The Ultimate Guide to Agile Software Development

Looking to implement Agile software development practices at your organization, but not sure where to start? It can be daunting to choose a framework, decide what metrics to track, and overcome any unexpected obstacles.

1 min read

What is Agile?

Agile is a flexible and incremental approach to software development. Instead of presenting everything on a single launch date, an Agile team delivers work in short cycles or increments. During retrospectives, the project requirements, plans, and results are evaluated continuously. That way, teams can respond quickly to challenges as they arise.

Agile isn’t one specific development method, but an umbrella term for a group of methodologies. It emphasizes tight feedback loops and continuous improvement. The project lead or product owner prioritizes the work that needs to be delivered, but the team takes the lead on deciding how the work will get done.

Introducing the Agile manifesto 

The Agile Manifesto is a document outlining the central values and principles of Agile software development. It was created in February 2001 by a group of programmers and developers as a guide for teams to successfully adopt the philosophy of Agile project management and use it to improve their processes.

The Agile Manifesto outlines 4 key principles of prioritization:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation

  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

  4. Responding to change over following a plan

 The Agile Manifesto’s principles and values are a great resource for software development teams because they equip them with a flexible framework to guide their project management processes and uphold Agile best practices.

What is Agile software development? 

An Agile software development framework is used to divide a larger project into multiple phases. It fosters purposeful communication and collaboration, which helps teams keep projects on track, meet deadlines, and produce high-quality results.

Many Agile frameworks begin with a planning period—often called a “sprint”—during which tasks are assigned points based on how long they’re expected to take to complete. Work is then sorted into smaller iterations according to the team’s capacity.

Several meetings are then set up along the way to maintain team communication, such as weekly "standups," in which everyone briefly describes their current work and answers questions from fellow team members.

What are the benefits of Agile software development?

When a company implements Agile structures, they often quickly see improvements in workflow and productivity. However, Agile isn’t without its drawbacks. 

Let’s break down a few Agile software development benefits and challenges below:

The key benefits and challenges of Agile software development 

✅ Benefit 1: Improved planning and project predictability

Increased visibility into project risks, combined with the ability to predict those risks and plan effective mitigation strategies, makes it easier to run a smooth project.

✅ Benefit 2: Increased customer satisfaction

Agile methodology builds customer satisfaction and retention by involving them in decision-making throughout the project.

✅ Benefit 3: Increased team flexibility

When Agile is implemented across a project team, it gives them much more adaptability than traditional methods.

✅ Benefit 4: Higher team morale

In an Agile environment, teams organize and manage work themselves, which gives them greater autonomy and authority over their decisions.

✅ Benefit 5: Lower risk levels

Since Agile projects work in smaller sprints rather than one large delivery, there is more opportunity to identify risks and pivot to overcome them.

✅ Benefit 6: Increased overall product quality

Since frequent testing is a cornerstone of Agile methodology, the overall final product quality will be superior, and clients who are involved in the development process can ask for changes as the project progresses. 

Of course, no framework is without its drawbacks, and some teams are more suited to Agile development methodology than others.

Let’s take a look at the three main challenges that arise when implementing Agile methodology:

❌ Challenge 1: Planning takes a lot of time

Agile methodologies can require a great deal of planning and commitment, and it may be difficult to get all team members on the same page.

❌ Challenge 2: Reliance on communication

Communication is essential for Agile methods to be effective. If stakeholders are unwilling or incapable of contributing on a regular basis, product quality will suffer.

❌ Challenge 3: Some experience is required

When a team with little to no Agile experience attempts to implement a new methodology on its own, it is likely to encounter problems.

Having an experienced leader with previous knowledge of Agile processes is essential for any methodology to be effective and yield the desired results.

