Agile Methodology VS Traditional Software Development

In the software development industry, there are two main approaches that drive the project life-cycle. Traditional software development, also known as the Waterfall method, is a linear and structured approach that relies on processes to accomplish the end results. Agile methodology is a non-linear approach to software development that adapts to changing requirements and flexible planning throughout the entire process. When choosing a vendor for custom software development, it is important to be familiar with both methods to determine which will be the best approach for your business needs.

Traditional software development practices can be broken down into four distinct phases. The initial step is to set up the requirements for the project and determine the length of time it will take to implement the various phases of development while trying to predict any problems that may arise. Once the requirements are laid out, the next step moves into the design and architectural planning phase where a technical infrastructure is produced in the form of diagrams or models. These bring to the surface potential issues that the project may face as it progresses and provide a workable road map for the developers to implement.

Once the team is satisfied with the architectural and design plan, the project moves into the development phase where code is produced until the specific goals are reached. Development is often broken down into smaller tasks that are distributed among various teams based on skill. The testing phase often overlaps the development phase to ensure issues are addressed early on. Once the project nears completion and the developers are close to meeting the project requirements, the customer will become part of the testing and feedback cycle. When the customer is satisfied, the project is delivered.

This linear approach to software development relies on structured processes and heavy documentation that guides the work done in each phase. The success of a rigid structure depends on the fact that all requirements are known before the development phase begins and that they will not change. This makes it easy to set schedules, determine project costs and allocate resources.

However, in the real world of software development, problems do arise and new specifications are discovered during the development phase. The traditional waterfall approach to software development does not provide the flexibility to address these issues without a great deal of cost and time. In complex situations, it may mean having to start completely over from the beginning.

A more flexible approach to custom software development is the Agile methodology. With this approach, the emphasis is less on the structured process of development and more on team collaboration. Instead of relying on documentation to measure the progress of a project, the goal is to produce working software in incremental phases before all requirements have been met. Customers and developers collaborate throughout the life-cycle of the entire project and are not restricted to requirement documentation and contract negotiations. Agile methodology is designed to address changing needs throughout the entire project.

With Agile software development, tasks are broken down into small increments called iterations which are short cycles that last anywhere from one to four weeks. Each iteration follows the same process as traditional software development does, such as collecting requirements, devising a plan and developing it. However, this approach involves multiple iterations to accomplish the total project requirements rather than attempting to follow a single development cycle. At the start of each iteration, the project needs are reevaluated. This allows changing requirements to be adapted even at the end of the development process. When the customer receives working versions of the software throughout the development life-cycle, this minimizes the risks of their return of investment and allows them to provide continuous feedback.

Despite the lowered risk of software development with an Agile methodology, it is not without certain disadvantages. Because of the flexibility involved with this approach, it can be difficult to determine completion schedules and calculate budgets for the project. The success of Agile also relies on the continuous collaboration with the customer. If the customer does not have time to invest in the process then this approach may not be the best method.

Understanding the development methods in place in the working environment of the company you hire for custom software development will have an impact on overall customer satisfaction. Both Agile and waterfall methods are viable solutions with proven success. If your project requirements are straightforward and unlikely to change, then choosing a vendor who uses the traditional method is a good solution. However, if your project requires a great deal of flexibility and continuous collaboration, than Agile software development solutions are the best option.

Welcoming Change Whilst in the Realm of Agile Software Development

One of the most difficult principles of Agile Software Development to actually implement is the principle of welcoming change. Two of the statements of values in the Agile manifesto are:

  1. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  2. Responding to change over following a plan

Both of these statements lead to the idea that Agile Software Development welcomes changes from customers and other stakeholders in the project. The Software Development team aims to gather feedback by developing frequent releases through developing the software in a series of iterations. A customer, changing their minds concerning the requirements of a project, isn’t viewed as a problem, which can be in sharp contrast to how a lot of methodologies approach the topic of requirements changing. This incorporation of feedback and customer involvement is an important contribution to the success of Agile methodologies as it leads to the development of software that customers really want. Following this principle is no easy task because the application of this principle needs to start at the very beginning of a project. Guides to implementing Agile Software Development frequently mention the role of the executive sponsor, and other business oriented roles within a company which need to buy-in and support an initiative to introduce Agile Software Development. But in a Software Development company that develops bespoke software directly for customers, the business people in the company need to understand and stick to the principles of Agile Software Development likewise.

