Your Guide To Agile Software Development Life Cycles

by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing

11 Feb 2021

A common misunderstanding with agile software development methodologies is that they don't follow a formal process. Each team just does their own thing with little or no planning, and somehow it all works out. Well, we hate to burst your bubble, but software development doesn't work like that, agile or not. 🤯

Just like with traditional waterfall projects, agile projects follow an agile software development life cycle (SDLC). From a process perspective, the primary difference is a linear approach with waterfall and an iterative approach with agile. We'll get into this a little more later.

First, let's walk through how an agile SDLC aligns with agile principles. Then we’ll talk about the agile SDLC in both Scrum and Kanban environments.

How the agile software development life cycle supports agile principles

The Agile Manifesto states four basic values that drive improvement in software development processes. They are:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan.

Those are great values! Now raise your hand if you remember the next sentence. Anyone?? Let us refresh your memory: "That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more."

Too often, new agile software development teams are so excited to start "doing agile" they forget to fully comprehend the entire contents of the Agile Manifesto. We get it — it's hard to remember all 68 words when you're excited. 🤓

So let's take a look at that again: The items on the right have value. That doesn't sound like you should eliminate all documentation, processes, and tools. You actually need some of those things to function efficiently as a team. At the very least, you’ll need to negotiate some type of contract if you're building software for an external stakeholder and you want to get paid.

We'd love to be able to tell you exactly how many processes and how much documentation and planning you'll need, but we can't. Part of being agile is figuring things out as you go along based on your team environment and customer needs. As your agile team matures, you'll begin to inspect and adapt the processes, tools, and project documentation your team needs to work efficiently and effectively.

Now let’s look at a couple of agile software development life cycle models.

The Scrum SDLC model

Remember earlier we talked about waterfall being linear and agile being iterative? Scrum is the perfect agile framework to highlight the difference.

The traditional waterfall model of product development requires several steps before you arrive at a final product. Waterfall projects meet the Definition of Done only after the entire project is complete and in the hands of the user or stakeholder. It's linear — a straight path from start to finish.

The agile method of Scrum, on the other hand, is iterative and adaptive. Scrum teams break the deliverables into smaller pieces with shorter time frames called sprints. The intent is to deliver slices of working software with each iteration throughout the entire product development process.

Rather than a single sprint, as shown above, a full Scrum life cycle looks more like this:

For each iteration, the team plans, develops, reviews, and deploys updates to the product functionality. As stakeholders perform acceptance testing and see the working product, they may ask for new priorities or requirements. That feedback is added to the product backlog to be prioritized with other features and work by the product owner. Then, the process starts again.

Since software is always evolving, this process repeats until the product has either matured to a maintenance level or has reached the end of its useful life and is retired.

Particularly for Scrum, planning is a huge part of the SDLC. Sprint planning brings the team together to prioritize work based on the sprint goal defined by the Product Owner. The daily standup gives the team a chance to coordinate their activities for the day. The sprint review allows the Product Owner and other stakeholders to inspect and discuss deliverables produced during the sprint. And, finally, the sprint retrospective creates the opportunity for the team to reflect on the process, team dynamics, and potential improvements for future.

Backlog refinement is also a type of planning recommended to be completed prior to a sprint planning session or at the end of a sprint. During refinement, teams can discuss the feasibility of specific functionalities or ideas for development methods to meet the acceptance criteria. They can also plan around resource availability. For example, they might consider creating extra unit tests to reduce the efforts of a tester who will be on vacation part of the next sprint.

The difference between planning in Scrum and waterfall is how much work you plan and when. Waterfall plans the entire project at the beginning. Scrum planning happens all through the development of the product, from the beginning to the end.

The Kanban agile methodology

A Kanban framework has a little different agile process. Work items aren't necessarily related to or dependent on each other. Individual team members can work asynchronously to push new code to production as soon as it's ready. Yet, Kanban is still iterative in that work items are prioritized in a backlog, and then they are developed, reviewed, and pushed to production.

New backlog items are added to the board based on the end-user feedback. The prioritization of work items is regularly reviewed and adjusted, aligning perfectly with the agile value of responding to change.

A big difference with Kanban is that instead of committing to work based on story points and team velocity, each column in the Kanban board can only hold a limited number of work items (WIP limits). This helps teams stay focused, identify bottlenecks in their process, learn where automation might be helpful, and generally understand where their process is working and where it needs a little help.

With Kanban, there is more focus on the continuous flow of work through each stage. The WIP limits help teams identify specific stages that are impeding the workflow so they can figure out the cause, fix it, and ultimately become more efficient. .

Each Kanban team can choose the columns on their board to suit their needs. The goal of Kanban is to improve the speed of work progressing through the board. Close monitoring and measuring work item movement is critical to Kanban teams.

Working with the agile software development life cycle

Whether you're working in a mature company or a startup team, there's value in an appropriate amount of documentation, tools, and process in agile software development methods. In fact, establishing an agile software development life cycle will help your team operate efficiently.

Remember to refer back to the Agile Manifesto and The 12 Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto if you get stuck. These values and principles don't apply only to what you're building but also to how your team works. The key concept behind agile frameworks is to inspect and adapt — including both the software and how you’re functioning as a team.

Use as much process and documentation as you need, but no more. Look at what you have today and identify key items you don’t think the team can function without. Then add or eliminate steps as you discover the best way for your team to work in an agile framework.

At Easy Agile, we're here to help you get the most out of your agile practices and to help you grow into a high-performance, agile team. 💪 If you want to learn more, check out our other blog articles on agile topics. And if you need help with Atlassian's Jira tool, we've got some great apps for you to try. Our Easy Agile Programs for Jira app can help your planning activities through alignment at scale and visualising dependencies.

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