In any project — whether it’s a piece of software, a new product or feature, or even a revamped process — your end goal is ultimately the same: to provide value. But the process of getting there can take different forms.
With a traditional approach such as Waterfall, the process is sort of like one long line. You plan the entire project, you execute it, and then you finally determine if the project was successful.
While that approach seems streamlined and straightforward on the surface, it lacks flexibility. There are few (if any) chances to evaluate and then course-correct if necessary. It’s a lot like setting out on a road trip and not knowing if you’re even heading in the right direction until you’ve reached your final destination.
Agile is the opposite of that. It’s an iterative approach that allows you to deliver value faster and at far more frequent intervals. Sticking with our road trip example, you can make frequent pit stops to reflect on your trip progress, revisit your map, and confirm you’re still heading the right way.
It’s become the default approach for most software teams — and for good reason. It’s customer-driven, builds in plenty of room for feedback, and allows teams and companies to immediately react to changes without derailing an entire project.
Whether you’re learning about Agile for the first time or want a refresher on the basics, this roundup of Agile software development best practices has what you need to get your team up and running so you can do what Agile does best: deliver fast and frequent value.
What is Agile software development?
The best way to understand Agile software development is to think about what it means to be agile. It means you’re nimble and quick-thinking. You’re able to respond to things without a lot of lag and downtime.
That’s the crux of Agile development. As the Agile Alliance explains, Agile is actually an umbrella term for all of the different frameworks and practices that teams use to express the Agile Manifesto.
We’ll get to the detailed principles of the manifesto in a little bit. But for now, what you need to know is that Agile development doesn’t tackle software in one long line. It breaks work into shorter increments called “sprints.” These are short, repeatable phases that are usually anywhere from one to four weeks long.
At the end of each sprint, the team gets together to discuss the sprint, gather feedback, and figure out how to make the next sprint even better. This is typically done with two different (but frequently confused) meetings:
- Sprint review: Discuss progress on the product itself
- Sprint retrospective: Discuss the team’s work together and how their communication, systems, and processes can improve
Remember how Agile focuses on delivering value sooner? The goal with each sprint is to produce a deliverable — you’re creating something that’s complete and, ideally, at least somewhat shippable.
In short, you aren’t waiting for months to have something ready to go. With the Agile software development life cycle (SDLC), your focus is on getting the software up and running in the shortest amount of time possible so you can gather feedback and improve on it moving forward.
3 reasons to implement the Agile methodology
Before you buy into any Agile development best practices, you understandably want to know that it’s worth the effort. Fortunately, Agile offers a number of advantages for teams, organizations, and even end users.
Flexibility is one of the biggest selling points of Agile. When using Agile methodology, you aren’t locked into a rigid project plan. You have built-in wiggle room to evaluate your progress, collect feedback, and make strategic and informed changes.
That ability to roll with the punches is crucial, particularly in a field as fast-moving as software development.
Additionally, since Agile development is broken into sprints, there are more opportunities to identify potential risks, roadblocks, and challenges and navigate around them — meaning fewer delays and less frustration.
That level of adaptability doesn’t just help the software team feel a little more calm and collected — it serves the customers, too.
Because Agile teams are constantly collecting and responding to feedback, they’re able to produce a more relevant and even higher-quality product. Put simply, they keep their finger on the pulse of what customers want and are able to build software to meet that specific need.
One of the Agile project management best practices is to meet daily (don’t worry — more on that in a minute). The intent isn’t to clog up people’s calendars but to facilitate improved communication on the team.
Agile requires a lot of discussion and feedback in a variety of different meetings and ceremonies. This helps the team stay on the same page and efficiently work toward the same objective, rather than feeling like they’re operating in different orbits.
Agile software development best practices
Agile development certainly has its selling points. But to reap the benefits, software and project teams need to know how to get Agile right.
Fortunately, it’s built on several helpful guiding principles that empower teams to go beyond jargon and actually put the methodology into action. Let’s break down six different Agile software development best practices so you and your team can get the most out of this approach.
1. Understand the Agile Manifesto
As you build your understanding of Agile, you’re sure to come across the Agile Manifesto. It’s a document that was created by 17 software development practitioners in 2001 who wanted to outline the shared values that should steer Agile development.
The manifesto spells out four values, which are the overarching beliefs that guide all of Agile. These include:
- 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 the fundamental values. They sound simple in theory, but the authors knew that they’re tougher to embody in reality — which is likely why they were inclined to write them down in the first place. So they also detailed 12 different principles that detail how Agile teams should work and interact:
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
- Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
- Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
- The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
- Working software is the primary measure of progress.
- Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
- Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Consider the manifesto your crash course on Agile. It’s crucial for you and your team to have some familiarity with the basics before you adopt the methodology for yourselves.