There may be support for Agile Software Development in a project of all members but the general perception amongst the business people is that it is one area which the developers do, and does not directly concern them. As much of the material available on Agile Software Development does specifically concern Software Development teams, that is quite an understandable assumption to make. In a company developing bespoke software, the client needs to be made aware of the nature of an Agile Software Development project, and a contract needs to be negotiated that is compatible with the chosen methodology. And it’s the business people who are associated with a project that usually hold the responsibility of setting the customer’s expectations for a project and negotiating the contract.

Customers not really acquainted with Software Development expect that when negotiating a new project with a Software Development company that the process is quite like purchasing almost every other goods and services. The client explains what they need, they agree a price together with a delivery date, and the customer then waits for it to be achieved. The Software Development company will not want to challenge these expectations for the fear of making a customer uncomfortable, and potentially losing their business. This often leads to a binding agreement that mirrors these expectations. The customer continues to expect that the software, by the release date, is going to be ready and do everything the customer wants, and they only need to wait.

However it is inevitable that the customer will need to provide feedback on the software and will be very keen to make some changes. In the above scenario the client is going to find themselves giving their feedback at a time towards the release date when they actually get to see the software.

These changes are unlikely to be very welcome to the Software Development company at this point. In practice these requests for changes results in friction between the customer and the Software Development company, possibly bringing about arguments between the company and the customer. The company will believe that these requirements wasn’t specified originally when the contract was signed and demand additional cash to implement these changes. If the customer agrees, a new contract will need to be negotiated. On the other hand the company may agree to do these changes for free given that the customer is without a doubt quite upset that the software does not do what the customer wants. The more often these changes are handled for free; the company gets closer to generating a loss on the project. In both of these scenarios, the project is sure to be late.

If the development team itself is trying to be Agile and is developing the project in iterations, the case is often improved through getting feedback from the customer earlier on in the project. But if the contract remains to be the same, these changes will still be unwelcome to the business people associated with the project. They will be seen as an extra expense and the developers are going to be instructed to extend the time on making these changes until a new or revised contract can be negotiated. Once the business people perceive that changes will be happening between iterations and that this needs addressing, they should recognise that a new approach will probably be required in future for making new contracts with customers. An effective option that they might choose is to try to break down the ‘development’ of the project into separate, ready planned phases and then make this the substance of the contract. This approach doesn’t challenge the customer’s expectations of being certain of the outcome of a project, and so it appears like a safe option. At the start of a project, a customer is frequently quite positive that they know what they aspire to. In practice, actually seeing and using the software might most likely make the customer consider the project in a whole lot more depth than they had previously.

This phased approach to making contracts is not going to solve the issue of welcoming changes and introduces new problems. When the first phase of the project completes, the customer gets to use the software for the first time and starts making requests for changes. As a consequence the next phase will have to be planned again. If the original phases were time estimated then the next phase will require a new estimation from the development team. And the business people will have to create a new contract for the next phase. Normally, this approach will demand a large administrative overhead for relatively small amounts of work. The customer can also be likely to get impatient over the length of time it takes just to get some more work done. More steps need to be taken to effectively develop within an iterative fashion.

In an ideal scenario, the people setting the customer’s expectations for the project would have bought in to the concept of Agile Software Development and grasp the principles involved. They would have the responsibility of also convincing the customer of these benefits and negotiating a contract that works well with their chosen methodology. Three typical customer expectations shall be challenged during this process:

  1. that they already know exactly what they want
  2. that they can be certain of what to expect at the end of the project
  3. that the Software Development company is exclusively responsible for the success of the project

To convince the customer that developing the project the Agile way is a good idea; the benefits need to be emphasised:

  • That they can change their minds if they want, when they want
  • Their changes will be incorporated in to their application quickly with minimal administrative overhead
  • They will not have to wait long to see their changes in the software
  • The application developed will be what they want it to be not now but what they want on the release date
  • They will have an important role in guiding the development of the project throughout its development

There are of course trade-offs for these benefits:

  • The customer can’t be certain what they are certain to get at the end of the project when signing the contract
  • The criteria for the success of the project will change with time and will not be stated explicitly in the contract as a detailed specification
  • The customer must take an enthusiastic role participating in the project. The project’s success all hangs on on the effectiveness of the collaboration between the customer and the Software Development team.
  • The customer will have to prioritise their changes, choosing which ones are developed first and which of them have to be dropped when necessary

A compatible contract will likely not state a detailed project plan, and make that plan a binding agreement for the Software Development company. General, advanced level requirements will be used as the success criteria for the project.

