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What is agile software development and how can it benefit you?

By John Cleary
20/02/2020

What is agile software development and how can it benefit you?

The world of programming and application development can seem foreign and alienating to those outside of it. Complex terminology is bandied about the office in the same way people talk about the weather or their commute, making the field unapproachable to those not in the know. We have a tendency to immerse ourselves in our own sectors, often forgetting others have a much different worldview.

We don’t do enough to dispel the mystique that surrounds the industry. By clearing the air and making sure everyone knows everything they need to, we can make the collaborative B2B relationship easier for everyone involved.

One such term we see often is “agile software development”. When we talk about agile approaches, it can be accompanied by even more confusing terms – sprints, continuous integration, automated deployment. But we want to lift the veil on these terms and show you they don’t have to be so opaque. Let’s dive into the world of agile software development.

What is agile software development?

The concept of agile comes from one of the most unassuming places. The Agile Manifesto website lays out the core beliefs that make up agile development. They distil the idea into four values:

  • Individuals and interactions
  • Working software
  • Customer collaboration
  • Responding to change

So when developers talk about integrating an agile mindset, what they are saying is the focus is squarely on the people at the heart of this project. The people can include those close to the development, be they developers or a client company, or the user.

It’s also about maintaining fluidity throughout, hence “responding to change”. It’s about acknowledging that development is inherently turbulent and you will hit road bumps along the way. But how you respond to those road bumps is the key to an agile approach.

So it might sound like a foreign concept on the surface, but agile software development is easy to put in simple terms: it’s about working in a collaborative, flexible way to develop a user-oriented final product. Every step of the way you will ask yourself “what do we need to do for the user?”

The benefits of agile software development

Working with agility is about continuous improvement, working at pace, and improving quality – all of which are universally important in any business setting. This approach reaps benefits not just for you, but for everyone involved. Most of all, the client – you – benefits. The agile approach encourages a quick back-and-forth, meaning they are usually quicker to respond to your development requests. Features you deem critical are delivered with haste.

Agile also helps the development company; both the managers and the wider team. It’s an inclusive environment where everyone feels they can contribute. They can contribute both their best ideas and their best work. They feel valued, which increases productivity, in turn resulting in something you can benefit from.

Project managers have a greater grasp on the project as a whole, allowing them to plan and track production in a more concrete way. The agile approach allows them to stay aware of its progress, meaning they can more effectively manage and lead, as is their role. They can catch and address issues before they become roadblocks, making for a smoother process throughout.

That’s agile software development broken down for you, but what about the other jargon often associated with it? They too aren’t necessarily confusing when you break them down. Let’s take a look at some of the more prominent terminology.

Continuous integration

This has a name that is self-explanatory. It’s about integrating different parts of the application’s code – that come from different teams – throughout the process instead of waiting until the end. In basic terms, anything new is being collected and integrated together as and when it is ready to avoid any issues later on.

This ensures you solve any issues as they arise, rather than waiting until later into the project and ending up in a panic. Code also has to go through an automatic process that tests it before integrating it into the wider code, stopping any large problems from rearing their head.

Feature toggle

This has a similarly obvious name. Feature toggles are effectively switches that can be turned on and off in the code to test certain situations without upsetting or halting the progress of the project.

This means if one person wants to test a certain aspect they can do without slowing down anyone else. This keeps the project moving at a smooth pace and doesn’t mean certain developers have to suffer through downtime.

Automated deployment

Every application needs testing in a live environment before it can be released. You need to be sure it works as intended, after all. But it is another part of the process that eats up your time. So automated deployment is used to cut down this time. Now, you can push your code to be tested with a click of a button potentially. 

In essence, it’s a quicker, automated way of testing your application. It means developers can carry on doing what they do best and, in the end, should help your product hit the market faster. And if there are problems, you know them ahead of time, allowing you to fix them immediately.

Test-driven development

Test-driven development (TDD) breaks down the development cycle into smaller chunks. The idea is to take a specific piece of code and improve it just enough that it passes its “test” (whatever that may be for that specific piece of code). It may sound like an overly simplistic approach, but it actually avoids any unnecessary coding, ensuring the lean code is capable of doing what it should to.

TDD keeps all members of the team at their most productive. With so many small tests to complete, everyone is working to complete something at all times. And by testing as they go along, it reduces the need to go back and fix any bugs at the end of production.

Sprints

This may be a term you’ve heard before. Sprints have become one of the most popular modern techniques used in application development. A “sprint” is a set period of time where a specific work is completed to hit a specific goal. At the end of the sprint, you review the work and either accept or reject it. Then the next sprint begins, typically lasting the same amount of time.

Sprints are effective because they take what can be a lengthy process and cut it into more digestible chunks. With defined goals over a set period of time, everyone can be more productive because they have a concrete idea they are working towards. It also allows you to review progress at regular intervals, feeding back as you need to. 

All of these terms meet the criteria laid out at the start; they respect the individuals in the process, they focus on creating working software, they encourage collaboration, and they accept change as something to appreciate, not fear. In the end, they will create a final product you can be proud of and that you know works because you’ve been in the loop throughout.

Beneath all the jargon is an approach that actually makes the development process more accommodating to clients. So if you’re looking for a collaborative partner for your next project and they mention agile development, you know exactly what to expect. And you’ll be ready to do exactly what you need to do.

At Createk, we embrace agile development and open collaboration. We understand the user should be at the heart of what we create and that our clients should be a key part of the development process. If you would like to discuss your next project, feel free to get in touch with us on 0330 995 0685.

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