How to know if Agile is right for your business (and how to use it successfully)

Before deciding to implement an Agile framework, consider these factors:

  • Your team’s Agile maturity (how your team is increasing their level of agility over time)

  • Your team size

  • Your organization’s goals and reasons for wanting to implement Agile practices

  • Your specific industry (what works for software companies might not work for others)

  • Your organization’s products or value

Agile software development can benefit businesses by ensuring high-quality end products and fostering a workplace culture that values feedback and change. 

Implementing Agile from scratch when your team isn't familiar with the method can be exhausting, but hiring a team like NaNLABS as an extension of your business can help you achieve faster developer solutions, support your own team to adopt Agile methods for the first time, and seamlessly integrate into your company culture by using your preferred communication methods and productivity tools to collaborate smoothly.

Agile software development vs Waterfall: What’s the difference?

If you’ve worked at a big corporation, you may be accustomed to the linear way of working: you start by outlining an idea, define the next steps, get your team working through the plan, and review it all at the end.

If that sounds like a familiar experience, then you’re already familiar with the Waterfall method. So, what’s the big difference between Agile software development vs Waterfall? Let’s walk through it.

Agile vs. Waterfall: The key differences 

The Agile and Waterfall methodologies are both frequently used for software development projects. Each approach has its own benefits and drawbacks, depending on the needs of the project.

Here are the key differences:

Can Agile and Waterfall be used together? 

Ultimately, you don’t have to pick one methodology over the other. Agile and Waterfall can be used together. Some companies have adopted the two and created their own mixed methodology, sometimes referred to as “Scrumfall,” to cover any gaps. Here’s when this can be a good solution:

  • The client already has extensive product knowledge. They know exactly what they want, but just need help delivering it.

  • They want to rebuild an existing product. They already have a defined product, but they’re on a time crunch to make major changes.

  • They want to upgrade their product. The company already has a product but wants to increase development speed or add new features.

  • They want to simplify maintenance. The product already exists, but they need more Agile ways of keeping it current and bug-free.

When your organization uses Agile frameworks, unexpected things may occur. However, you can use elements of the Waterfall method to help prepare for those situations. Similarly, Waterfall has limited flexibility, but you can strengthen it by using the Agile software development lifecycle.

How to choose between Agile and Waterfall

Agile and Waterfall are both useful project management methodologies, but they won’t work for every project or company. 

Agile is best suited for projects that require fast resultswith minimal client interference, such as when prototyping. 

The Waterfall methodology is best for projects with high levels of client or user participation and minimal requirements changes over time.

What are Agile software development frameworks?

Agile software development frameworks are tools and methodologies that help teams stay flexible and overcome challenges. However, each specific framework will vary in structure.

There are multiple established Agile frameworks to choose from, each with its own unique traits. Let’s take a look at the most common ones and break down their differences so you can choose which one works best for your team.

4 Agile frameworks for software development

1- Scrum

When you think of a traditional Agile framework, you likely think of Scrum. It’s a popular and well-established software development methodology. Scrum.org describes it as “a lightweight framework that helps people, teams, and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.” 

A defining feature of Scrum is the way that work is divided into smaller planning periods lasting around 2-4 weeks, called “sprints.” Working within these sprints helps even small teams remain flexible and efficient.

2- Kanban

Kanban, meaning “card” or “signboard” in Japanese, relies on visual cues to facilitate planning. Tasks are categorized on cards, which are then displayed on digital or physical boards and moved into different columns as work progresses.

A few examples of columns often used on Kanban boards include:

  • Backlog/to-do

  • Stalled

  • In progress

  • In review

  • Completed

Kanban can be used in addition to other Agile methodologies, such as Scrum. For example, a team using Scrum may employ a Kanban board to place tasks into sprints and physically move them around as work progresses.

3- Lean software development

Lean software development, or LSD, is a less structured framework than other Agile methodologies. It’s meant to guide the creation of projects that balance the values outlined in the Agile Manifesto.

The 7 main principles of LSD include:

  • Eliminate waste

  • Keep learning

  • Defer decisions

  • Deliver fast

  • Empower the team

  • Build integrity in

  • See the whole

Lean development originated in the manufacturing industry and was made popular by Toyota, which sought to increase production and reduce waste on assembly lines. This framework is great for organizations on a tight budget because reducing waste helps to cut costs. 

