Today’s economic climate has reached a new level of uncertainty and chaos. Especially for companies working in the technology industry, where the rate of project failure is incredibly high, failure is simply not an option. So how can organizations curtail the risks associated with software development, while advancing their competitive position within the industry? One answer which many technology companies have turned to in recent years is agile development.
Traditionally, software development has been performed much like an assembly line. That is, the product to be built is defined at the outset and then developed in a linear, sequential fashion, as the product as passed from one functional silo to the next. This strategy can be incredibly effective for organizations managing simple projects with few or no variables. However, software development is an extremely complex undertaking that almost always includes many unknown factors.
Agile development takes software’s chaotic nature into account by asking that teams create software incrementally and iteratively, developing chunks of functionality each work cycle (or “sprint”). Agile also asks that development teams never assume that all requirements can be known at the beginning of the project. Instead, they should be gathered incrementally, as the team makes more progress and collects more information about what the final product will become.
This change in strategy makes a big impact on development. Since developers do not need to know exactly what the product will become, they don’t have to waste time trying to define all the requirements a product should satisfy. Rather, they can identify a small amount of desired functionality and build it, waiting until the next work cycle to identify the next set of development goals. Likewise, because development is iterative and incremental, there’s always another opportunity to revisit a previous phase of development. Even if that means adding unanticipated functionality to a product in order to compete with a rival product, playing catch up may require as little as one additional work cycle. But most importantly, by providing teams—and customers—with regular points to inspect and adapt progress (i.e. the work cycle boundaries), risk mitigation is built into the development process. At a time when organizations can’t afford to have a project fail, being able to guard against failure makes agile development a very appealing alternative to traditional project management.