When it comes to delivering IT projects these days it's all about Agile and flexibility. Back in the day, there was the traditional 'Waterfall' development approach, which is fast going out of fashion. Here, each step of a project had to be completed before the IT team could move on to the next step, and it often relied on quality being tested quite late in the delivery lifecycle. This was all very well if you could easily see what you needed to do and the requirements going forward were clear and unlikely to change, but this was and is rarely the case in the real world.
So things needed to loosen up a bit. Enter the 'Agile' development technique, neatly summed up by Alok Sinha, president, Global Application & Engineering Services at Xchanging plc: "It's a method of iterative development that is based on collaboration and continuous improvement. It differs from Waterfall in that it can be characterised as being 'adaptive' rather than 'predictive'," he says. Essentially, with Agile the requirements gathering, development and testing happen concurrently rather than consecutively.
Flexibility is the name of the game and John Cooke, founder and managing director of Agile software development specialist Black Pepper Software, explains why big business has been beguiled by this adaptive model: "Companies face challenging business environments today and need to be able to adapt to change, including both their IT and software. Agile development allows teams to anticipate and react to these changes quickly and efficiently through constant and ongoing collaboration with all stakeholders to ensure that what is being delivered meets today's needs."
So where has Agile been commonly used? Well, anywhere from internal development teams in large corporates and small startups to the public sector. "A notable adoption of Agile is within the UK government's digital team," offers Hedley Smith, director and developer at Agile Collective. "It has produced some word-class projects and made some great documentation publicly available." In fact, public sector IT in the UK is generally moving towards Agile to avoid the large IT catastrophes that have plagued the sector in the past.
"Agile may be popular in web development, but it's also used in a wide variety of places," adds Matt Young, chief technology officer at Geonomics. "In fact, the Agile approach isn't constrained by industry sector or product type; it's about finding the most efficient ways to discover and meet user needs."
So should you be exploring this as your standard modus operandi? Well think of any project you have been involved in where the requirements changed part-way through, suggests Young. Think of a project where you went live with some features – possibly ones that required a lot of engineering effort to produce – not making the final cut. "Perhaps there was a situation where, despite a project being delivered to spec, it turned out that the specifications didn't accurately capture what the users needed," he continues. "Maybe you delivered a project that got significantly delayed because, part-way through implementation, you discovered inconsistencies or omissions in the requirements or specifications." Well Agile development could help in any or all of these scenarios.