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.

View Comments: Threaded | Newest First | Oldest First
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 2:44:17 PM
Re: More Than Development
@CurtisFranklin,

 

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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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.
shakeeb   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/29/2013 9:01:22 PM
Re: More Than Development
There are many advantages by using agile development techniques. The main aspect is the quality, where the testing is integrated thought the development. Having these regular testing will help the developers to come with quality developments.
shakeeb   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/29/2013 9:01:53 PM
Re: More Than Development
Furthermore this has a greater customer satisfaction since the customer active involvement is always taken in to consideration throughout the development life cycle.
shehan   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/29/2013 10:04:02 PM
Re: More Than Development
@shakeeb very important point. by involving customer from the development stage has  great advantage in making a complete product.
shehan   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/29/2013 10:08:37 PM
Re: More Than Development
"Brainstorming and facilitation" is an important aspect to get ideas from the team you work with. Collective ideas will always add more value than individual thinking.

 
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.
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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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.
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.
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. 




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.
singlemud   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/27/2013 3:45:33 PM
Re: 'Agile' is the word
Small companies are born to be agile way, otherwise it can not survive. The concept of agile is for big enterprise to be lean start up
Susan Nunziata   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/30/2013 2:57:37 AM
Re: 'Agile' is the word
@singlemud: indeed, agile is necessary for small organizations. The larger an organization grows, the less agile it seems to become. Why do you think this is the case?
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 3:17:07 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.

 
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 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.
singlemud   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/27/2013 3:49:15 PM
Re: 'Agile' is the word
Small companies are born to be agile way, otherwise it can not survive. The concept of agile is for big enterprise to be lean start up
Salik   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/28/2013 1:23:17 AM
Re: 'Agile' is the word
@singlemud - Small companies can change their development framework because of a small framework. Like you said, it's the willingness of the big boys to adapt to change that matters.
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!
Anand   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/28/2013 4:31:10 AM
Re : The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development
@ CurtisFranklin, you are right it cannot be confined to development; it is a complete business philosophy. It is a specific way of doing things in a cumulative manner. Many a business today is turning to Agile with differing results depending upon the approach they take. I think confining it only to dev teams would hinder the output it can actually give.
Anand   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/28/2013 4:31:14 AM
Re : The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development
@ Michael Hugos, this indeed is the true philosophy of Agile. It is more of a customized kind of approach tailored to fit your unique requirements. It should have the necessary flexibility to mould it the way you need to according to your actual experience when you put it to execution. This is exactly we need in today's dynamic world.
Michael Hugos   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/28/2013 10:12:36 AM
Re: Re : The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development
Hi Anand - Thank you. Flexibility and ability to think clearly as things keep happening that we did not expect; these will be qualities we need to find our way though this real-time world we live in now. I'll go into a bit more about each of the seven core techniques for agility in future articles. 

 
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Susan Nunziata   The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development   11/30/2013 2:55:59 AM
Re: Re : The 7 Core Techniques of Agile Development
@Michael: I completely agree that this approach is extremely beneficial to any organization. My sturggle is with how you find the people who have the right skills in the areas you outline--in addition to the requisite technical skills.

Do you have questions you ask in hiring that help you to ascertain how well individuals will perform in, for example, a brainstorming session?
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.
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.
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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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.


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