However, Lean relies significantly on each specific team’s ability to communicate with each other and can be more difficult to scale than other Agile frameworks.

4- Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

The Scaled Agile Framework, or SAFe method, was designed to work on an enterprise level and is defined by its three pillars: Team, Program, and Portfolio. It provides flexibility for smaller teams and offers solutions to common issues encountered by large-scale companies using Agile methods.

A few other frameworks include:

  • The Crystal Method

  • Adaptive Software Development

  • Feature-driven Development (FDD)

  • Dynamic Systems Development

  • Extreme Programming

What is the Agile software development lifecycle?

The Agile software development lifecycle is the series of phases that a project goes through as it progresses from start to finish. It consists of six phases: concept, inception, iteration, release, maintenance, and retirement.

Let’s walk through each of the stages.

6 phases of the Agile software development lifecycle

1️⃣ Concept

The first phase of the lifecycle is the concept. In this stage, the product owner will determine the scope of their request. In the event that there are multiple projects, they will prioritize the most vital or time-sensitive ones.

2️⃣ Inception

After the concept has been defined, the development process can begin. The project owner selects a team of developers and designers to complete the project, who then work together to create mockups and design the architecture.

3️⃣ Iteration

The project will proceed to the iteration phase, also called the construction phase. This stage typically takes the longest since it involves most of the project construction and testing.

4️⃣ Release

After a product has been through the iteration phase, quality assurance testing is conducted by a team of experts. If any bugs are discovered, they should be addressed as soon as possible.

5️⃣ Maintenance

Once your product is released, it will enter a stage known as maintenance. In this phase of the product’s lifecycle, you need to monitor bugs and ensure that the system can continue to scale to meet user demand. You may also want to consider releasing new features to attract more users and unlock new business opportunities.

6️⃣ Retirement

When an organization determines that a product is no longer producing value, it should be removed from the market. There are two main reasons why an organization will retire a product:

  1. It’s being replaced with newer, better software

  2. It’s become obsolete within the organization’s goals or structures.

When a product is retired, the end-of-life process will begin. The development team should notify users that it’s being retired so they have an opportunity to find another solution. If the software is being replaced, then users should be shifted to the new system with as little interference to their day-to-day operations as possible.

How to nurture an Agile software development team

If you need to shorten your time-to-market, Agile pods can be an effective alternative to traditional hiring processes. You can skip over the time-consuming process of interviewing and onboarding new team members. Agile pod teams can easily merge with your company culture and deliver projects quickly and effectively.

What is an Agile pod team? 

An Agile pod team is a small group (less than 10) of self-managed people that use their expertise to plan, organize, develop, and deliver high-quality software solutions.

Agile teams are cross-functional, meaning they include people with different areas of expertise. These teams work closely with the client and each other during sprints to encourage constant iteration and promote testing at different stages to guarantee timely delivery of the best possible outcome.

How to build an Agile software development team 

Building an Agile pod requires a lot of knowledge about the client and project requirements, as well as an understanding of each team member's strengths and weaknesses.

Before you start, you’ll need to know:

  • Is your project Greenfield or Brownfield classification?

  • How will you create a well-balanced team?

  • How will your team be structured?

  • How will you align the pod and the client?

How to create an Agile software development project plan

To start creating your own Agile software development project plan, it’s important to follow these 5 steps:

1. Defining your vision

2. Roadmapping 

3. Release planning

4. Iteration planning

5. Daily standups

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

1️⃣ Defining your vision

The first step in the product development process sets the direction for the other levels of planning, and you shouldn't take it lightly. Your product vision should be aspirational—but not unrealistic to achieve. It should also reflect:

  • Your team’s unique capabilities

  • The market

  • User needs

  • User segments

  • Stakeholder needs

  • The project overview and purpose

2️⃣ Roadmapping 

To optimize your software development project plan, you must identify the most value-added features or milestones and prioritize them. This will help you meet the goals identified in your vision and ensure that you deliver on your product releases and improvements in a timely manner.

