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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shehan   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/26/2013 9:38:02 AM
Agile development
Interesting article on Agile development. This concept is practiced in most of the software companies. At the same time it has being related to Project Management as well.
CurtisFranklin   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/26/2013 11:26:09 AM
More Than Development
Thanks for a thought-provoking post! It seems that you're using Agile the way so many executives I talk to use it: as an overall business philosophy rather than just a development discipline. 

Do you find most of your peers are using Agile the way that you do? Do you think it's even possible to get the most out of Agile if you confine it to something that the dev team uses?

Thanks again!
mejiac   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/26/2013 2:41:23 PM
The Agile Buzz
Thank you for your article! Very interesting!

"It is critical for people to be competent in the use of techniques that transcend any particular technology."

This greatly caught my attention. I'm currently assigned to an organization that's trying to implement Agile, but the approach is "ok, we're now Agile" but everything else stays the same versus actually getting the skill set required to have a project run in an Agile way.

I think many companies are not aware that agile is more than just a methodology, is a different way of running things at every level.
mejiac   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/26/2013 2:44:17 PM
Re: More Than Development


Thank your for your comment, and I greatly agree that Agile is seen more as something the the developers do versus something that causes a shift in the way the organization manages projects.

Agile it's a structure changed accross an organization, so it cannot only be limited to developers.

Do you think companies need guidance on how to adopt agile, so that it's implemented from the top to the bottom? versus only the bottom?
Michael Hugos   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/26/2013 2:55:18 PM
Re: More Than Development
@CurtisFranklin - yes agile is an overall business philosophy; it isn't just a development discipline. Doing software development is a good way to learn agile but there are other ways to learn it and many other places to put agile to good use.

It isn't possible to get much out of agile in a company if it is just confined to a thing that the development teams do. First extend agile to IT operations - that's what DevOps is about. Then extend agile to new marketing and sales campaigns - that's what lots of ad agencies and marketing execs are learning to do. Then extend agile to the way your company develops a new product or enters a new market - that's what the lean/agile startup movement is all about.

Agile is about trying stuff out and seeing what works and building on success and learning and improving as you go. How else are we going to find our way through this crazy real-time global economy we live in now?


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Michael Hugos   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/26/2013 3:07:19 PM
Re: The Agile Buzz
@mejiac - companies are starting to come around to agile because they feel the pressure to do something - but they often don't seem to have their hearts in it yet... but they will because how else are we all going to keep up with the pace of change and the unpredictable nature of business these days?

Agile starts with a frame of mind. It is more than just a methodology or a sequence of steps. It is both of those things, but if people just go through the motions and try to shoehorn agile techniques into rigid traditional ways of working they are not going to get much benefit.

Lots of confusion about agile out there. Yet every startup and app dev company uses agile and big companies like Google and Amazon use it too. Agile does work and it works well. But it involves big changes to the way IT operates. And as it catches on, it involves changes to the way the whole company operates.

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Zaius   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/26/2013 11:37:49 PM
'Agile' is the word
Failing to respond at the right moment can be very expensive. 
Sometimes, a group heads to a target and in the middle of the timeline, the scenario changes, but they still pursue the same target. Whereas an agile group always follow the target in accordance with the need. 

Pedro Gonzales   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/27/2013 1:39:38 AM
Re: More Than Development
You are right Michael.  The best way to find out whether something work is by building from  success.  I had no idea agile development could be applied to other fields besides IT.
Salik   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/27/2013 6:50:35 AM
Re: 'Agile' is the word
@Zaius - True. Agile requires you to revisit your decisions so you can be proactive in going about the completion of your project.

Also, the shift to agile development will be hard, but once a team starts building up on their successful attempts and learn from the mistakes, it'll be a piece of cake.
tekedge   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/27/2013 2:50:01 PM
The 7 Core Techniques of Agile
@Micheal , this is so true in this everchanging fast growing world, agile is the way to go and to extend it to other areanas to have a structure of where the project is going!
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