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Agile Basics

Agile – what is it?

by Simon Buehring
Peak into the world of Agile! This guide is your one-stop solution to understanding Agile. It covers its values, varied methodologies, and practical tips for embracing Agile.
Agile – what is it?

Introduction to Agile

Agile is a popular term in software development and project management spheres. Agile also has a significant impact on today’s work cultures.

Agile is about responsiveness, flexibility, and collaboration. It concentrates on the delivery of high-value work. It’s a practice that favours continuous improvements and iterative delivery.

Agile is flexible. Agile teams can adapt to changing customer demands, market trends, and project requirements. This makes Agile different from traditional ‘waterfall’ project management methods.

The growing popularity of Agile lies in its adaptability. It streamlines workflow and elevates the quality of project outcomes.

Agile’s core is the Agile Manifesto, which sets out its values and principles. This document forms the foundation of various Agile methodologies.

In our dynamic business landscape, Agile provides a fresh perspective. Agile’s customer-centric approach enables a more responsive and efficient work culture.

History of Agile

The roots of Agile trace back to the 1990s. Then it was not uncommon for development teams to adopt iterative and incremental methodologies. Yet, the term ‘Agile’ surfaced later. In the early 2000s there was growing frustration with the existing ‘waterfall’ models.

The pivotal moment in Agile’s history occurred in the winter of 2001. Seventeen like-minded people, frustrated with traditional software development methodologies, met in Snowbird, Utah. These leading figures in software development shared a common goal. It was to plan an alternative to the document-driven, waterfall methods.

At this meeting the group proposed a new approach to software development. There declaration was the Agile Manifesto. Agile was born, guided by the principles and values outlined in the manifesto. This new approach valued “individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. It promoted delivering “working software over comprehensive documentation”.

Agile has evolved

In the years following its launch, Agile methods have evolved and diversified. Agile methods are common today. Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Kanban and Lean Software Development are all popular. Different Agile methods can meet the unique needs of teams and projects.

Agile has become a revolutionary force in software development and project management. It is a testament to its ability to adapt and respond to change, much like its philosophy.

Agile approach

The Agile approach is a dynamic one. It promotes flexibility and encourages rapid responses to change. Traditional linear models such as the waterfall approach were rigid. Agile methods are forward-thinking and iterative. They build on previous work to improve outcomes in incremental steps (increments).

Learn fast

Agile adoption is both a switch in methodologies and a shift in mindset. Agile is about scaling the ‘Fail Fast, Learn Fast’ approach in a controlled manner. Agile enables teams to learn from their mistakes. It enables them to adapt to new information or changes.

Iterative development and incremental delivery

The Agile approach consists of both iterative development and incremental delivery. Iterative development refines and improves a product or a system in cycles. Incremental delivery delivers work in small, manageable parts, ensuring continuous value delivery.

Inspection and adaptation

Inspection and adaptation are critical to Agile ways of working. Agile breaks down projects into manageable segments, known as iterations or Sprints. Each iteration undergoes a continuous planning, development, inspection, and adaptation cycle. Regular reviews and retrospectives ensure the product’s and the process’s continuous improvement.

Cross-functional teams

Cross-functional teams are central to Agile. Agile teams have diverse skill sets and collaborate to achieve a common goal. Collaboration fosters greater transparency, which improves communication. Agile teams can resolve issues faster because improved communication leads to better problem-solving.


The Agile approach, by its nature, is a continuous learning journey. It’s about creating a culture that encourages regular feedback, transparency, and adaptation. Agile aids continuous improvement. Agile teams quickly adjust to changes. An Agile approach equips teams to produce high-quality results in a dynamic environment. Agile helps to create a mindset that drives growth, innovation, and value at a sustained pace.

Agile manifesto, values, and principles

At the heart of Agile lies the Agile Manifesto containing a set of guiding values and principles. These foster adaptive, collaborative, and efficient ways of working.

The Agile Manifesto emphasises four key values:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Prioritising human interactions fosters better communication. In turn, this leads to shared understanding and more successful team collaboration.

  1. Working software over comprehensive documentation

While documentation is important, Agile gives more weight to delivering a working product. The focus lies in creating software that adds value and meets the user’s needs.

  1. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Agile encourages regular feedback and active participation of customers throughout the project. A collaborative approach ensures the product aligns with the customer’s needs and expectations.

  1. Responding to change over following a plan

Agile embraces change. It acknowledges the fact that requirements may evolve during the project. It encourages flexibility and quick adaptation.

Building from these values are twelve Agile principles. These serve as a guiding light for those adopting the Agile methodology. They emphasise customer satisfaction, welcome change, promote sustainable development, and demand technical excellence.

