What is Agile?

Agile is a progressive project management methodology that emphasizes short, iterative development cycles, known as sprints, in the entire development process of the product.


Originally conceptualized in the 1970s by William Royce in a paper reflecting a detailed approach for the development of large software systems — yes, it’s been around for nearly 50 years! — Agile project management is used today across a diverse spectrum of industries.

Agile is a progressive project management methodology that emphasizes short, iterative development cycles, known as sprints, in the entire development process of the product.

A group of software developers and thought leaders came together in 2001 to create the Agile Manifesto, which describes the key values and principles that define the methodology of building softwares successfully.

The manifesto reads:

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

  •   Individuals 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.

Today, many organizations have created their own agile manifestos! Agile doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all, packaged solution — instead, it offers values and principles organizations can leverage to create tailored, personalized solutions.

With agile, small, cross-functional teams endorse time-boxed sprints to ensure the rapid completion of a project. This means that while the team actively works on developing the final product, relevant stakeholders can stay engaged throughout the process to evaluate progress and provide feedback on issues or modifications that need to be made — without putting the project at stake.

This system of ongoing feedback and adjustment is a crucial part of the development process that enhances and refines the product at any given time ensuring the solution is up to date with industry standards, meeting the critical demand of customer engagement and success. An agile project cycles rapidly and constantly churns through the phases of the development lifecycle in the time-boxed delivery model (planning, analysis, design, implementation, maintenance) rather than waiting for each distinct phase to end before moving on to the next.

Adoption of agile project methodology has been steadily on the rise: CollabNet and VersionOne’s 12th Annual State of Agile survey found that 71 percent of respondents had an agile or DevOps initiative under way or planned in the coming year. The results speak for themselves. Their reasons for doing so include:

  • Accelerate software delivery: 75%
  • Manage changing priorities: 64%
  • Increase productivity: 55%
  • Better business/IT alignment: 49%
  • Increased software quality: 46%

What Organizations Are Using Agile?

Agile is a global phenomenon: Businesses of all sizes, worldwide, are adopting these methodologies. For the State of Agile report, 55 percent of respondents were from North America. Twenty-seven percent were from Europe, 7 percent came from South America, 10 percent were from the Asia-Pacific region, and the remaining 1 percent were in Africa.

The top industries using agile project management are technology, financial services, professional services, insurance, and government.

Benefits of Agile Project Methodology

Prior to the widespread adoption of the agile methodology, one of the most commonly used project implementation strategies was the waterfall model. The waterfall model is just like it sounds: Progress flows downward from the top, with each previous phase in the development process fully complete before moving on to the next phase.

This resulted in delayed product deployment as well as a decreased customer satisfaction because teams couldn’t nimbly respond to issues or requested product enhancements.

In addition to a shortened product development time and increased customer responsiveness, agile offers a host of other benefits.

  • Adaptability to change: 71 percent of respondents to the State of Agile report cited the ability to manage changing priorities was a benefit to agile adoption. Agile allows businesses to respond to changes in customer needs rapidly and quickly adapt to evolving needs.
  • Project visibility: Visibility is a two-way street in agile organizations. Regular standups, planning, demos ensure clear communication at every phase of a project, and understanding among once-disparate teams. The agile project methodology allows for greater control and communication around the entire project implementation process.
  • Business/IT alignment: Agile teams cannot exist in a silo. Development teams are not relegated to dark rooms where work takes place in a vacuum. Agile methodology demands communication and transparency — which means IT is more aligned with the organization at large, naturally.
  • Faster ROI: Delivery speed and time to market is a huge benefit — greater team productivity means hitting the market faster, and that means a much quicker return on investment.
  • Increased productivity: No team is ever waiting for something to do within the constraints of an agile process. Where a testing team once would have stepped in to doing their work at the end of a more traditional project, for example, they have a bigger role much earlier on during the iterative process of sprints.

Challenges to Agile Adoption

Despite its clear benefits to participating businesses, the use of agile project methodology still poses some challenges which serve to hinder its widespread adoption:

  • Resistance to change: Change is hard. Some businesses, or teams within an organization, aren’t excited to shift away from the way they’re programmed and have always done things. (For example, a developer used to coming in to the office to start coding at 10:30 a.m. might be unhappy to discover they are now expected in a daily stand-up at 8:30 a.m.!) Organizational changes — including learning new software and hiring specially trained agile professionals — are necessary to adopt agile methodology.
  • Misunderstanding the process: Some organizations eager to adopt agile do so incorrectly. They may not understand the roles and value of agile coaches or scrum masters or create teams that aren’t equipped to work effectively within an agile framework.
  • Failure to adapt to changing roles: Members of a cross-functional agile team may be unable or unwilling to adjust to their new roles and expectations. At a cultural level, entire organizations may struggle to adapt outdated management strategies to the new, nimble mindset required of agile teams. (Everyone likes to stay in their comfort zone!)

Despite the initial challenges facing organizations at the start of their process of adopting agile, it’s a worthwhile endeavor that leads to more a productive workforce, faster time to market, efficient change management, and more.

Looking for agile professionals to staff your team? Contact Collabera to discuss your hiring needs.

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