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Agile Development – Progress or Buzzword?

It’s all over the news these days: Agile this, Lean that.

It seems like another round of business process lingo is having its day in the sun. Remember “Synergies” anyone? But maybe this time there’s really something to it. In fact the whole Agile fad started in the software industry and we software types think it’s a pretty big deal. We’ve been transforming the way we build our products at Aquatic Informatics for the last several years and the results have been remarkable. Let me tell you about it.

Like any complex development process, the traditional approach to software development involved working through a set of well-defined phases: Requirements definition, Functional design, Implementation, Test, and Deliver. Such an approach makes intuitive sense, but in practice the time elapsed between phase one (requirements) and phase five (delivery) was usually so long that the final result was rarely what was actually needed by the time it was done. Requirements change as more is learned. Priorities shift. Better ideas emerge. The traditional development process – known as the Waterfall methodology – has no way to account for these realities.

Agile development turns this on its head. For seasoned project managers, it is shocking in its simplicity. Don’t plan too much. Test early. Release often.

Using the Agile Manifesto, we value:

  • Individuals & interactions over processes & tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

If you are part of one of the customer agencies that is working closely with us to create the next version of AQUARIUS, you have access to a functional release of the system every two weeks. It’s intense, but the resulting feedback cycle is incredibly powerful. If we get something wrong, then we can fix it because we’re only two weeks in. If a new priority or a better idea comes up then we can just reshuffle the backlog and work it in. We also release a full production version of the system to all customers every 3 months. Such rapid-fire production and the quick cycle of feedback and reassessments allows us to keep the priority roadmap well-honed and current.

The rest of the world is jumping on board, applying Agile methodologies to all kinds of different fields. I’m fascinated to hear your stories about any strides you have made in your own work. Let us know and we’ll share what we find.

Photo credit: Acid Pix | agile programming – i’m glad it has a name  |  Taken on February 11, 2010

  • Brad Garner
    Posted at 1:06 pm, June 12, 2015

    Like most things humans touch, Agile can become a religion; an “-ism”; a complete lifestyle solution; the single lens through which you see the world. I met a self-appointed “Agile Evangelist” once and instantly knew Agile can be corrupted in this way.

    Look: Agile can be a great tool that matches the fast pulse-rate of 21st century software. But it’s not a license to throw out common sense and timeless management principles (e.g., “you can only manage what you measure”).

    I’m pretty sure Agile is here to stay (e.g., not Robin Thicke). Let’s just not be zealots about it.

  • Alastair Foreman
    Posted at 5:54 pm, June 17, 2015

    Agreed. There are always people who try to take a good idea too far.
    “Moderation is best in all things” (from the Greek poet Hesiod, c.700 bc)

  • Jaime Saldarriaga
    Posted at 10:59 am, July 7, 2015

    Any new development must be carefully known and evaluated.

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