When goal setting, ask yourself these questions:

  • What problems do you need to solve?

  • How can you improve the user experience?

  • What did you learn from previous sprints?

  • What mistakes can you improve on?

Assemble your product vision, user stories, and input from stakeholders to guide you here. Consider market trajectories, value propositions, and similar constraints, and use them to express initiative and their timelines. Your roadmap should include:

  • The release goal

  • The target release date

  • Ranked user stories

3️⃣ Release planning

With Agile release planning, teams focus on incremental releases of a product rather than planning for the major release of the product as a whole. Using your roadmap and vision as a guide, break your staged releases down into smaller iterations that will be tackled in different sprints.

As a team, discuss the following questions:

  • How much time can team members commit to?

  • How can your roadmap be prioritized further?

  • Are all stakeholders aligned on the product deliverables?

  • How can previous feedback be prioritized?

While the roadmap includes the high-level milestones and requirements, the release plan includes more detailed objectives for each release.

4️⃣ Iteration planning

Iteration planning is one of the most important phases of a product's lifecycle. It allows you to:

  • Define the scope of each increment

  • Track progress

  • Make adjustments to your schedule

You’ll also need to decide on the Agile software developmentmetrics you’ll use to measure your team’s performance. Tracking these metrics gives you insight into the team’s capacity and workflows while still allowing you to resolve issues before they impact your project.

5️⃣ Daily standups

Daily standups are meetings in which team members discuss their progress, goals for the day, and any obstacles to completion. The purpose of these meetings is to keep communication flowing and errors from creeping in through miscommunication.

Agile project planning best practices 

Here are a few best practices to improve your Agile project planning:

1️⃣ Involve the whole team in the planning process

One of the best things about Agile is that teams are self-organizing and the work isn’t assigned by one leader.

2️⃣ Define concrete goals

To avoid wasting time and resources, define concrete goals for each and every meeting. 

3️⃣ Find a balance

Balance the need to define project milestones with the need to remain open to change. Agile projects thrive on flexibility, so make sure you're not only planning accordingly but also committing to remaining flexible.

Agile project plan example

Let’s take a look at an Agile project plan example to help you visualize the information we’ve covered.

Imagine your team is going to develop a native Android app to empower retailers

1. Your first step would be to nail down your product vision. Who is your app going to help, and with what? What sets your app apart from competitors, and ultimately, what are your business goals?

2.Then, it’s time for road mapping. Meet with your customer and other stakeholders to create a high-level list of all the features your app needs to have. Does it need social media integrations? Advanced search and filtering capabilities?

3. Plan releases and iron out the details of which features are the most important, and how you can feasibly allocate your resources to accomplish those deliverables. For example, is the new UI more crucial to develop first as opposed to social media integrations?

4.How are you iterating? With your release plan done, focus on iteration planning. Get in touch with your team about how long each sprint can realistically take, what bottlenecks might be caused, and how you can tackle them before they happen.

5.Schedule daily standups to briefly discuss each member’s status updates. Daily standups make sure everyone’s on the same page and get team members the support they need. Is your backend team experiencing some problems with app security? Are loading times too long? Having a plan in place for when you’re reviewing and analyzing your workflow allows you to continuously improve.

