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Does Agile Development Matter?

As it turns out, strict adherence to Agile development methodology isn't the most important thing when it comes to rapid quality software development.

Over the last several years, Agile software development has gained in popularity, thanks to its promises of speeding software projects with a iterative approach designed to encourage rapid, high-quality development.

Even though Agile won converts due to being a more self-organizing, less hierarchical alternative to traditional models like "waterfall" development, the methodology today can be highly formalized. It often involves formal approaches to precisely how development teams should organize, meet and work to which dedicated software development teams adhere.

That's one reason that even while Agile is growing, there is also a trend away from following its strict, formalized methodology. New data from Forrester Research -- in a follow-up to its first-quarter 2009 study on development practices -- points to an era where developers are leveraging only some elements of Agile as opposed to strictly following all of its formalized dictates.

During a live Webcast sponsored by HP, Forrester Senior Analyst Dave West noted that a late 2009 study conducted by his firm put Agile in the top spot for development methodologies currently in use. Forrester found that 35 percent of the surveyed based of 1,300 developers were using Agile development. What was surprising to West is what came in second place.

"This is the worrying stat -- when we asked the 1,300 IT professionals what is the methodology that most closely reflects what they are now using, the majority said Agile," West said. "But underneath that, 31 percent said they don't follow a software methodology at all."

As in turns out, West determined that software development teams don't see Agile as an ethos but rather as a creed.

"Though Agile is very popular, we're seeing that what developers want is Agile++." West said. "There isn't just one Agile: 'Agile' is really the ability to respond to change in the most effective way, considering the restraints of the environment in which you're working in."

What West stressed is that developers are focused on "agile" development approaches -- not necessarily "Agile," per se, with all the strict adherence to accepted methodologies that it entails.

Emphasis on efficiency

In West's view, what agility means is more frequent delivery of software milestones and builds. That in turn requires more robust build and deployment processes and more frequent testing, as well as more flexible deployment environments.

"Quality and deployment processes really need to be on steroids," West said. "We're talking about really efficient build and test processes."

West's views on agile development practices being adopted in lieu of strict adherence to Agile is one shared by Timothy Perry, CTO for retirement and protection at Genworth Financial. During the Webcast, Perry noted that his company's IT leadership is interested only in better software that is delivered more quickly.

"From a leadership standpoint, it's about being able to deliver on time and on budget and as fast as possible," Perry said. "A lot of the concepts from Agile appear to be helping us and that's what we're trying to introduce to our teams."

West added that he doesn't expect that a strict adoption of Agile methodologies will ever completely dominate the development landscape. He does expect that, over time, increasing amounts of development process will become more Agile-like.

"What we're finding is that organizations are adopting the practices of 'agility' to improve the way they engineer software," West said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.
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