The Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) describes a methodology with clearly defined processes for high-quality custom software development.
A traditional software development life cycle front-loads the work. For larger projects, the time it takes before you even see a working prototype can vary depending on a number of factors.
Most startups and smaller companies don’t have the financial runway to wait that long. They are faced with the harsh realities that competitors can beat them to market with a final product or their customers have already moved on to the next shiny solution.
Enter the Agile SDLC model, which combines iterations and incremental processes that focus on process adaptability and meeting customer satisfaction through the rapid delivery of software products. By breaking the product into smaller, incremental builds and prioritizing working software over documentation and planning, you’ll have a showcase-worthy product quicker than you can say “Agile Software Development Life Cycle.”
In this article, we’ll cover exactly what Agile SDLC is, how it differs from a traditional life cycle, and how to implement it as a project manager, whether you work at a development company or not.
What is Agile SDLC?
Agile SDLC methodology focuses on collaborative decision-making and development over multiple short cycles or sprints, rather than a top-down process with a single series of stages.
The foundation of an Agile SDLC is a cyclical development method for software in iterations instead of all in one shot. Your teams work in multiple cycles, which typically last between two and four weeks.
It’s not about a single, all-inclusive release; it is an iterative approach.
Developers focus on the most important features at any given moment, rather than going “according to plan.”
What is the difference between Waterfall SDLC and Agile SDLC?
To see the difference between a traditional Waterfall SDLC and Agile, you first need to understand both models.
The Waterfall model
These are the 5 stages of a traditional Waterfall life cycle:
- Requirement analysis
Each phase can last any amount of time, and sometimes it takes weeks or months before ever reaching the implementation stage. This traditional SDLC isn’t designed with speed in mind.
For large software projects, where you want to avoid a brand-destroying fiasco at all costs, this seems like it makes sense.
But it’s nearly impossible to predict all the necessary elements before jumping in. So your initial requirement analysis often fails to include everything you need.
Instead, iterations with ongoing testing, quality assurance, and communication typically lead to better results.
The Agile model
When you look at its stages, Agile might not seem so different from Waterfall. The pivotal point is that this development process breaks a larger project down into smaller cycles or sprints.
At the end of each iteration (which normally happens over a consistent time period, something of value is produced. The product that’s produced during each sprint should be able to be placed into the world to receive stakeholder or user feedback.
You repeat this process with every Sprint.
Contrary to Waterfall project management, agile is strictly sequenced: you do not start design until research is complete and development doesn’t commence until all designs are approved. With Agile, developers, designers, and business people work together simultaneously.
That means the real life cycle of Agile development looks more like this:
- Project planning
- Product roadmap creation
- Release planning
- Sprint planning
- Daily meetings
- Sprint Review
The key differences between traditional SDLC and Agile
|Carefully planned first version||Speed and adaptability|
|Limited transparency||Full transparency between members|
|Top-down responsibility||Shared responsibility and ownership|
|Initial research and planning||Ongoing research, planning, and testing|
|Different teams in different stages||Ongoing collaboration|
|Focused on delivering full product||Iteration-focused|
The 12 Agile principles should guide every Agile software development project. They further highlight the differences between each SDLC model.
But the main difference between a Waterfall model and an Agile one is their focus.
A Waterfall SDLC focuses on delivering one complete product.
With Agile, you focus on more achievable iterations, which helps guide your team’s immediate actions.
These differences lead to many benefits for Agile methodology adopters, like a better ability to manage and adapt to changing priorities as your business develops.
Only 8% of Agile projects fail, versus a whopping 21% of projects following the Waterfall model.
How to implement an Agile SDLC in your 2021 company
Once you choose the Agile SDLC model, you must follow a distinct process to foster a smooth design and development transition for your company.
1) Commit to the transition as a whole
It’s crucial that you have all hands on deck for your team’s transition to Agile SDLC.
And it’s not just your developers and managers that you need to consider. You also need to involve your key clients and other stakeholders.
Ongoing collaboration with your stakeholders is one of the core values of the Agile methodology, so you will want to use a tool that makes this easy.
2) Internalize the values and principles to shift your mindset
The Agile manifesto should be referred to routinely. Use it as a conversation starter in team meetings to discuss company values and the mindset going forward about projects.
For example, your teams and managers need to accept that they can’t know everything in advance. Focusing on just the big picture and the first 2 weeks’ plans can be a big transition.
The shift will take time, even after you have your first Agile team. The good news?
Mature Agile teams meet their project goals 21% more often than inexperienced teams.
3) Pick the right Agile framework for your company
Application of the Agile model depends on your company’s development teams’ process, size, goals, and needs.
Scrum is a great framework if you want to leverage the main benefits like speed and adaptability at a small scale.An iterative model like Scrum focuses on the short term and forces you to prioritize what’s most important at any time.
To manage the greater life cycle of multiple products at scale, you can use a scaling Agile framework like SAFe.
4) Fill and optimize a product backlog
Below, we will highlight some tactics related to a Scrum project.
You should work with your product owners and stakeholders to create a backlog of potential features and required user stories for your product.
As priorities change and new ideas arise, make sure to communicate updates in real time with everyone.
5) Plan the sprint (iteration)
Set up a meeting with the product owner and all team members and review all the features, stories, and bugs in your backlog. Discuss which ones should be prioritized in the upcoming project sprint.
Expand on the selected user stories, and create a smart workflow with task ownership and estimated deadlines or story points.
At monday.com, we recommend you plan your sprints to give your teams the leeway they need to adapt to any bottlenecks or surprising developments, and still deliver on time.
Another key to planning an Agile project is using tools that empower employees as task owners. It motivates your employees and keeps them focused.
6) Hold daily meetings
The daily standup meeting is a pillar of Agile teams whether they use Scrum or other frameworks.
Focus on these three things:
- What you did yesterday
- What you’ll do today
- What’s in your way (roadblocks)
Our remote R&D team uses daily Zoom standups to stay on track. By screen sharing the project board, everyone can get up to speed at a glance, improving engagement and accountability.
7) Test the iteration with your stakeholders
Once you’ve completed the sprint, you want to test the iteration with all the most important stakeholders.
If they accept the changes, the sprint was a success, and you can move on to new features and user stories. If not, you need to tackle their issues in the next sprint.
Our feedback tracker template is a great way to record customer feedback and make sure you’ve captured every stakeholders’ opinion on the latest iteration.
8) Review your sprint and evaluate your immediate goals and backlog
After you complete a sprint, it’s best to complete an inventory of sorts.
Single out areas for improvement, and consider how the results of the sprint affect your future backlog priorities.
The Agile life cycle is made up of a lot more than one sprint — just because this is the last step doesn’t mean you’re done.
It’s time to rinse and repeat the process and keep producing functional iterations of your product until you’ve delivered the final version that meets all your customers’ needs.
Instead of a static process, with Agile SDLC your team will adapt along with your company and customers.
Although your product roadmap and sprint goals will change, you’ll stay solid with the foundation of a well-maintained backlog and ongoing collaboration with stakeholders.
Final tip: you can use monday.com’s feature backlog template to easily manage, share, and optimize your backlogs!