The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development

Michael Hugos, Principal, Center for Systems Innovation | 11/25/2013 | 32 comments

Michael Hugos
Agile development is how I get things done. It's been central to my success as a CIO and an entrepreneur. How else can I keep up with the relentless pace of events? How else am I going to deliver applications in a timely manner? But because agile development has fewer hard and fast rules and fewer regulations, it also requires higher levels of skill and collaboration from me and from people on agile development teams.

Many IT groups make the mistake of thinking that, because there are fewer regulations, agile development is somehow easier or less disciplined than traditional waterfall approaches. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Agile is harder than waterfall -- much harder. But when people learn to do agile well, they make it look easy. And things get done faster.

A good analogy is to think of musicians playing in a jazz band versus musicians playing in a marching band. There is a clear and predictable structure and tempo to music played by a marching band. As long as players hit the right notes at the right time and stay in step, the music works. Jazz has a structure and tempo, too, but it calls for much more collaboration between the musicians than just hitting the right notes at the right time.

As a CIO, I've been successful with agile development because I insist that every agile development team be composed of people who are skilled in one or more of what I call the core techniques. There are seven core techniques:

  • Brainstorming and facilitation
  • Process mapping
  • Data modeling
  • System prototyping
  • Object-oriented design and programming
  • DevOps
  • Agile project management

They are needed on every agile project, regardless of the technology being used or the application being developed.

Certainly people on project teams need to be skilled in the specific programming languages, operating systems, databases, and hardware that will be used, but because technology changes faster and faster, it is not good enough just to know how to use a particular technology.

It is critical for people to be competent in the use of techniques that transcend any particular technology. Agile teams need to deliver value quickly, regardless of technology being used or the application being developed. IT agility happens when people use creative combinations of the core techniques to define, design, and deliver applications in short iterations that build on one another.

The first technique, brainstorming, is essential for pooling insights and ideas from business and technical people to define possible solutions. When people are skilled at techniques such as process mapping, they can explore and redesign any business process. When they are good at data modeling, they can clearly define and organize the relevant data. And when they are skilled at system prototyping, they can design different user interfaces and technical architectures that work well for the applications being built.

When developers make good use of object-oriented design and programming, they create stable and maintainable software. DevOps enables timely rollout of software into production. And agile project management enables people to coordinate their activities and address issues as they arise. That's what it takes to make agile development successful.

In coming posts, I'll explore these seven core techniques in more depth. And I'll expand on the analogy of marching bands and jazz bands to illustrate differences between traditional and agile development.

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mejiac   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   12/2/2013 9:52:56 AM
Re: The Agile Buzz
@Michael Hugos,

Thank you for your reply,

"Agile does work and it works well. But it involves big changes to the way IT operates."

I completly agree, and reason why I think companies that flag themselves as "Agile" can be misleading when you look at the way projects are managed.

Like you side, it required a change in mindset, and it has to be implemented from top to bottom, not just pushing developers for quicker turnaround.
DBK   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   12/1/2013 8:41:20 PM
Re: Re : The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development
@Michael - I agree with you about the benefits of prototyping.  When applicable I even like to prebuild my solutins in a controlled environement prior to deployement. The benefit that I have found are the availability of resources, removal of some variables and no surprises in the field.  Customers respond in a much more possitive way when you throw the switch and it works as apposed to throw the switch and start the debugg process.  It is a grea way to go when you can.
Susan Nunziata   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/30/2013 5:15:39 PM
Re: 'Agile' is the word
@kstaron: It's really about striking that balance between innovative, quick response and sticking to the tried and true, playing it safe. i think many organizatios are struggling with that these days. It seems the pressure to respond to market changes is putting the old business processes to the test, and new methodologies need to be embraced, even if there is some risk involved.
kstaron   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/30/2013 5:07:30 PM
Re: 'Agile' is the word
I can speak to large companied getting attached to their business models. In many ways and in many departments it can be a good thing. Once you've refined a process of many years and many clients and many employees, the process goes smoothly. More agile develoment causes more issues which in a big company can be much harder to fix over the entire company.
Susan Nunziata   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/30/2013 3:17:07 PM
Re: 'Agile' is the word
@Salik: good questions. I can oonly speak anecdotaly to what I have observed, it's by no meant to be comprehensive.

In my experience, some small companies get "stuck" after a while and start to lose their agilie mindset--they come up with one thing they do well and keep tyring to repeat it instead of innovating. In other cases, small companies remain agile until they are bought by bigger companies that put the kybosh on their approaches.

In larger companies I think the issue tends to be fear of change. If they are not accustomed to an agile approach, it can be very threatening, as it's a completely different way of operating from what they're used to. organizations tend to get very attached to their processes, people stake their careers in being good at following those processes, and when you try to get them away from that rigidity it can be very challenging.

Michael Hugos   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/30/2013 12:00:43 PM
Re: Re : The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development
@DBK - I think lots of companies are reluctant to do prototyping because they don't know the difference between building a prototype and building the real application. It can be a tough distinction to make if people don't understanding what prototyping is about. The prototype is only a model of the real application. But the model is real enough to test critical assumptions about how key hardware and software will perform and how people will react to the user interface.

Good prototyping is the best way to guide design decisions. More than once it has saved me from making big mistakes in design that would have led to big failures in building the system.

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The_Phil   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/30/2013 11:22:13 AM
Re: Re : The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development
You'll also be aware of the strengths & weaknesses of the product development process. It'll make you wiser the next time around.
DBK   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/30/2013 11:03:12 AM
Re: Re : The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development
Michael - I like the idea of prototyping and too many companies are reluctant to do this.  If done properly it can be a tool to evaluate the correct product and process.
Salik   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/30/2013 8:38:23 AM
Re: 'Agile' is the word
@Susan what do you think is the tendency of a small organization with agile approach to stay that way. What is the success rate here in your opinion?

And in the same way, what can be the major barriers for a large organization that keep it from going agile?
Susan Nunziata   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/30/2013 3:00:46 AM
Re: The Agile Buzz
@mejiac: Good point, agile cannot exist in a vacuum. it's a business philosophy that needs to take hold across the organization.
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