Why Agile software development gives you more for less

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Picture the scene: you’re running a highly complex IT project. You’ve invested hours helping your developers determine the scope (and agree a price), but your true requirements remain unclear.

As the defined project moves on, your IT needs evolve. Yet, you’re stuck with a rigidly specified piece of work. It can’t change. And before long, you’re running over time and budget without achieving your priorities.

This is the reality of traditional software development methods. You’ve probably been there. For complex IT projects it simply doesn’t work.

When you start a project, the full scope of your work is often unknown. Few organisations can explain and anticipate exactly what they need.

That’s why so many businesses opt for Agile software development today. This iterative and flexible approach suits the rapidly changing IT landscape perfectly.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the limitations of traditional software development, then consider how an Agile approach works – delivering more for less.

Why a traditional ‘waterfall’ approach fails.

In the bad old days, IT developers structured software projects around the familiar waterfall method for project management:

  1. Establish requirements
  2. Design the solution
  3. Develop the software
  4. Test it
  5. Maintain it

There are many problems with this linear approach when it comes to IT.

Detailing every requirement is incredibly time-consuming. And costly. This part alone could double the length (and cost) of the project.

Few people read (or can visualise) a completed, in-depth software specification. Most need to see the new systems in action. Plus, the specification is instantly outdated. Your needs inevitably move on quickly.

In complex projects like this, software developers know goal posts can change, so they add a hefty contingency to the final fixed fee.

If the project goes well, their client pays more than they should for the certainty of a fixed price. If it goes badly, the developer loses out and is reluctant to work with that client again.

Neither party wins.

Ironically, the only certainty using this old-fashioned method is the fee never accurately reflects the work completed.

It’s clear to see traditional linear project management doesn’t suit complex software development. It fails for clients, and it fails for developers.

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Understanding Agile software development.

Today, most businesses (and developers) prefer the ‘Agile’ method for managing comprehensive IT projects. Nobody gets bogged down with costly specifications, whilst working systems can be up and running more quickly.

Agile software development is iterative, collaborative, and sprint focussed. It’s ideal for rapidly changing landscapes like IT.

Let’s unpack the terminology first.

Project Backlog

Agile project development starts with a list of broad objectives. The detail comes later. Project backlog is the name for this master list of intentions.

Once created, it’s prioritised. To achieve swift progress, early wins take first place. This also helps your people engage with the project as they see results quickly.

Next, the list focuses on key pain points.

Of course, you can reorder the project backlog at any time, ensuring flexibility as your priorities change. It’s also easy to add items to the project backlog. You’re never stuck in a rigid scope of work. What you need most comes first.

Sprints

Completing development work in small increments, developers call these sprints. Usually between one and four weeks, they focus on current priorities, delivering clearly defined results.

At the end of each sprint everyone reviews the work. Any improvements or unfinished tasks move into the next sprint along with further priorities from the project backlog.

This process repeats until the project backlog is complete.

Story Points

This becomes useful when scoping future sprints. You assign tasks based on their story points, more accurately estimating how much can be achieved in each sprint.

Project Velocity

Project velocity describes the number of story points available in a sprint. After the first few sprints, the project velocity becomes more accurate, making sprints easier to plan.

In this way, you can predict delivery dates and monitor performance. All parties become clear on progress. Also, you’ll identify issues that could cause delays sooner and address them promptly.

The issue of cost.

You might think Agile software development sounds like writing a blank cheque. It’s not. You’re always in control of the purse strings.

The first sprint of an Agile project usually sees results in weeks. You can quickly assess the value for your business. If you’re not happy with the partnership, you can stop and pay no more.

Conversely, the traditional waterfall approach requires a huge amount of analysis and time up-front to simply create the scope. You’ve not seen results at this stage, but it’s taken ages and cost your business a great deal.

Whilst Agile software development can feel like a leap into the unknown, you commit less in terms of finance and time before seeing results.

In fact, you always pay the exact price for the work completed. You can’t overrun on your budget. Meanwhile, each sprint can adapt to suit your evolving needs, so every piece of work tackles your biggest priorities at that exact moment.

Agile is cheaper and lower risk.

Delivering results faster.

In IT, speed matters. Having more effective software quickly gives you earlier efficiencies and opportunities.

Faster software development grows your business at speed too.

Not getting bogged down with a detailed specification means your developer writes code sooner. They take your specific priorities and create what you need in a matter of weeks.

By continually reprioritising the project backlog, you get exactly what you need faster, too. Even if a priority comes to light after the Agile programme starts, it simply goes to the top of the list, ready for the next available sprint.

Your most important work gets completed first. And faster.

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The benefits of Agile collaboration.

Agile working methods are collaborative. There’s no ‘them and us’ mentality. Friction therefore melts away as client colleagues and developers work together gathering requirements and progressing project tasks in the right order.

You enjoy a close working relationship that quickly secures a constructive partnership between both organisations.

As a side benefit of Agile software development, you’ll see developers onsite more often. In fact, they visit during most sprints, looking to understand your needs and how your system must change.

In short, you get onsite business analysts for free.

But your collaboration benefits don’t stop there. Two-way interaction helps your developers truly understand how your business works. This encourages valuable engagement from all areas of your team. More stakeholders will buy in to the value of your IT project and your software users will also feel more involved.

User buy-in is vital for a successful project. They’re at the rock face. You need them to test new software and continuously feed back improvements. When they’re fully engaged you get far more value.

Always keeping you on the front foot.

The IT sector will continue to evolve rapidly. In fact, it’s changing faster than ever before. This demands a fluid and adaptable approach to software development. Otherwise, you’ll fall behind.

Agile software development keeps you on the front foot. Always. You’ll focus on your priorities first and deliver results faster.

Traditional project management has no place in today’s software sector. When you adapt your mindset and embrace an Agile approach, your business will never look back.

Want to discuss how Agile project management could accelerate your business growth? Please get in touch for an initial chat.

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