How to use Agile software development tools

It’s important to choose the right project management tools to help you meet your goals. Agile software developmentmetrics are some of the most crucial things to track in order to assess a team's performance and measure business results. You can use Agile software development tools to:

  • Improve time and budget management

  • Engage stakeholders

  • Increase transparency

  • Improve problem-solving

  • Produce higher-quality work

  • Mitigate risk

  • Improve morale

The best Agile software development tools

At NaNLABS, we use Agile software development tools to manage our workflow, communicate with teammates and clients, and collaborate with each other. These are the Agile development tools we recommend:

  1. Jira: best for issue tracking and project management for enterprise teams

  2. GitHub: best for technical tools and software collaboration

  3. AWS Amplify: best for technical tools

  4. ClickUp: best for task management, custom workflows, documentation, and team communication

  5. MURAL: best for team collaboration

  6. LucidChart: best for team collaboration

  7. Slack: best for team communication

  8. Planiketa: best for planning, research, and employee assessments

How to use Agile software development metrics

Agile metrics are targets that help software development teams monitor workflows, performance, quality, and budget.

When working with Agile software development frameworks, it’s crucial to keep track of Agile metrics. This will help you meet your Agile KPIs while paying attention to the team’s capacity and workflows, and resolving issues before they impact your project.

Old-school vs Agile metrics

Agile metrics differ from traditional metrics in that they focus on outcomes rather than outputs. As a result, software development projects should not be measured by traditional metrics, as targets may be met without ensuring that the program works.

Some examples of old-school metrics include:

  • Lines of code

  • Number of commits

  • Code churn

  • Project completion

Size-related metrics can be misleading since they don’t take into account the quality of a process or product. They’re only half of the story. Measuring success in Agile by meeting a size-related target isn’t recommended.

Some examples of Agile metrics include:

  • Kanbanmetrics (focused on time invested in workflows, prioritization, and getting work done)

  • Scrummetrics (focused on work planning, having a full understanding of the workflow, and how much work your team gets done during a certain period)

  • Leanmetrics (focused on efficiency, quality, and mitigating negative results)

Agile methodology doesn’t care how you build a program, as long as it works, is sustainable long-term, and is delivered on time and within budget. It also focuses on continuous learning so that anyone in your team should feel encouraged to come up with better and faster solutions.

9 Agile software development metrics you should track

There are a number of different quality metrics that can be used in Agile projects. Choose the appropriate ones to track according to your objectives, your target audience, and the problems facing your project.

Here are a few metrics you should consider tracking.

To measure work in progress

1. Sprint burndown: the amount of work completed in a sprint

2. Velocity: the average workload a team can complete during a sprint

3. Control chart: the time it takes an issue to change from “in progress” to “done”

To measure efficiency or productivity

4. Epic and release burndown: tracks the progress of larger projects for scrum and kanban teams

5. Cycle time: how long it takes a team to move a task from “in progress” to “done”

6. Block time: measures duration of blockers

To measure quality

7. Cumulative flow diagram: visualizes how tasks accumulate over time, along with their distribution across process stages

8. Net promoter score (NPS): determines the quality of your product and how likely it is that your customers will recommend it to others

9. Failed deployment: compares the number of failed deployments against total deployments.

Agile software development case studies

Let’s take a look at a few case studies where organizations implemented Agile software development to achieve success:

How we built HyreCar

California-based SaaS company, HyreCar, was growing quickly, and needed resources to scale.

But the HyreCar team had some less-than-ideal past experiences with outsourcing software development and were worried about: 

  1. Time zone differences 

  2. Language barriers 

  3. A siloed approach to development

That’s when they got in touch with NaNLABS.

With an augmented team and experienced developers from NaNLABS, HyreCar was able to successfully migrate from a monolithic architecture to a microservice-oriented one and improve velocity while still keeping current operations up and running.

How we built Amalgam

Amalgam, originally a part of Calculate, is a fast-growing financial and accounting startup based in New York. It’s a software platform that allows tech-savvy individuals to build complex automated processes using their day-to-day tools. 

Amalgam needed support with three main issues:

  1. Offboard the previous agency and onboard the NaNLABS team in a month

  2. Improve the quality of their MVP and take it to an enterprise-level solution

  3. Organize the development process in an Agile way and incorporate project management tools

In a few months, NaNLABS was able to revamp Amalgam’s software, implement Agile processes, and increase the quality of the final product.

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.

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