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Benefits and Challenges of Agile Development

Agile development methodologies grew out of the real-life experiences of software professionals who were tired of the challenges and limitations of the traditional waterfall methodology. The Agile approach is promoted by a direct response to the issues associated with traditional software development – both in terms of overall philosophy as well as specific processes.

Although there are many benefits of an Agile model, there are also a number of common challenges that prevent many teams from successfully scaling Agile processes out to the Enterprise level.

Benefits of Agile Development

Agile is a powerful tool for software development. It not only provides process and efficiency benefits to the development team, but also a number of important business benefits to the organization as a whole. Agile helps product teams deal with many of the most common project pitfalls (such as cost, schedule predictability and scope creep) in a more controlled manner. By reorganizing and re-envisioning the activities involved in custom software development, Agile achieves those same objectives in a leaner and more business-focused way.

Here are the 9 primary benefits of an Agile methodology:

1. Improved Quality

One of the greatest benefits of an Agile framework is improved product quality. By breaking down the project into manageable units, the project team can focus on high-quality development, testing, and collaboration. Also, by producing frequent builds and conducting testing and reviews during each iteration, quality is improved by finding and fixing defects quickly and identifying expectation mismatches early.

By adopting Agile software development practices, organizations can deliver solutions on time and with a higher degree of client and customer satisfaction. By incorporating the ability to change, they are better able to incorporate feedback from demos, usability testing, and customers into the product.

2. Focus on Business Value

Another one of the primary benefits of Agile is an increased focus on delivering strategic business value by involving business stakeholders in the development process. By doing so, the team understands what’s most important and can deliver the features that provide the most business value to their organization.

3. Focus on Users

Agile development uses user stories with business-focused acceptance criteria to define product features. By focusing features on the needs of real users, each feature incrementally delivers value, not just an IT component. This also provides the opportunity to beta test software after each Sprint, gaining valuable feedback early in the project and providing the ability to make changes as needed.

4. Stakeholder Engagement

An Agile process provides multiple opportunities for stakeholder and team engagement – before, during, and after each Sprint. By involving the different types of stakeholders in every step of the project, there is a high degree of collaboration between teams. This provides more opportunities for the team to truly understand the business’ vision, deliver working software early, and frequently increases stakeholders’ trust. Stakeholders are encouraged to be more deeply engaged in a project since trust has been established in the team’s ability to deliver high-quality working software.

5. Transparency

Another benefit of Agile software development is that it provides a unique opportunity for clients or customers to be involved throughout the project. This can include prioritizing features, iteration planning and review sessions, or frequent software builds containing new features. However, this also requires customers to understand that they are seeing a work in progress in exchange for this added benefit of transparency.

6. Early and Predictable Delivery

By using time-boxed, fixed schedule Sprints of 1-4 weeks, new features are delivered quickly and frequently, with a high level of predictability. This also provides the opportunity to release or beta test the software earlier than planned if there is sufficient business value.

7. Predictable Costs and Schedule

Because each Sprint is a fixed duration, the cost is predictable and limited to the amount of work that can be performed by the team in the fixed-schedule time box. Combined with the estimates provided prior to each Sprint, the company can more readily understand the approximate cost of each feature, which improves decision making about the priority of features and the need for additional iterations.

8. Allows for Change

Another key benefit of an Agile methodology is that, unlike a Waterfall model, it allows for change. While the team needs to stay focused on delivering an agreed-to subset of the product’s features during each iteration, there is an opportunity to constantly refine and reprioritize the overall product backlog. New or changed backlog items can be planned for the next iteration, providing the opportunity to introduce changes within a few weeks.

9. Promotes RPA at Scale

Lastly, a key benefit of applying an Agile methodology to RPA (Robotic Process Automation) initiatives is that it facilitates automation at scale. Agile principles like dedicated teams, upfront design, maintaining a backlog, and sprint planning and retrospectives, give automation teams the flexibility and control to govern and develop complex, end-to-end processes at scale, at a much more efficient and effective rate than a traditional waterfall approach does.

Challenges of Agile Development

Although there are many benefits of Agile software development, there are also a number of common challenges that prevent many teams from successfully scaling Agile processes out to the enterprise level. In Forrester’s State of Agile 2017: Agile at Scale development study, both large and small firms cited the following as the top 3 barriers to Agile adoption:

1. People’s behavioral change:

Changing the way people work is difficult — the habits and culture of a large development organization are typically deeply ingrained. People naturally resist change, and when confronted with an Agile transformation, you may often hear people say things like, “that’s the way we’ve always done it around here,” or “that won’t work here.” Accepting change means accepting the possibility that you might not currently be doing things the best way, or even worse, it may challenge a person’s long-held values. It’s easy for people to keep their old behaviors and processes—unless there is an exceptionally good reason to make a change.

2. Lack of skilled product owners from the business side:

The Business Requirements Document (BRD) has been used for decades. Yes, it has its shortcomings, but it’s familiar. Most of the people involved in requirements – primarily business stakeholders and Business Analysts (BAs) – are new to Agile. They don’t understand user stories and hesitate to give up the BRD for something different because they view it as a contract between them and IT. How will they be able to control the direction of development without that contract?

Additionally, most Agile software development teams use an ALM tool, which is where user stories need to end up for decomposition into development tasks. Most business stakeholders and BAs, on the other hand, still use Microsoft Word and Excel to author requirements. This tool mismatch stifles the cross-departmental collaboration teams need to realize the full benefits of Agile.

3. Lack of dedicated cross-functional teams:

The language used in the principles behind the Agile Manifesto—which refer to the technical members of the Agile team as “developers”—has led many to think that only developers, or what many people think of as ‘coders,’ are needed within an Agile team. However, the Manifesto’s guidelines use the word developer to mean “product developer”—any cross-functional role that helps the team deliver the product.

According to the Scrum Guide, a cross-functional team is a team that is organized around customer value stream mapping and must include all competencies needed to accomplish their work without depending on others that are not part of the team. These teams deliver products iteratively and incrementally, maximizing opportunities for feedback and ensuring a potentially useful version of working product is always available.

Although cross-functional teams are certainly not a new idea, they’re still an idea that many organizations are still struggling to absorb

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