Ever had one of those bosses who’s obsessed with making everything more Agile?
You complete a new feature, and he asks, “But is it Agile?”
You hand in a report, and over lowered spectacles, he says, “Is this Agile enough?”
When the team goes out to lunch, he squints at his sandwich. “Could this be more Agile?”
Maybe you’ve had that boss. Maybe you’ve realized you are that boss.
If the former, we sympathize. If the latter, the first step is to admit you have a problem.
Although most people think of “Agile” as a word they can just use to mean whatever, it’s a real methodology with specific steps, laid out in the famous Agile Manifesto.
The 5 Agile methodology steps — sometimes 6, we’ll get to that — are inseparable from Agile as a whole.
This article will tell you exactly what steps make up the Agile software development lifecycle — or the Agile SDLC model — so you can put an end to Agile as a buzzword.
And once you’ve done that, you can apply these principles to shoot your team’s productivity through the roof.
What is the Agile life cycle?
Agile project management is a methodology that can be applied in different ways. Depending on which framework you choose, a project life cycle can play out along many diverse paths.
For example, if you choose to build a Scrum team, you will focus on getting through as much of your product backlog as possible over a series of short work periods, called sprints.
If you choose the Kanban framework, your priority is to maximize efficiency by reducing the time it takes to get from one step to the next.Yet every Agile framework assumes that the software development process unfolds in 5 distinct steps: Envision, Speculate, Explore, Adapt, and Close.
Some schools of thought add a 6th step: Maintain. For others, maintaining the product until a scheduled end of life is part of the Close step.
Imagine an Agile development team is building an app to help their users select the perfect blend of loose-leaf tea.
The Agile team starts by envisioning a problem in the current market. They notice that most consumers had to use search engines to find out what tea was right for them.
They speculate on what their tea selector app could look like. Should it follow a flowchart? How can users refine the search? What if they could save searches for later?
They explore these possibilities by building an early version of the app, TeaTree. Then they test it with potential users, who report what they like and dislike. Using this information, they adapt TeaTree through iteration after iteration, until it’s the strongest product possible.
Finally, the Agile development team closes by releasing TeaTree to a wider audience. Once it’s out there, they can’t take it back — except by restarting the development process at Adapt, Explore, or even Speculate to build a new stable version.
If you’re at all familiar with the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK), you might have heard these phases described with other names: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing.
In the next section, we’ll go into detail about each step, and you’ll see how it all fits together.
What is the 5-step Agile methodology?
In the Envision phase, you conceive an idea for a product by searching for a gap in the market.
Somebody notices people struggling with a problem, realizes they can solve it, and begins putting a plan and team together.
But there’s more to initiating an Agile software development project than getting people together and telling them to start working.
First, you need to identify your stakeholders. A stakeholder is anybody who might care, even a little bit, how the project turns out.
At a small startup, stakeholders are often just your team and customers. At a bigger company, it could be managers, clients, people who own shares, and even members of your community.
You also need a project charter. That’s a single document that describes everything you’re trying to do, which you can always go back to if you’re confused.
The monday.com high-level project plan template can help you summarize your project details in a charter.
Now it’s time to get into the details. Plan a list of features for your product.
Imagine yourself as a user who needs to complete a certain task. In an app that claimed it could do the job, what would you hope to find?
Figure out what smaller components are needed to make each of those features work. For example, a search bar requires drop-down menus, auto-completion, filters, and more.
Create a timeline for how long each of these features will take to implement. Go into detail. Include the smaller sub-features in your planning.
Determine key milestones. At what point will your project reach a meaningfully different stage? What’s the bare minimum you’ll consider showing to users?
Use the monday.com project timeline template to set up a central dashboard where you can store all this information. As you can see in the screenshot, it makes it easy to conceptualize complex stages and milestones.
The Explore phase is also called the Execution phase. Both terms express the same idea: this is when you get to work.
The Agile method emphasizes exploring, because it’s all about adaptability. Instead of getting attached to one method, use the building process to explore all the different ways you can accomplish your mission.
During the software development process, if another approach is working better, change your plans.
This is the reason so many Agile development teams use the Scrum framework, working in 1–4 week sprints. It’s easier to discard work from a short sprint than it is to erase 3 months of labor.
The monday.com sprint planning template will make this part a lot easier.
The awesome thing here is that by customizing columns, you can track your use of resources — money, time, and equipment — during each sprint.
That’s important. Good planning gives you more leeway to explore in the long run.
More than any other step, the Adapt phase makes the Agile method what it is.
In the old days of software development via Waterfall methodology, a product would be built in secret over several months. If the public didn’t like what they got after that, tough luck.
Agile project management focuses on creating a tight feedback loop with your customers. You can get their opinions on your software as you’re building it.
Choose trusted alpha testers and work closely with them. Instead of guessing what they might need, you can just ask them directly.
If user research gives you ideas for new features, log them in a dashboard like the monday.com feature backlog template.
Iterate repeatedly. Don’t be afraid to go back to step 3 if something isn’t working.
Through incremental changes, your product will get closer to where it needs to be — like making small nudges to keep a ship on the correct course.
Early on — in step 1, if possible — you should have defined the conditions under which you’d be ready to release your product to a wider audience.
Closing is not irreversible. It doesn’t mean you can’t keep changing your product for the better. On the contrary, Agile methodology demands continuous iteration until the product is retired for good.
But you should still be confident in what you’ve built. Make sure there are no bugs bad enough to harm your reputation. Use the monday.com bug tracking template to monitor potential dealbreakers.
The Agile Manifesto gives more value to working software than comprehensive documentation. So it’s highly important that your software at least “works.”
After you launch, you’ll start getting reactions from customers who have no relationship with you at all. Monitor their opinions, and reach out to them if they have something astute to say.
“Maintain” is sometimes included as the 6th step. This means you plan a cycle of regular maintenance and updates for the rest of the product’s lifetime.
Many an Agile project manager leaves out the Maintain step, since they see creating and following this plan as implicit in the Close.
Use monday.com for your Agile needs
For all the buzz around it, Agile is a simple process. And yet, implementing even one Agile principle can be deceptively difficult. You have to keep track of a huge amount of information that’s broken into multiple phases and constantly changing. Alterations in one step can affect all the others.
A good Work OS lightens the load. With monday.com, you can link together your Agile methodology dashboards, so they update automatically.
It makes building a time-saving Agile workflow incredibly easy, across the whole Agile lifecycle.
Try monday.com’s customizable project templates for all 5 Agile methodology steps.