2. Meet daily
You’ll notice that one of the principles noted that people — whether they’re developers or other project team members — need to work together daily throughout the project.
That might sound obvious and like an easy box for you to check. But are your team members really working together daily? Or are they simply working on shared projects concurrently — without necessarily communicating and collaborating?
Agile isn’t about labeling a group as a “team” simply because they’re assigned to the same project. To truly execute Agile software development, you need to commit to meeting daily (it can be short — usually just 15 minutes!) to pinpoint challenges and discuss progress. This type of meeting is called a “daily standup,” and it’s one of the many types of Agile meetings.
3. Showcase work during sprint reviews
Remember that a sprint review and a sprint retrospective are two different meetings. You don’t want them to become repeats of each other.
Your sprint review should happen on the last day of the sprint, but ahead of your retrospective. During the review, remember to keep the team’s focus exclusively on the work. This should include demonstrating what was created, collecting feedback about the product, updating the product backlog, and preparing for the next sprint.
This isn’t the opportunity to improve the team’s culture or systems — that’ll happen in the retrospective.
4. Work closely with customers
The primary principle of Agile development is to satisfy the customer. That’s hard to do without any interaction.
Agile software development doesn’t collect customer requests and expectations upfront and then deliver on them months later, with nothing but radio silence in between. Agile puts your work out to your customers regularly so you can gather their feedback in real time and build software that actually meets (or exceeds) their expectations.
5. Keep teams motivated
As detailed as Agile development might seem, it’s not prescriptive. Agile teams should be self-organizing, which means they come together to identify, prioritize, and assign the work rather than waiting on a manager to do that for them. As the Agile principles state, they should also be built around motivated individuals.
But making it through sprint after sprint can also be taxing, making it particularly challenging to keep team members motivated throughout the process.
Organizations need to find ways to keep the team energized through efforts like:
- Clearly illustrating how they’re providing value to the customer and the entire company
- Providing adequate resources and support to get the work done (without micromanaging)
- Keeping cameras on during remote Agile meetings to fuel a sense of teamwork
- Dedicating time in retrospectives to celebrate what the team did well
These fuel a sense of camaraderie, connection, and, perhaps most importantly, motivation.
6. Focus on backlogged items
In Agile, your product backlog is like your master to-do list — it outlines the tasks the development team needs to accomplish to create or improve a product. The most important items are listed at the top.
It’s different from a typical to-do list, though, as the prioritized items can continuously change. You’ll update your product backlog during your regular sprint reviews, so you can keep the entire team aligned and focused on exactly what they need to work on.
Agile best practices for Kanban
Agile is an umbrella term, which means there are plenty of individual frameworks underneath it. Agile is what you’re trying to achieve and the frameworks are the way you make it happen.
Much like Agile itself, Kanban has its own principles and core practices. While a lot of them mirror and support the broader values of Agile, there are a few noteworthy practices that make Kanban stand out.
- Limit work in progress: The team needs to agree on a limit to how many tasks can be allowed in each stage of the workflow at one time
- Actively manage the workflow: The project manager should keep an eye out for bottlenecks and make adjustments as necessary
- Create process guidelines: This is typically done with a checklist that details what is required for a card to move to the next stage
While Agile still does put people over processes, Kanban leans into the process side of things a little more.
Agile best practices for Scrum
When you think about the basics of Agile, you probably think about Scrum — it’s the most widely used and popular Agile framework. In fact, Scrum and Agile are often used interchangeably. Scrum is a “lightweight” framework, focused mostly on breaking work down into sprints.
That means all of the Agile best practices in project management we already discussed hold water. However, there are a few other important things to know about Scrum:
- Appoint a Scrum master: Teams are still self-organizing, but they need to appoint a Scrum master. This is the person tasked with serving the team by facilitating meetings, removing roadblocks, ensuring effective communication, and providing coaching and guidance.
- Ensure transparency: Transparency is one of the core pillars of Scrum. All members of the team should be able to see and access all aspects of the project. While face-to-face communication is still important, Scrum teams benefit from project management software or a single source of truth where all of the project information is accessible to everyone.
Master the Agile methodology with Wrike
The Agile methodology is all about iterative development, and having the right tools will support you and your team as you (and your software) get better and better. Wrike has all of the features and resources you need to manage sprints, backlogs, and more, including:
- Centralized communication and collaboration for the entire team and all stakeholders
- Customizable views so the team can view and organize work as a list, board, table, Gantt chart, and more
- Relevant templates (such as the sprint planning template and Agile teamwork template) to support Agile teams
To adopt this flexible way of working, you need a tool that’s just as flexible — and Wrike is your companion in using Agile development to support your team and satisfy your customers. Get started with a two-week free trial of Wrike today.