Agile Software Development Life Cycle [Explained]

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Everyone has heard the word “Agile” at least once in their life, and everyone probably knows that the concept gained extreme popularity in the past decade. The pandemic validated Agile, and the latest statistics provide that 86% of software development teams adopted this methodology for their daily operations in 2021. The followers of the Agile development process say that it offers an unusually systematic approach to organizing the workflows, while the opposition considers it to be complex, non-linear, and overall confusing.

So what is Agile? Why is it on the headlines for quite some time now? Which Agile software development practices can help your team reach new heights? What are different Agile approaches to consider? Let’s dot the I’s here once and for all.

Agile lifecycle: definition and key principles

Agility is the ability to efficiently change and adapt to the evolving environment. Agile development cycle promotes the idea of software development adaptation to the changing market and business requirements.

To put the definition into perspective, let’s look at an example and comparison of Agile and traditional Waterfall software development. The latter resembles a factory-based production: the process is first drafted, then its steps are carefully defined by the Product Owner. Once the detailed plan is ready, the stakeholders approve it, and the development begins. No changes on the way are accepted with the Waterfall model as all the requirements have been agreed upon and approved by the process owners. But the problem here is that the market and hence product requirements change on the go, so any software developed on the specifications approved half a year ago would be of little use to the actual business needs.

The Agile software development life cycle also has its plan and stages (read further to learn more about them), so in part, it is similar to the Waterfall model. The main difference is in the flexibility of Agile. Its process is adaptive to the changes and allows for multiple adjustments to the process, requirements, and features through regular reiterations called sprints. Compared to traditional software development, Agile aims at delivering value to the end-users while Waterfall is more focused on following the rules and requirements. And this brings us to the Agile principles. You can read them all in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development here, but the key principles are below:

  • Change is here, and every software development team needs to adapt to it.
  • Feedback of customers and stakeholders takes priority over the approved plans.
  • Working software that satisfies the user’s needs is more valuable than extensive documentation, outlined processes, and defined tools.
  • Cross-team cooperation and conversation are the key elements to effective project delivery.
  • Software should constantly evolve to accommodate the changing needs and requirements in the market .

We understand that learning these principles by heart is useless unless you know how to apply them in daily processes. So in order to cumulate the main idea of Agile in a single sentence, we have come up with the following statement:

Development reiteration guarantees the best adaptation and product relevance to the ever-changing market demand.

Agile software development life cycle

What is Agile model in software development life cycle

Since the Agile approach is flexible and adaptive to the current development needs, it is a common misconception that there is no system underneath. Moreover, even scholarly research points in the direction of chaos developed by Agile, especially in its communicational component. While we agree that Agile does have issues, just like any other software development methodology, at ITM House, we have personally tested several available methods and came to the conclusion that Agile is the most progressive and efficient one. It has a structure and a particular set of software development life cycle phases, but its flexibility helps sculpting the process for your exact project, team, and company.

Roles in software development life cycle for Agile

The team structure in Agile is agile, pardon the tautology here. The exact number of team members depends on the project scope and company needs; however, here is a tentative generalized image of a team to give you an idea of interactions and responsibilities.

  1. Product Owner (PO): is the central project coordinator who has the technical knowledge to actively participate in the development planning as well as extensive soft skills to collect and communicate business requirements for the end product.
    1. Team Lead/Scrum Master: Team Lead is a technical person who has a daily close connection to the development team. They communicate the requirements change to the individual members and ensure correct task completion according to the PO’s plan.
      1. Development Team: This part of the structure is occupied by software architects, developers, designers, QA specialists, UX/UI experts – anyone who is involved in the actual product development.
      2. Stakeholders: In Agile SDLC, the stakeholder list includes people affected by the project success or failure. For instance, investors, senior management (for large corporations), end-users, operational staff, support, indirect product users, etc.
      3. Additional roles: These usually occur in large projects when external testing from an independent QA team is needed. Then additional expertise from an integrator or subject matter experts gets collected for the project success.

It is just a short list of roles that can facilitate your understanding of who does what in the Agile software development lifecycle. The actual team composition heavily relies on the company’s field of expertise, project scope, project requirements, and the members’ knowledge.

Agile software development process steps

The roles we outlined in the previous step are crucial to understand the Agile software development life cycle flow and processes. Each member has their own play in the completion of the Agile circle from the diagram below, so ensure that you completely understand who does what for the efficient and successful finalization of your mobile application development project.

The process of the Agile software product development life cycle is usually very straightforward and pre-defined, regardless of the methods and variation of the Agile framework you select. Below are the standardized steps with our tips on handling them smoothly in your project.

Step #1: Requirements definition

The definition of project requirements is always the first step in every software product development life cycle. It includes the preparation of initial documentation that clarifies the project:

  • scope
  • expected end result (definition of “done” + stakeholders’ expectations)
  • features to be developed
  • prospective/desired features
  • team members involved

Tip: While scrupulously working on collecting, defining, and enlisting project requirements is essential, you need to stay sane. To do so, we advise mentally dividing the product’s features into core and nice-to-have ones. This approach can help with keeping the must-have steps to a minimum, ensuring that you get the project’s direction straight at all times. At the same time, in the Agile development process, you will be reviewing those requirements with the client hence keeping them up-to-date with the changes and not altering the initial documentation much.

Note: The requirements step can and will frequently be omitted after the first iteration. It is essential at the project’s launch, but it can then be transformed into the specification review to ensure that you stay on track with the development process.