In return the contract will enable the customer to request changes to the project when the customer wants to. A formal definition of how changes are handled will be included in the contract. This definition will match the methodology used by the Software Development team. With most Agile methodologies this will mean that the development team will incorporate these changes in the next iteration following the change request from the customer. The contract will also not contain specific time estimations for high level requirements. It will instead contain an iteration schedule. A contract that welcomes change is a contract that does not have to be changed.

While the process described is known as change, this term doesn’t accurately describe the all that is taking place. A changing business environment can motivate changes in requirements but what is happening most often is the creation of new ideas for the software from both the customers and the development team. It is part of the creative process that makes the software and it is definitely something that ought to be welcomed.

What Is a Software Development Life Cycle?

A set of instructions for the computer to read and understand to perform a specific task is called a Software. Software development is the process to use computer programming to develop a software. This is not new for many, but the topic under consideration will be new for many. SDLC or Software Development Life Cycle, is the process of developing a new software.

The process of developing a software is not difficult to understand. The procedure of SDLC goes like this:

  1. Gathering and then analyzing the requirements to develop a software
  2. Designing of the software
  3. Coding or programming
  4. Testing the software
  5. Deployment
  6. Maintaining the software

Gathering and Then Analyzing the Requirements to Develop a Software

This is the initial phase. Like starting any business, starting to work on a new software requires a plan. The planning phase will include the project managers, stakeholders and even some senior software developers. No matter how professional or for how long the software development company has been operating, the planning is not an easy phase to follow. Although, it would take less time for experts to plan a new project and then to start working on it but still there will be some questions that must always be answered before taking on any project. Following are some questions, which needs answers before taking on the project:

  • Who will be using the software?
  • How they will be using it?
  • What is the required data to input?
  • What will be the output of the input data?
  • What is the purpose?
  • What skills are required?Will there be a need to hire new personnel or the current staff have the right skills and the capacity to work on this new project?

Find their answers. Is the project worth it? A thorough analysis is required here. There will be more questions that need to be answered before taking on this new project. All the work is documented for future reference.

Designing of the Software

Now comes the second phase, the designing of the software. On the basis of the documentation and the results of the first phase, the system and the software is given a design. From this, the developers comes to know the requirements of the hardware and system required to complete their new project. This phase will also define the system architecture. The designing phase will set the requirements for the next phase.

Coding or Programming

Here comes the role of the software developers. The system design documents are now divided into modules and the developers now start their job. This is going to be the longest phase of all. Programming is done here and it’s known to all that programming isn’t an easy job. It needs plenty of time, expertise and patience. Once done, the software developer sends their work to the tester.

Testing the Software

When in the production business, the quality of the product is always monitored and tested. So is the case with a software development. When the coding is done, the software developer sends their work to the Software Quality Assurance department /personnel. They will overlook the work of the software developers. The software quality assurance or the SQA for short will look for bugs and test the software. The test will be made as per the requirements and the guidelines mentioned in the requirements document. Unit testing, integration testing, system testing, acceptance testing is done by the SQA and if found deviations or errors, it’s sent back to the software developer. The procedures will keeps on repeating themselves until the software is bugs free and ready to deploy.

Deployment of the Software

On successful completion of the software and the testing, it is sent to the concerned client or is available to the public.

Maintaining the Software

Only the non-serious professionals or the ones not willing to carry on their business will not look back to their software but the serious developers will. Every software needs updating and maintenance. Whenever the software encounters some troubles, the software developing company will be there to fix it.

SDLC follows a simple procedure and it doesn’t require you to be a businessperson to know all the phases of SDLC. Every software developer and software developing company knows it all. So when hiring a software developing company you can rest assure that the procedure will be done in a professional way and the best product will be delivered.