A brief guide into the different methodologies of software development.

Agile software development has become a hot topic of late. Even if you don’t work in Information Technology (IT), you’ve probably heard about it. You’ve probably also heard that agile development is the way to go when building IT infrastructure for your business. We at Icreon Tech believe that agile development is a better, faster, and more comprehensive development methodology when compared to other software development techniques.

But why do we think this?

By following an agile approach, you steer your development efforts toward end user demands sooner and more effectively. By “releasing early, releasing often,” as first expressed by Eric S. Raymond in his 1997 essay “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” the agile development team knows that it’s meeting customer requirements because the customers are actually using the product of the development as soon as it’s ready, and then again, over and over and over, as it improves throughout the iterative process.

There are three main schools of thought when it comes to software development methodologies: Waterfall, Spiral, and Agile. Below we’ll give a short synopses of each.

Waterfall Methodology

Considered the classic approach to systems development, the waterfall methodology is linear and rigid in its movement given that each phase of the project has specific goals, and each phase must be completed before moving onto the next.

While waterfall methodology makes planning easier, it’s something of a “no turning back approach.”  Because it often fails to address inevitable changes that occur in most projects, errors are likely, and it’s difficult to go back and fix something that developers failed to address at the concept stage. More importantly, with Waterfall, users can only conceive of (and describe) the capability to be developed, and then they must wait until the end of the process to actually use the capability, which oftentimes means that what they thought they wanted, in fact, isn’t even close to what they really want.

Spiral Methodology

The focus of spiral methodology is on risk reduction with a heavy focus on identifying and addressing the greatest risks early in the development process.

Development starts small, exploring risks, developing ways to address those risks, and then “spirals” to the next level where the process repeats. Thus, spiral methodology persistently reduces project risk throughout the development cycle.

And because of the constant risk evaluation, this methodology could result in project abandonment if the development team and client deem the risks (like cost overruns) too great. In reality, Spiral and Agile development have quite a number of similarities, with the basic difference being that most Spiral models of development still insist on big, up-front design.

Agile Methodology

Like the spiral methodology, agile software development seeks to minimize risk by breaking the software development life cycle (SDLC) process up into short spans of time, known as iterations. It differs from spiral methodology, however, in the respect that each iteration is like a full-blown software development project and includes planning, requirements analysis, design, coding, testing, and documentation—the result being that new software can be released to the client at the end of each iteration.

The idea here is to establish working software as quickly as possible with a lot of real-time collaboration between all players involved, from stakeholders to product managers to project managers and programmers.

Of course there is an array of different subsets that fall within each of the above methodologies. For instance, Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Model, and Scrum are all variations of agile software development.

At Icreon, we take an Agile approach towards the development of websites, content management systems (CMS), backend integrations, and mobile applications. We do this simple because we believe agile development is the best way for business to go. Here’s why: Agile development involves all the stakeholders from the get-go to project completion

One of the key aspects of agile development is its highly collaborative nature. It’s not just developers and testers isolating themselves behind closed doors as they hunker down to work. Rather the client, product owners, designers, programmers, testers, devops, and product specialists come together at project start, establishing a cross-functional team. When problems arise, they’re much easier and faster to fix.

Simply put, when all the parties are working together in the same room and when the client is in direct and ongoing contact with the software builders, things get done more efficiently. The close interaction with the client also provides product developers with greater insight on business priorities, so what’s most important to the client can be delivered first.

Agile Methodology Life Cycle

Because every iteration in the development process is technically a product all its own that can be deployed, agile software development means you’ll have working software more quickly, and it will be continuously updated and improved with each new iteration in spans of as little as one to four weeks.

It’s kind of like how your Facebook Messenger app or Google Chrome browser automatically updates as it is improved. Developers make a plan, build a prototype, test it, launch it for use, and then continually improve and update it.

Responsiveness over planning

As the very term “agile” implies, this methodology allows for constant refinement and re-prioritization of the software product. Every new iteration provides an opportunity to address product backlog or changes in the plan, and stakeholders can see the impact of those changes and updates in weeks, not months. And by breaking development into manageable “chunks,” it’s easier to identify software defects early and address expectation discrepancies quickly.

End-user first

Agile methodology focuses on the end user, which means it seeks to answer the formula of “in the role of ‘x,’ I want to be able to do ‘y,’ so I can achieve ‘z.’”

Agile seeks practical end user experiences that deliver value, not just some mysterious IT background feature. And with agile development’s emphasis on continuous iteration, there is a constant feedback loop from the end user that inspires ever-evolving software development designed to make the end user’s experience more efficient, productive, and operationally simple.

While all software development methodologies are designed to produce software that focuses on the end user’s experience, it is only with the Agile methodology that this production occurs each step of the way. In some regards, Agile is a “trip versus destination” oriented approach to software development—which is why we use it as our go-to methodology for every development project we undertake.