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Agile Methodology: Understanding the Fundamentals

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What Defines an Agile Methodology?

One of the most commonly asked questions is, “What exactly is an agile methodology?” While there are numerous agile methodologies used globally, there isn’t a single definitive checklist that can provide guidance.

To grasp the fundamentals of agile methodology, let’s revisit the Agile Manifesto, specifically its Four Values and Twelve Rules. These values and rules don’t prescribe specific agile methodologies like scrum or agile project management, but they do outline the mindset that should underpin any agile methodology. The manifesto states:

“We’re uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work, we have come to value:

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

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

Any approach to software or project development that doesn’t align with these agile methodology fundamentals cannot be considered a true agile strategy.

Is Your Methodology Truly Agile?

The best way to determine if your methodology is truly agile is to evaluate how it is applied in real-life situations and see if it aligns with these values. Let’s take scrum, for example. Scrum has been a popular agile development methodology for a long time, so its fundamentals should be in line with agile principles.

However, some implementations of scrum focus too heavily on the tools used, rather than emphasizing people and interactions. Sometimes, the scrum master or product owner deviates from their defined roles and tries to micromanage the team. Other times, the need to prioritize working software over documentation is used as an excuse to completely abandon any form of documentation. These instances of misusing agile methodologies give scrum a bad reputation.

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Agile Methodology: The 12 Rules

The same evaluation should be applied to any agile methodology, comparing it against the Twelve Rules outlined in the Agile Manifesto:

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a few weeks to a few months, with a preference for shorter timescales.
  4. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

These rules have shaped much of the software development approaches used today. They have transformed the mindset, behavior, and culture of many working in software development. It’s essential for everyone in the industry, regardless of their role, to familiarize themselves with these principles. Regularly reflecting on them ensures that the adopted agile methodology aligns with the desired outcomes.

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Though all of these rules are important, the first rule takes precedence: “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of useful software.” Unfortunately, this priority is often overlooked, and emphasis is placed on following the process instead. Ensuring alignment with the Twelve Rules is crucial for reaping the full potential of any chosen agile methodology.

Conclusion

The agility of a methodology is determined by its adherence to all Four Values and Twelve Rules outlined in the original Agile Manifesto, rather than its name alone. All of these values and rules must be followed without compromise. Rigidly adhering to a methodology that fails to meet the needs of the customer is not truly agile. A methodology should be tailored to suit the specific needs of a team by adopting and adapting best practices. Time and again, this approach has proven to yield the best results in agile methodologies.

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