6 Most Relevant Agile Technical Practices For Your Next Project

One of the things that set Agile software development vs traditional methodologies apart is that, when you adopt Agile, you get to run frequent tests on software.

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by Matias Emiliano Alvarez Duran


And it’s only by constantly iterating on features and deliverables that you can guarantee a high-quality end product. 

But getting too caught up in testing can be frustrating and unproductive. 

Agile technical practices are methods for keeping your code clean and bug-free, shortening time-to-market, and ensuring productivity and team engagement. The most common practices are test-driven development (TDD), keeping technical debt low, refactoring, continuous integration, pair programming, and automated testing. Want to know more?

In this article, we’ll explain each Agile technical practice in detail and provide examples of how we use them at NaNLABS. 

Table of contents

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The importance of adopting the right Agile technical practice 

Agile is much more than a work methodology; it’s a toolbox that contains a tool for different business scenarios. Some of those tools are Agile technical practices. 

Technical practices allow Agile software development teams to ensure they’re delivering working software that's tidy (i.e. the code is properly structured, formatted, and architected) and easier to scale. 

If you don’t use the right Agile technical practices, it won’t necessarily mean that you’ll negatively impact software functionality, but you’ll certainly make it more difficult to maintain and extend in the long term.

Another tool in your Agile toolbox is Agile software development frameworks like Kanban, Scrum, Lean, and SAFe. Often, Agile technical practices complement these frameworks in various ways.

The most relevant Agile technical practices you should be aware of

When using Scrum, Agile technical principles are a way to configure the sprints beforehand, improve team delivery, and other Agile software development metrics. Let’s take a look at the most common Agile technical practices. 

1. Test-Driven Development (TDD) 

Test-driven development (TDD) is an Agile approach that aims to increase the quality of the end product by testing the code from the very beginning. For this practice to work, developers begin the lifecycle by writing an automated test code instead of the code itself. 

The test includes the criteria the code should have in order to pass, and programmers run the test without having actually written the code. That test is meant to fail so that developers know what to write in the second stage to make the code work and pass the test next time.  

Next, the developers rewrite the code and include functionalities that will make the test pass. Once the results of the behavior-driven development are green (pass), programmers will need to refactor the code. That is, making the lines of code cleaner without modifying the end result. 

“TDD takes a little bit of time if you’re not used to it. You need to write a test for each feature, make it fail, write the code to fix the errors, run the test again, and iterate it until you get to a solution that covers all the different scenarios,” said Juan Sinnott, a NaNLABS QA Automation Engineer. 

“If you’re starting to introduce tests in an existing project, I’d recommend to focus on specific parts of the code and then progressively start covering the most important parts of the codebase.” 

Some benefits of TDD include:

✅ Being able to point out bugs or mistakes in each feature easily instead of testing a big chunk of code and trying to guess where it’s failing

✅ Writing cleaner code long-term because developers only write what they need to pass the test 

✅ Documenting is easy because by running each test, you’re automatically creating a record of it.

Some of TDD's disadvantages are:

❌ It can be a time-consuming process, especially for non TDD experienced developers

❌ Product owners might not be on board with the idea because they tend to think that takes longer and increases the budget

❌ For teams that don’t see the long-term value, it can feel frustrating to adapt tests when requirements evolve or change.

2. Technical debt 

Debt is something that you borrow today with the promise of paying back in the future. Technical debt is a decision made during the Agile software development lifecycle that you’ll need to revisit/payback later in the development process with more work. 

The most common areas that are compromised to shorten time-to-market are architecture and quality. 

Some benefits of creating technical debt: 

  • Shortening the time to market by compromising the quality of the code or architecture

  • Increasing competitive advantage by delivering a new feature or product faster than the competition. 

Some disadvantages of this technical practice: 

  • Jeopardizing quality to meet the deadline 

  • Causing your team to rework in the future and having longer development lifecycles to fix the issue

  • Teams that don’t “pay” the tech debt on time slow down velocity and have regression issues in the long term.

3. Refactoring 

Code refactoring is the process of rewriting lines of code to make them cleaner and more efficient without modifying the external behavior. Refactoring is helpful to keep the code easy to understand and modifiable by other team members. 

The benefits of refactoring are 

  • Reduced technical debt because cleaner code makes developers’ work easier in the future 

  • Capacity for code to be reused as code modules in other projects 

  • Improved team performance and morale because they’ll learn to write cleaner and more maintainable code. 

The disadvantages are

  • It can be time-consuming to manipulate and clean poorly written code 

  • It can lead to developers deleting important parts of the code if there are no tests to help them in the process

  • It can be expensive for clients because refactoring increases delivery times. 

4. Continuous integration

Continuous integration (CI), also called continuous delivery or deployment, is a technical practice that’s set up at the beginning of the lifecycle and revisited by the end of each sprint or user story. 

CI promotes the daily review and integration of changes to the version control repository. CI is especially useful when your team is using different Agile software development tools and ensures your work is coordinated.

With CI, team members are always making sure changes are added to the code repository, tested and integrated in a similar production environment.  

If you wait until you have a sustainable amount of code before integrating it to a staging environment, it’s going to be harder to check for issues and fix mistakes. However, constantly integrating small changes into the codebase helps you have cleaner and bug-free software. 

Some benefits of using continuous delivery include

  • Running faster tests and code analysis because you’re doing it to small chunks of code

  • Testing more than functionality, since CI also runs integration and system tests

  • Helping team members to find any overlaps or incompatibilities in the work that’s being parallelized. 

