Engineering

What Is Agile Methodology?

What Is Agile Methodology?
For agile methods to work, there must be a commitment from all participants in the process—from the restructuring of meetings and teams by senior management to thoughtful and time-sensitive feedback from customers on the effectiveness of product design. Image from Pexels
Lucy Davies profile
Lucy Davies July 20, 2022

Agile project management and methodology utilize short development cycles, continuous delivery models, frequent testing and reflection, and reliance on feedback and checkpoints during production.

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Agile methodology emerged from the software development field in the 1990s—or to be more precise, it arose in response to the software development problems that information technology managers encountered.In 2001, a group of seventeen software development leaders met in the Utah mountains to formulate better product development strategies that would focus on meeting customer needs while eliminating problematic corporate project planning and documenting structures.

The group produced a concise document—fewer than 70 words—titled the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”. The statement outlined a simple culture in twelve principles. It acknowledged that teamwork needed to be rethought and redesigned to take advantage of the beneficial aspects of frameworks like Crystal Clear and Scrum.

The software development methodologies they examined were based on waterfall collaboration methods of linear sequencing and assembly line models of manufacturing production cycles; each suffered from considerable limitations in satisfying customers and reacting to changes and revision in real-time. A more adaptive and agile process was needed to improve what can be a considerable lag time between identifying a business need and delivering a tested and working product with customer satisfaction and continuous improvement at the forefront. In particular, the group sought a new approach that would alleviate, if not cure, the backlogs of bug fixes that were emblematic of the standard development practices” dysfunction.

In this article, we’ll answer the question, what is agile methodology? As well, we’ll cover:

  • The definition of agile methodology
  • Fundamental concepts of agile methodology
  • Examples of agile methodology
  • Benefits of agile methodology
  • What is a master’s in engineering management?

What is agile methodology?

Agile methodology breaks down what was traditionally a production line of sealed-up deliverables, allowing for a more dynamic and flexible development process. Instead of a linear approach—in which team members are only involved in the progress at prescribed points—agile methodology values whole team participation and the practice of continuous delivery in rapid iterations of development. This creates a back-and-forth of revision and improvement over the cycle of development. It also promotes a dynamic workflow that uses simple metrics to track progress, with testing and redesign occurring as needed in response to customer feedback and input. The production team cooperates backward and forwards in agile teams and embraces feedback and change, rather than resisting it, at any stage of the product life cycle.

Of note, agile methodology is not limited to software development. It’s been widely adopted in fields like sales, research, marketing, and advanced technologies.

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The definition of agile methodology

Agile project management and its methodology reject top-down direction and rigid approaches to development. It is not prescriptive in that way. Instead, “it is a way of thinking about collaboration and workflows and it is a set of values which guide our choices in regards to what we make and how we make it.”

Agile methodology is characterized by its short development cycles, continuous delivery models, frequent testing and reflection, and reliance on feedback and checkpoints during production. Testing and development run concurrently and continue through the process to ensure real-time improvements and avoid product backlog. Self-organizing cross-functional teams develop work in small increments and react quickly to changing requirements from customers and stakeholders. All of which creates high-quality, low-maintenance products with optimal benefit to end-users.

Fundamental concepts of agile methodology

The seventeen developers who formulated the Agile Manifesto agreed on four values for software development teams to follow. To avoid linear sequencing and waterfall approaches to production and project management, teams should consider:

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

The bolding of items on the left of each line is deliberate, as the authors wanted to distinguish the emphasis on value. Rather than a strict, prescriptive framework, these values define the culture of agile methodology and provide a way forward.

For agile methods to work, there must be a commitment from all participants in the process—from the restructuring of meetings and teams by senior management to thoughtful and time-sensitive feedback from customers on the effectiveness of product design. In the development process, teamwork values collaboration, communication, and adaptation.

Examples of agile methodology

There are a number of agile frameworks for software development that emerged in the decades prior to and since the manifesto, including Scrum, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Feature Driven Development (FDD), Lean, DevOps, Extreme Programming (XP), and Kanban. Some of them helped inspire agile software development by sharing what was going right with an agile approach; others provided a de facto list of what wasn’t.

Scrum is the most popular agile framework. It’s a good example of the functions and structure of agile methodology. The Scrum methodology is designed for cross-functional teams of under ten team members who work in sprints—short periods of work time typically lasting two to four weeks—to prepare products ready for review. Scrum teams are made up of a Scrum master, a product owner, and five to nine team members who work through a sprint, then collaborate on improvements through a sprint retrospective feedback loop with all team members and stakeholders, allowing them to “inspect and adapt” in any standup daily scrum meeting.

The self-organizing team or teams begin with a vision statement, defined customer and user stories, and members who represent not only developers but data and automation engineers, user experience designers, and others who help facilitate product development.

There are differences between the frameworks. FDD can accommodate larger teams. Lean focuses on value for the customer by eliminating waste. XP facilitates deciding on the scope of product deliveries. Kanban is preferred by human resources and service-oriented teams. Yet, they all follow the same fundamental values outlined in agile practices.

Benefits of agile methodology

Unlike a traditional project management process such as waterfall (in which a linear and structured build-out format leads separate teams to complete tasks and move a project along), agile is dynamic and responsive. The whole team benefits from the process but the results ultimately benefit the customer the most. As team members, customers are involved in every step of the production process and participate in feedback and revisions to ensure a custom fit.

Stakeholders benefit from the many iterations and retrospectives that a responsive methodology uses, resulting in a superior product, delivered on time. This is good news for the customer and producers, as both save time and money and avoid disruption in the process.

For the teams working on products and services, flexibility, adaptability, and better communication contribute to a more efficient and effective process for getting the job done. Teams work with lower risk when issues can be addressed quickly and can respond to developing technologies and market pressures.

Industry insiders occasionally complain about an “Agile Industrial Complex” that allows “faux agile” to be monetized by agile consulting and education firms. Monetization and half-hearted or revised adoption of the principles of the methodology can leave clients feeling cynical and unimpressed with the process. Without teams’ full commitment to the principles of the practice, results can be poor, particularly when the foundation is not built on cultural values. All this can lead to the opposite of what is outlined in the manifesto, resulting in “micromanagement, burnout-rate pacing, lack of delivery, and adherence to process over principles… even if practitioners come with a certificate.”

What is a master’s in engineering management?

A master’s in engineering management is a professional graduate degree that provides training beyond a certificate. Programs can focus specifically on agile methodology, as does American University’s online MS in Agile Project Management, or include it within a larger curriculum, as does Stevens Institute of Technology’s online Master of Engineering in Engineering Management program. In any Master of Engineering in Engineering Management or Master of Science in Engineering Management-related program, students are presented with coursework in professional ethics and leadership, developing technology trends, writing and communication skills, and industry specifics on emerging trends in agile and solutions architecture, project management of complex systems.

Programs stress both hard and soft skills to prepare managers for work on challenging project plans as leaders and part of teams. Building management skills in comprehensive engineering management masters programs prepares graduates for developing technologies and innovative approaches to business. Professionals can complete their degree in as little as 18 months, with flexible scheduling and fully remote or hybrid program options to accommodate full-time work responsibilities.

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