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What Is Agile?

What is Agile?

Whether you've been learning how to be a Front-End, Back-End, or Full-Stack Developer, you may have come across the concept of Agile software development. It's a popular term today, though many people aren't sure how it compares to its main counterpart, waterfall development.

If you're curious about what Agile software development is and how developers implement Agile, then you'll want to keep reading — or watch the video below.

Why do we create software?

People design and develop software to turn a specific idea into a reality. That idea should solve a problem that people have now or will have in the near future.

Let's take, for example, messaging apps. You probably have at least a couple of messaging apps on your phone, and you can probably name a few more. But, suppose that you wanted to create a new messaging app.

The first question you might ask is, "How is my messaging app better than the others out there?" With so much tight competition, you need to innovate quickly if you want your software — and your software company — to succeed.

Your messaging software needs to either do something completely new or do something better or more efficiently. To achieve this, software companies adopt two main approaches to software innovation: incubation and iteration.

Incubating waterfalls

The incubation approach to software development is a bit the way it sounds. Teams of Software Developers incubate by:

  • Thinking about an idea for a while
  • Doing the necessary research
  • Developing the software

The result of the incubation approach is a full-fledged product that works as intended from the beginning. Rather than being presented as a work-in-progress, incubation products appear on the scene ready to go. You might even say they "waterfall" into the market.

Agile iteration

The iteration approach to software development is quite different from the waterfall approach. Rather than come out with a rich, full-featured software product, iterative software development results in a relatively barebones product, known as a minimum viable product.

The goal of the iterative, or Agile, approach to software development is to come up with the simplest product that people will want to use. Once the product is released, developers continue to apply Agile methods by:

  • Fixing bugs
  • Making improvements
  • Adding new features based on client/market demand

4 Values of Agile

The Agile approach can be used for any software project, whether you're developing an app with Go or Swift or working on back-end development with PHP. But, while Agile involves specific software development workflows, it's much more than that.

Agile is a holistic approach to company culture. In fact, there's an entire Agile manifesto authored by the original developers of the Agile approach back in 2001. The Agile approach incorporates four main values.

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

While any Agile developer would agree that processes and tools are helpful during software development, individuals and teams should carefully consider which ones to use.

While the traditional approach might be to justify why an established process or tool shouldn't be utilized, Agile developers always first ask why a process or tool should be used.

2. Working software over comprehensive documentation

Have you ever played a board game that takes an hour to figure out before you start having fun? Agile developers hate those kinds of games.

The same is true for software that requires you to read through a ton of documentation or instructions before you can start using it. Instead, Agile developers aim to create software that's as intuitive and simple to use as possible.

3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Contracts are necessary for any business, but Agile developers see their clients as more than someone sitting across the negotiation table.

Successful Agile development means involving the customer at all stages of the development process through daily meetings, transparency, and constant feedback.

4. Responding to change over following a plan

Change happens all the time, usually when you least expect it. An Agile approach means that the software development team is alert to external changes that affect the product and willing to immediately adjust the development plan to respond to the change.

12 principles of Agile

Along with these four values, the Agile approach embraces 12 principles, which can be found in the Agile Manifesto. If English isn't your first language, no problem — the Agile Manifesto is available in almost 70 languages.

Many methodologies implement Agile values, from just-in-time frameworks to methodologies adapted from the lean principles of manufacturing. Let's explore the scrum methodology — one of the most popular ways to implement Agile software development.

Sprints are the backbone of scrum

Even after Agile developers release the first version of a software product, the work doesn't stop there. Developers then gauge and prioritize which software features should come out next.

Just like the original software, Agile updates are incremental. The development cycles for these small-scale updates are called sprints, which last anywhere from a week to a month. We go more into sprints in another article.

Sprints are short-term, keeping with Agile values. If something needs to be changed in the middle of a sprint, Software Developers rethink the plan and adjust the sprint goals and time accordingly.

The daily scrum

In keeping with the collaboration and interaction values of Agile, sprint projects include daily scrums, which are brief meetings to discuss progress, feedback, changes, and next steps.

These meetings are often done with everyone standing to keep people focused on each other instead of their phones and computers.

The scrum master

As you can imagine, multiple sprints take a lot of team effort, especially when time is tight and requirements change at the last minute. That's why there's always a scrum master — who keeps an eye on the entire sprint team.

The scrum master isn't always a technical expert but instead focuses on the project management side of the sprint to make sure that team members stay motivated and manage their time well.

What else should developers know?

Now that you understand what Agile is and how it's different from waterfall development, you'll want to make sure you're learning the right hard skills too.

Whether you're interested in becoming a Front-End Developer, Back-End Developer, Full-Stack Developer, or something else, our Career Paths can help you figure out which skills you need to succeed in your new career.


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Michael Klein

Michael Klein is a freelancer with a love for statistics, data visualization, and his cat. When he’s not writing for Codecademy, he enjoys geostatistics with R and playing with agent-based models.

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