2.4C: Agile and Lean Methods
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Agile methodologies are a group of methodologies that utilize incremental changes with a focus on quality and attention to detail. Each increment is released in a specified period of time (called a time box), creating a regular release schedule with very specific objectives. While considered a separate methodology from RAD, they share some of the same principles: iterative development, user interaction, ability to change. The agile methodologies are based on the “Agile Manifesto,” first released in 2001.
The characteristics of agile methods include:
- small cross-functional teams that include development-team members and users;
- daily status meetings to discuss the current state of the project;
- short time-frame increments (from days to one or two weeks) for each change to be completed; and
- at the end of each iteration, a working project is completed to demonstrate to the stakeholders.
The goal of the agile methodologies is to provide the flexibility of an iterative approach while ensuring a quality product.
One last methodology we will discuss is a relatively new concept taken from the business bestseller The Lean Startup, by Eric Reis. In this methodology, the focus is on taking an initial idea and developing a minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP is a working software application with just enough functionality to demonstrate the idea behind the project. Once the MVP is developed, it is given to potential users for review. Feedback on the MVP is generated in two forms: (1) direct observation and discussion with the users, and (2) usage statistics gathered from the software itself. Using these two forms of feedback, the team determines whether they should continue in the same direction or rethink the core idea behind the project, change the functions, and create a new MVP. This change in strategy is called a pivot. Several iterations of the MVP are developed, with new functions added each time based on the feedback, until a final product is completed.
The biggest difference between the lean methodology and the other methodologies is that the full set of requirements for the system are not known when the project is launched. As each iteration of the project is released, the statistics and feedback gathered are used to determine the requirements. The lean methodology works best in an entrepreneurial environment where a company is interested in determining if their idea for a software application is worth developing.
Sidebar: The Quality Triangle
When developing software, or any sort of product or service, there exists a tension between the developers and the different stakeholder groups, such as management, users, and investors. This tension relates to how quickly the software can be developed (time), how much money will be spent (cost), and how well it will be built (quality). The quality triangle is a simple concept. It states that for any product or service being developed, you can only address two of the following: time, cost, and quality.
So what does it mean that you can only address two of the three? It means that you cannot complete a low-cost, high-quality project in a small amount of time. However, if you are willing or able to spend a lot of money, then a project can be completed quickly with high-quality results (through hiring more good programmers). If a project’s completion date is not a priority, then it can be completed at a lower cost with higher-quality results. Of course, these are just generalizations, and different projects may not fit this model perfectly. But overall, this model helps us understand the tradeoffs that we must make when we are developing new products and services.