Transparency is a key principle of Agile. It encourages open communication. It makes the whole team aware of project progress, impediments, and victories. This openness aids in building trust within the team and stakeholders. This ensures everyone stays aligned towards the common goal.

The Agile values and principles can guide both project management and software development. Agile is a philosophy, a mindset. When teams embrace Agile, it can lead to big changes in the way people work and collaborate. Teams seeking agility benefit from understanding and applying these values and principles.

Agile methodologies

Agile encompasses an array of methodologies and approaches. Each one addresses unique project needs. At the same time, they adhere to the central principles laid out in the Agile Manifesto. Let’s explore some of the popular Agile methods.


One of the most adopted Agile methodologies is Scrum. Scrum centres around short, time-boxed iterations called Sprints. Scrum emphasises roles such as the Product Owner and Scrum Master. It has Agile events like daily stand-ups and retrospectives. These promote transparency, inspection, and adaptation.


Kanban was inspired by the Toyota Production System. Kanban is a visual system for managing work as it progresses through a process. The Kanban board is a tool to visualise work, limit work in progress, and maximise efficiency.

Lean Software Development (LSD)

Lean Software Development borrows principles from lean manufacturing to streamline software development. It aims to minimise waste and maximise customer value. It emphasises the flow of value from the beginning to the end of the production process.

Extreme Programming (XP)

Extreme Programming (XP) has roots in the Smalltalk programming community. Extreme Programming (XP) enhances software quality and responsiveness to changing customer requirements. It uses practices such as test-driven development, pair programming, and continuous integration.

Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)

An Agile project delivery framework, DSDM integrates well with other Agile methodologies. Its primary focus is on strategic goals and project delivery deadlines. DSDM was the first Agile project management framework. Later, DSDM became the popular Agile Project Management (AgilePM) framework and certification scheme.

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)

SAFe provides a structure for scaling Agile at an enterprise level. It promotes alignment, collaboration, and delivery across large numbers of Agile teams.

Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS)

LeSS is Scrum scaled up. The authors of Scrum designed it for single small teams. LeSS provides simple rules and guidelines on adopting Scrum in large product development.

Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)

DAD is a process decision framework. DAD enables simplified process decisions around incremental and iterative solution delivery. DAD builds on practices from Scrum, Agile Modelling, XP, Unified Process, and others.

Crystal Methods

Crystal is a family of Agile methodologies such as Crystal Clear and Crystal Orange. Each is suitable for different team sizes and project priorities. Their focus is on people, interactions, community, skills, and talents. Processes and tools take a back seat.

Feature-Driven Development (FDD)

FDD blends several industry-recognised best practices into a cohesive whole. These practices are driven from a client-valued functionality (feature) perspective.


This combines the flexibility and responsiveness of Agile with the governance of PRINCE2. PRINCE2 Agile provides guidance on how to apply Agile methods within the framework of PRINCE2.

All the methodologies above offer different tools and techniques. They all aim to achieve the same goals. That is to deliver high-quality, valuable software quickly and efficiently. Which approach to choose often depends on weighing up several aspects. These are the project’s specific needs, the team’s experience, and the organisational context.

Key Agile practices

Agile methodologies share several key practices. These promote efficient workflow, adaptability, and frequent delivery of functional software. Let’s now look at some of these pivotal practices.

Iterative development

This emphasises repeated cycles (iterations), allowing for regular feedback and refinement of a project. It’s about making frequent, smaller improvements rather than drastic changes all at once.

User stories

These are informal descriptions of one or more features of the software used by end-users. Agile teams write user stories in natural language. They keep the focus on user experience and promote customer-centric design and development.

Backlogs and Product Backlog

A backlog is a list of tasks required to complete the project. The Product Backlog contains descriptions of all functionalities desired in the product. They help in prioritising work and managing project requirements.

Sprints and Sprint Planning

Agile’s heart beats in the rhythm of Sprints. Sprints are fixed-length iterations usually lasting 1-4 weeks. Sprint Planning is a meeting where the team determines the work they will do during that Sprint. The team plans work in the form of Product Backlog items. The team plans to complete a realistic number of Product Backlog items during the Sprint.

Daily stand-up

A daily standup is a short meeting where the team reviews progress from the previous day. It also plans work for the upcoming day and identifies any obstacles in their path. This quick pulse-check promotes communication, transparency, and quick problem-solving.

Pair programming

Pair programming is where two programmers work side by side sharing one workstation. One writes the code (the driver), the other reviews each line of code as it’s typed in (the navigator). This enhances code quality, shares knowledge, and boosts team spirit.

Test-Driven Development (TDD)

In TDD, a developer writes automated tests for a new function before writing the actual code. It ensures the code functions as expected and leads to a robust, error-free codebase.

