What is Agile and How is it Essential in Software Development?

May 08, 2024 / Katarina Rudela

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Agile practices in software development seek to improve software through the collaboration of self-organized, cross-functional teams. They include practices for gathering requirements, discovering solutions and iteratively improving those solutions. Agile software development was first formalized in a manifesto published in 2001, which provides the principles and values for a range of software development frameworks. Agile methodologies include Scrum and Kanban, which offer multiple benefits over traditional approaches to software development.


The earliest methods of iterative and incremental software development originate from the late 1950s, which were then known as evolutionary project management. Adaptive software development emerged in the early 1970s, with many approaches to lightweight software development evolving during the 1990s. These methods were generally a response to heavyweight software development, commonly known as the waterfall methodology, which was prevalent at that time.

Critics consider this methodology to be overly planned and regulated, often leading to micromanagement. The earliest lightweight methods include rapid application development (RAD), the unified process (UP) and dynamic systems development method (DSDM), all of which were first used in the early 1990s. Methods developed during the late 1990s include Crystal Clear, feature-driven development (FDD) and extreme programming (XP).  Today, experts generally refer to these methods as agile software development, even though they predate the Agile Manifesto. Agile approaches are also evolving from lean management methodologies in other industries like manufacturing.

Seventeen software developers discussed lightweight development methods in 2001, resulting in the publication of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. This manifesto includes the 12 principles that guide Agile practices, but it doesn’t address the implementation of those principles. Specific methodologies like Kanban and Scrum are needed to put Agile into practice, with each methodology making its own interpretation of agile principles.

Software developers have also created additional guidelines for implementing Agile. For example, a group led by Cockburn and Highsmith wrote an addendum to project management principles in 2005 entitled the PM Declaration of Interdependence. This document provides guidance on software project management based on agile software development methods. Another group working for Martin wrote an extension of software development principles in 2009 named the Software Craftsmanship Manifesto, which also guides agile software development.

Additional publications that expand on agile principles include the Guide to Agile Practices by the Agile Alliance, published in 2011. This document is a dynamic compendium of definitions, terms and elements related to agile practices. It also includes guidelines based on the interpretations and experience of agile practitioners.


Agile practices are no longer restricted solely to software development, although industries use them in different ways.’s 16th State of Agile report from 2022 shows the use of agile methodologies by industry as follows:

Figure 1: Agile Usage by Industry

Technology is the heaviest user of Agile at 27 percent, which is primarily in software development. Common uses in this industry include adapting to changes in user requirements, implementing customer feedback and iterative workflows. Financial services are next at 18 percent, where team members use Agile practices to adjust to market changes, use feedback to refine products and improve team collaboration on complex projects. Professional services account for eight percent of Agile practices, which most often use Agile for project management and iterative client engagements. Healthcare and pharmaceuticals also conduct eight percent of Agile practices, which helps these companies adapt to changing patient conditions and refining patient care processes.

Seven percent of Agile practices are conducted by government agencies, where they improve interdepartmental collaboration, enhance public services and accelerate policy changes. Another five percent occurs in industrial manufacturing, typically by combining them with lean manufacturing principles to reduce waste and improve responsiveness. Five percent of Agile practices also occur in insurance to process claims, refine product offerings and deliver digital solutions faster.

Development Cycle

The diagram below shows the software development cycle under Agile:

Figure 2: Agile Software Development Cycle

The phases of the Agile development cycle shown above don’t need to be completed in succession. In practice, these phases often occur in parallel.

The requirements analysis phase involves gathering information on who will use the product and how they’ll use it.
Requirements must be detailed, quantifiable and relevant, so this phase typically consists of many meetings between the development team, managers, users and other stakeholders.

The goal of the planning phase is to break the proposed software into smaller pieces called features. The development team will then prioritize the features and assign them to an iteration.

The system and software design phase determines what the solution will do, based on the requirements. The test team will also develop their testing strategy during this phase.

The development phase consists of creating and testing features in addition to scheduling iterations for deployment, based on the iterative and incremental development (IID) approach. The first iteration is called iteration 0, which has no features. However, it does establish the foundation for development, including the finalization of contracts, environmental preparation and funding.

Each feature is tested against the requirements during the testing phase to ensure it meets the customer’s needs. Many types of testing exist under Agile practices, including unit testing, integration testing, system testing and acceptance testing.

Deployment is the process of delivering the product to the customer, which occurs after testing is complete. Users will encounter problems once they start using the product, requiring the project team to repeat the development cycle.


Agile methodologies include many specific frameworks, such as Scrum and Kanban. While these frameworks share the same Agile principles, they have their own practices and values.


The diagram below shows the Scrum methodology:

Figure 3: Scrum Methodology

Scrum is an iterative, incremental framework characterized by stages of work known as sprints. It also emphasizes the maximization of development time. The primary objective of Scrum is to deliver working software incrementally through short iterations. This agile methodology allows stakeholders to provide feedback as early as possible during development, so developers can adjust it accordingly.

The owner of a feature creates user requirements, or stories, which the development team then prioritizes and creates during a sprint. Team members communicate about their activities during a daily meeting known as a scrum, including what they did yesterday and what they plan to do today. They also describe any obstacles that are preventing them from achieving those goals.


The following chart shows the Kanban methodology:

Figure 4: Kanban Methodology

Kanban is a lean methodology for managing workflows that originates from manufacturing environments, although it has since been applied to other industries like software development. The term “Kanban” means sign or card in Japanese, referring to the use of boards to indicate the status of a task. Kanban boards typically have three status columns, including To Do, In Progress and Done.

Each task moves through these stages as it progresses, beginning with the To-Do column. Once a task is started, it moves to the In Progress column, and then to the Done column once it’s completed. The visualization of each task status tells team members the work that’s being done at any given time. It also prevents them from starting too many tasks simultaneously, which can lead to bottlenecks.


Coders generally work by themselves in the Waterfall model of software development, receiving little input before they hand their code off to testers. This approach often makes it difficult to handle bugs and feature changes, since they occur late in the development process. As a result, projects can experience significant delays or even be abandoned.

The idea behind Agile is that stakeholders remain involved in the development process, including those on the business side. This difference allows developers to bring better software to market faster, although it also requires a profound cultural change. Communication is at least as important as technology in Agile, especially between developers and team members on the business side. The cultural shift caused by Agile has also helped DevOps gain traction, which is one of the latest advances in software development.

What’s Next for Agile?

Many organizations throughout the world have used agile methodologies for the past two decades, and it’s likely that its adoption will continue to grow across industries. Agile will also evolve in response to technological advancements in software development. In addition, this working style emphasizes adaptability, collaboration and continuing progress, which is becoming increasingly important with the growth of remote work. All of these qualities will assist future teams with producing quality software quickly and effectively.

The latest trends in agile methodologies include their increasing use in quickly adapting solutions in response to consumer feedback. They’re also encouraging greater innovation due to their ability to adjust to changes in user requirements. In addition to its growing popularity in software development, Agile is gaining traction in other industries like finance, healthcare and marketing.

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