Some disadvantages of CI are

  • A steep learning curve to set up the CI mechanism if your team members haven’t done it before

  • Legacy systems are not compatible with CI.

5. Pair programming 

Pair programming is exactly what the name suggests; an Agile technical practice that allows two programmers to work on software development together. This can be done in person or remotely, but they need to be able to share screens while writing the code. 

For this technique to work, both developers need to be familiar with the programming language. Also, each developer must have a different role for a period of time and then switch to reduce the mistakes. 

The two roles of pair programming are driver and navigator. The driver writes the code while the navigator directs and reviews it. They’ll switch roles every 15-60 minutes. 

Some benefits of this practice include

  • Fewer bugs and better overall quality because having two people watching and working on the code makes it easier to point out mistakes

  • Better project durability since two people are familiar with the code, it makes project continuity easier in case one of them has to leave the assignment 

  • Increased morale. Having a partner in a usually solitary type of work boosts engagement while allowing developers to learn from each other and be more accountable for their work.

Some disadvantages of pair programming are

  • Increased costs, because two developers means double the price

  • It’s not sustainable long-term since this practice has to be done at specific moments of software developments (around 2 hours), this can’t be the way they write all the code. 

6. Automated testing 

It’s clear by now that testing is a crucial part of software development, but doing it can cause team members to invest a lot of their time writing and maintaining those tests. That goes against the Agile goal of delivering working software fast, especially when building a prototype or the first MVP version of your product.

Automated testing was created to make manual tests more accurate and efficient by conducting unit tests in an automated way. By configuring automated tests like test doubles throughout the development lifecycle, the testing process is more accurate and easier for developers. 

These kinds of tests can be done for units, functions, integrations, and customer acceptance.

Some benefits of automated testing are:

  • Reduced manual testing time and human errors in the process

  • Increased quality because you get to spot bugs easily

  • Simplified complex tests, and automation allows you to run or validate complex manual tests easily.

Some disadvantages of this practice are:

  • It can be pricey to implement

  • It’s not 100% reliable since some setups might make it overlook some issues. 

There are several Agile technical practices, these are six we use the most at NaNLABS.

How we apply Agile technical practices at NaNLABS  

As Frank Sinatra would say, at NaNLABS, we have Agile under our skin and deep in our hearts. That’s why we make use of these practices only when needed, and not all at the same time. 

Abusing these practices will cause teams to go against one of the Agile solid principles, which is to deliver working software frequently in the shortest possible timescales (a couple of weeks to a couple of months).

At NaNLABS, we use TDD, CI, and refactoring the most. For example, when we take on a brownfield project (i.e. pre-existing software that needs revamping), it’s common that we’ll refactor the code to make it cleaner and more efficient. We did this for HyreCar.

One of the practices that we use to onboard and coach new team members is pair programming. Recently, we brought three new team members to WootCloud. It led to a quicker team ramp-up, higher team morale, and it increased code reutilization by 30%.

Related Post: An Introduction to Test-driven Development in Agile

Which Agile technical practice should you use for your next project?

Choosing the right Agile technical practices is not an easy task, you should consider your budget, deadlines, and main limitations. Also, you must ask yourself what is it that you need to achieve with these practices. 

You may need to write cleaner code, make improvements to existing software, shorten your time-to-market, or ensure the highest quality. Once you have the answer to that question, you can use this chart to make an educated decision:

Agile technical practices serve different purposes, this guide will help you choose the right one for your project.

You can also partner up with a software agency that can help you define your lifecycle setup for you. At NaNLABS, we’ve been doing that for over 9 years. We’ve transformed the way our clients build software, and we can do that for your business as well. 

 Ready to build your own custom software with a team that cares about you and your processes? We’re not code monkeys, we care about you

Frequently asked questions about Agile technical practices

What is Agile methodology?

Agile is more than just a methodology, it’s an iterative way to approach software development to ensure fast delivery and high-quality working software. It’s based on the Agile manifesto that explains how it values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  • Working software over comprehensive documentation

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  • Responding to change over following a plan

Why should you use Agile methodology?

Using the Agile methodology to do software development is the best approach for time-pressing projects. Unlike other traditional development methodologies like Waterfall, Agile doesn’t get caught up in technicalities but focuses on actually writing code. 

Also, Agile software development is iterative and ensures constant testing as part of the process, which leads to higher quality results in less time.  

What are Agile technical practices?

Agile technical practices are a way to set up the development lifecycle and include relevant steps in the process to deliver the cleanest and most efficient code in the future. Agile technical practices have a clear long-term benefit that means doing the work now to make it easier for the future. Some common technical practices are:

  • Test-driven development (TDD)

  • Technical debt

  • Refactoring

  • Continuous integration

  • Pair programming

  • Automated testing

  • Extreme programming

What are 3 Agile technical practices?

There are several Agile technical practices that fit different purposes. The most common ones are

  • Continuous integration or continuous delivery. This involves daily check-ins on changes to the codebase repository, testing them automatically, and integrating them in a production-like environment.

  • Refactoring. This means modifying the code to make it cleaner and more efficient without changing the external behavior. 

  • Test-driven development (TDD). Thismeans testing the first step in the development process. Once the test fails, developers can start writing the code.

What is Agile Technical Practices Distilled? 

Agile Technical Practices Distilled is the name of the book co-written by Alessandro Di Gioia, Pedro M. Santos, and Marco Consolaro. It’s an explanation of Agile values, principles and technical practices. They share most of the practices covered in this article, and they also tap into some software design-relevant practices.

Related Post: Ensuring Continuous Improvement in Agile Through Retrospectives

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