Step #2: Design

In software development, design, first of all, means wireframing of the app. At this stage, the development team (including software architects and UX/UI designers) reviews the requirements from step #1 and plans the app’s functional side (architecture) with its further interface (UI). After designers define user journeys and develop app wireframes to demonstrate the expected functionality, architects can plan for the architecture needed to support the UI.

Tip: While we stated that in the Agile software development practices, less is more (the fewer specifics you plan, the easier the process of iterations and alterations would go), the application’s architecture needs to be designed as precise and detailed as possible. UI tweaks or UX alternations are possible and will happen at the later stages of software development, while extensive changes in the app architecture may and frequently will mean that the team needs to redesign the app from scratch. This approach is costly and time-consuming. So it is better to plan your architecture with growth, expansion and new features in mind to ensure that when a designed UI needs a button for the user, your app backend supports this feature.

Step #2.5: Planning

Once the specification and design are prepared but before the team can get down to business and code the plans into the application, there is one more important step – planning. It is performed by the Product Owner, who collects all specification and design plans and structures them. This means that every larger idea gets broken into smaller tasks that can be completed within the sprint period (one week, two weeks, four weeks, etc.) depending on the Agile software development methods selected. The smaller tasks are grouped into larger chunks for a particular feature or application functionality for easier navigation among them. And then, the PO drops all of them into a backlog of a (usually) JIRA project. Each task has its own prioritization based on its value to the project and dependencies. With clear prioritization, future planning of iterations and tasks completion become simple for the team, the PO, and even the client.

Step #3: Development

Development is the heart of Agile software development. This step makes up the largest part of the iteration (about 90%). And while it is an essential phase, there is nothing much to be discussed here. The development team takes the tasks prioritized in the backlog and begins completing them one by one. At this point, PO steps a bit back only monitoring the overall process while Team Leads take over the reins.

Step #4: Testing

If development is the heart of any project, testing is the air. Without the quality assurance element in the development, applications and software would be bugged and not satisfying to the end-users.

During the process of testing, the QA team checks and evaluates all the new code changes and/or features developed in the sprint. The tests applied within the Agile development cycle differ depending on the project, but here is our go-to list:

  1. Unit and component tests in the development phase
  2. Exploratory and usability testing
  3. Performance and load testing
  4. Security testing
  5. Functional testing

Testing in Agile deserves a separate article, so we won’t be focusing in detail on the test types or the importance of each to the product’s success. Instead, we offer you a generalized diagram with the tests and their types (manual or automated).

Step #5: Deployment

The deployment stage is always exciting as the new version of software gets released to the end-users with new features, bug fixes, etc. It usually takes up to several hours to deliver a tested application from the lower environments to the production.

Step #6: Review

Agile software development is characterized by iterations, and regular reviews of the process with its pros and cons, problems, issues, difficulties, and wins is a standard procedure. After the iteration timeframe is completed and the app is deployed, the whole team gets together in a retro meeting to discuss their experiences of the past weeks. It is the time to identify what went well, what will need some more work, and what has to be fixed asap. Retros are held and managed by the PO with the participation of the whole development team. While not a common practice, reviews of the past iteration can also be attended by the additional roles and project stakeholders. Nonetheless, anyone’s presence should not impact the flow and discussions held at the meetings.

The main goal of a review is to improve the current process for the upcoming sprint. So do everything needed to reach it.

Tip: Hold reviews regularly but do not feel pressured into making such meetings long and tiresome. Nobody is interested in staying in a 2-hour call waiting for the PO or team lead to finish their monologue. If you can see that people are not responsive on the review day, then just share the dry facts or statistics and close the meeting. Don’t hold them longer than you actually need.

Different agile approaches

As you remember, the Agile software development process steps described above are the specific generalized elements for your project. But Agile has many shapes and sides in terms of approaches and methodologies you can select to implement. Here is a list of the leading ones. The top picks that are used interchangeably with Agile are Kanban, Scrum, and Lean development. Again, each of these methods deserves its own article with an explanation of their perks, use cases, and specifics. But we’d like to offer you some simple generalized descriptions for each of them to ensure that you select the right fit for your next project.

  • Adaptive Agile: perfect for fast and user-centric product development but demands major involvement of the end-users
  • Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD): a combination of Lean and Scrum in one bottle that aims to bring the best of Agile to a team
  • Dynamic Systems Development (DSDM): perfect for quick direction changes, this method is based on the MoSCoW prioritization approach
  • Extreme Programming (XP): tight deadlines and indecisive customers are the prerequisites for XP
  • Feature Driven Development: larger projects with long-term development perspective that are hard to hold within the traditional Agile SDL
  • Lean Software Development: for tight budgets and customers that want the minimalistic working applications as Lean cuts out all the ‘extras’
  • Kanban: helps to focus on delivery while compromising on the traditional Agile meetings and planning; guarantees continuous delivery rather than an iterative approach
  • Scrum: the most traditional version of Agile software product development life cycle; it helps to make decisions on the go rather than define everything at step #1
  • Scrumban: a more flexible approach to Kanban and Scrum that contains the perks of both; it is ideal for maintaining the ongoing projects

The bottom line

The Agile approach helps software development teams to stay flexible and adaptive to the frequent changes in the market, as well as client and end-user demands. This global methodology for developing applications and software has swept the world since its inception. Today, Agile offers a wide range of approaches from the traditional Scrum to DSDM for frequent requirement changes or Adaptive Agile for user-centric software development. The choice of a system stays in the hands of the Product Owner for a selected project, while the generalized backbone of the process steps would remain the same for all approaches.

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