What's different about agile management?

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Software development processes have undergone a significant amount of change in a short amount of time, and it can be difficult to know just how to leverage new trends effectively. However, despite the challenges, many teams have adopted approaches like agile software testing methodologies to make their operations more responsive and better support user needs.

While there has been a lot of talk about the benefits of using agile test management, for some organizations, it may be unclear how to reap these advantages and adapt to the new practices. One way to clear this confusion is to examine just what agile means for development efforts. Let's look at what's different about agile management and how teams are achieving it.

Agile vs. traditional approaches
When comparing agile and traditional methods like waterfall development, there are a number of differences that can be expected. As TechTarget noted, the biggest characteristic of agile is likely the concept of embracing change, which is completely foreign to legacy approaches. In a traditional project, the scope is established at the very beginning and the expectation is that any adjustments will cause issues. This strictly limits the amount of flexibility that developers and QA teams have been striving to meet their users' needs. Any changes made after the fact are likely to rack up significant costs and delay the project's schedule.

However, agile management fully expects change to happen at any time, and teams must be ready for this dramatic mind shift. If a build does not meet up to stakeholder requirements, for example, developers must make these fixes right away. This could include adding new functionality, taking out unnecessary features or patching critical vulnerabilities.

Another major difference between the two approaches is that agile encourages collaboration and team accountability. TechTarget stated that many legacy teams operate under the assumption that a single person is responsible for the project's outcome - normally the manager themselves. However, with the amount of collaboration and engagement in agile, all team members are liable to the program's success or failure.

The last difference is how development processes are carried out in each method. In traditional approaches, for example, one step must be completed before the next can start, and waterfall testing is normally pushed to the end of the cycle, leaving little time to find every defect. Agile management, on the other hand, is conducted in short sprints, meaning that pieces of the whole are being deployed rather than the whole program at once. This ensures that each part gets the testing it needs and that any changes can be easily reflected in the build at any time.

Dissecting characteristics of lean and agile
One mistake that many teams make is believing lean and agile are the same - while they are certainly very similar, there are some subtle differences that set these approaches apart. Understanding the characteristics of each can determine whether organizations leverage these practices effectively or encounter challenges. Hacker Chick's Abby Fichtner noted that lean approaches provide the premises behind why agile works, but is specifically geared toward eliminating anything that isn't adding value and only working on what is absolutely needed at this moment in time. Lean principles also include building quality in, delivering fast and optimizing the whole.

"Eliminating waste means eliminating useless meetings, tasks and documentation," Fichtner wrote. "But it also means eliminating time spent building what 'we know' we'll need in the future (things are constantly changing so we often end up not needing them – or if we do, we have to rework them because conditions and our understanding has changed by then). It also means eliminating inefficient ways of working – like multitasking – so we can deliver fast."

Agile, on the other hand, doesn't place as much priority on eliminating waste, but rather values customer satisfaction, welcomes changing requirements and establishes a sustainable frequent delivery schedule for projects. Agile management also believes in the importance of face-to-face conversations, stakeholder collaboration, self-organizing teams and regular reflection and adaptation - some of which may go against the lean definition of eliminating waste. By understanding how agile management is different from other development methods, teams can better leverage it for their projects and achieve the flexibility they require to meet user needs.

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