultimately fosters a level of engagement that ensures their needs are being met. The customers get to see a working product at the end of each sprint. This level of transparency of the real progress and the ability to deliver releases more quickly and frequently helps establishing trust.

Improve project control

Teams work together, along with the product owner, to determine what goes into each sprint. That way, the team is on the same page about what needs to be delivered. Also, there is less of a chance of surprises or unplanned features making it into the build.

Predictable delivery dates

Plan-driven projects revolve around lengthy project cycles that make it difficult for teams to predict a release date accurately. Agile iterations happen in time-boxed sprints that result in a working product at each release. Thus, the product owner knows that they will get new features at the end of every sprint.

While this list is certainly not complete, I have seen various software product efforts that had uncovered potential for improvement in some of these areas benefit significantly from moving towards Agile way of working.

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