Agility in system development defines the approach whereby the strategies applied in a project are conceptualized in a manner so flexible and elastic that they are entirely adjustable to the present conditions. In contrast, classical process models  define a specific succession of activities with all restrictions and predetermined artifacts in a detailed way.

Basics

Agile system development taps into the vast repository of “Best Practices” that has been stored inside the heads of project participants for a long time. Its focus is on what is workable and, therefore, it is being reapplied voluntarily in the following projects. Agile approaches increase individual freedom and nurture trust, rather than enforcing control. Agility is action, not reaction. It requires knowledge and demands the highest qualification and professionalism from each participant. Only the one who knows how the cogs interlock has the courage and competence to override imperfect rules. “Aptness, not perfection” is one of the central paradigms of agility. The focus lies on what is essential, which makes all approaches more flexible for possible adjustments to the present conditions.

Agile Process Models

The foundation for different agile strategies is the agile manifesto, on which basis several different iterative-incremental approaches have been developed. In the beginning, agile models led a niche existence and were regarded as rather exotic. By now, however, they have been established as fully valid approaches in the field of system development. The following list is a selection of well-established agile approaches:

Scrum is based on the principles of transparency, inspection and adaption, which rely on certain roles (product owner, scrum master and development team) and rituals (sprint-planning, daily scrum, sprint review and sprint retrospective). At the center of a scrum-based development process lies the sprint, which is a clearly demarcated time frame, in which a deliverable product is developed.

Extreme Programming focuses strongly on the actual development, i.e. coding, of a product. The basis for Extreme Programming are the values simplicity, communication, feedback, courage and respect. The process model uses main-practices, such as Pair-Programming, test-driven development and the collective ownership of code, which offers the developer concrete guidelines for implementation.

Kanban is not an immediate part of agile process models. It can, however, fairly easily be implemented in an agile way. Kanban consists of six principles, such as the visualization of workflow, which is outlined by columns assigned to every process step on a Kanban-board. With a pull-system in use, the requirements pass through each column of the board and therefore through each step of development.The Definition of Done defines the prerequisites for the implementation of a requirement.

 

Agile Scaled Frameworks allow for agile process models, which are usually applied within one development team only, to be combined with approaches of lean management, in order to use the advantages of agility in larger development projects.

Other agile process models, which have, however, become less significant in the last years, include The Crystal Family, Feature Driven Development (FDD) and Evo.

Agility and RE

The basic principles of Requirements Engineering  are relevant in an agile setting as well, which equally requires a well-structured use of requirements. In contrast to classic process models, the steps of Requirements Engineering are not worked through “en bloc” and only once, but are re-employed with every new iteration cycle. 

Documentation may be less significant in agile process models than in classic ones. Nevertheless, the stakeholders’ knowledge (be it the client’s or the user’s) must be communicated to the developers – which means Requirements Engineering must still be performed.

Introduction of Agility

The introduction of an agile process is a project, in which the basic principles of Change Management meet the additional challenge of established hierarchies and values. At the start of a project, the goals of the introduction of agility must be defined and the parameters of the project established.

  • Which agile approach is the most fitting and most beneficial for the company?
  • To which degree shall the agile values replace the historically-established ones?
  • How can a company-specific agile manifesto be composed?
  • In which phases of the development process should agile approaches be used?

Using agile approaches is not uniformly suitable for every company, every project and every development phase. One solution for these cases is a hybrid approach, combining agile development with classic Requirements Engineering. A hybrid approach couples the advantages of agile approaches, such as high transparency thanks to regular inspections and considerable ability to adapt thanks to short development cycles, with the structuredness and controllability of classic process models.

If one decides to introduce agility into the entire development process, a multi-step transition is a good alternative to a radical change. Traditional roles and responsibilities are compared to each other and newly distributed.

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