Continuous integration/delivery

Continuous integration and continuous delivery involve merging all developers’ work several times a day. This allows them to frequently deliver validated, deployable software.

Retrospective and continuous improvement (Kaizen)

A retrospective is a meeting held at the end of each Sprint. It is where the team analyses what happened, what worked well, and what didn’t. The insights gained from retrospectives feed into improvements – the essence of Kaizen – for the future.

Burndown chart

A burndown chart is a graphical representation of work left to do versus time. It provides a quick view of the project’s progress and scope changes. Burndown charts help to maintain transparency about the progress.

The most successful Agile teams incorporate these practices in their ways of working. Agile is not a rigid methodology but a philosophy. Agile encourages flexibility, responsiveness, and customer orientation. Adapt and adopt Agile practices based on the needs of the individual project and team.

Agile versus project management

Agile development methods and project management are distinct methodologies. Each of them brings their own merits and considerations. Agile development encompasses adaptable and iterative methods for developing products. Project management methods provide a higher level of control (project governance) than Agile. Project management controls aim to ensure that a project is a worthwhile investment. They aim to ensure that a project delivers the outputs that users need.

In a nutshell, Agile provides ways to deliver products responsive to external changes. Project management allows organisations to make decisions about investments in projects.

Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) aimed to bridge these two differing perspectives. It sought to combine the flexibility of Agile with project management governance. As such it was the first ever Agile project management method. It was an early pioneer in combining Agile’s flexibility with structured project management.

DSDM integrated traditional project management and Agile development methodologies. It incorporated key project management elements into the Agile approach. It ensured that all strategic considerations are addressed without sacrificing agility. DSDM later became AgilePM, the most popular Agile project management approach today.

Similarly, PRINCE2 Agile integrates the governance of PRINCE2 with the responsiveness of Agile. It provides the structure and oversight necessary in project management. It also maintains the leanness and adaptability inherent in Agile. PRINCE2 Agile supports decision-making at the project level. It ensures alignment with organisational goals and customer requirements. Simultaneously it provides the flexibility to adapt to changes in the project environment.

Both approaches show Agile and project management can coexist and enhance one another. They combine the control and governance of project management with Agile’s flexibility. These frameworks enable teams to deliver high-value results with greater effectiveness and responsiveness.

Benefits of Agile

Agile methods have seen a meteoric rise in popularity. This is because they bring numerous benefits to project execution and team dynamics. Here are some key advantages:

Enhanced customer satisfaction

Agile’s emphasis on customer collaboration results in frequent delivery of high-value features. This continuous delivery keeps customers engaged and satisfied.

Adaptability to change

Agile’s iterative nature allows for easy accommodation of changes. This flexibility keeps the project aligned with evolving customer requirements and market trends.

Increased productivity

Agile teams break down complex projects into manageable tasks. Small, cross-functional teams work on these tasks in short iterations. This leads to efficient utilisation of time and resources.

Improved quality

Regular reviews and testing ensure high-quality outputs. Test-driven development and pair programming are Agile practices that contribute to quality enhancement.

Risk mitigation

Agile’s incremental approach reduces the likelihood of absolute project failure. Regular iterations and feedback allow issues to be quickly identified and addressed.

Transparency and collaboration

Agile methods foster a transparent environment where information flows freely. Transparency, along with frequent interactions and reviews, enhances team collaboration and mutual trust.

The ability to deliver high-value outputs while adapting quickly to change is crucial. Agile offers both stability and flexibility, making Agile methodologies popular choices across industries.

Agile culture and mindset

Adopting Agile is not only a shift in methods or processes; it’s a change in mindset. Embracing an Agile mindset is about fostering a culture. The Agile culture values collaboration, customer satisfaction, and responding flexibly to change.

An Agile mindset encourages teams to see challenges as opportunities for growth. Agile values learning and adaptation rather than strictly adhering to plans. Agile embodies the principle of ‘responding to change over following a plan’. Agile views change as an opportunity to improve. Agile delivers a product that better meets the customer’s needs.

Agile culture emphasises individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Focusing on human elements fosters open communication, transparency, and trust within the team. Agile encourages team members to learn from each other and to share knowledge. Agile enables team members to continuously improve their skills and processes.

The Agile mindset advocates for customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Agile enables regular engagement between the team and customers. Agile helps teams understand their customers’ evolving needs.

The Agile mindset is about creating an environment of continuous improvement. This environment fosters adaptability with a deep focus on delivering value. An Agile mindset promotes growth. It encourages innovation, and leads to the delivery of high-quality, valuable products. Organisations seeking agility must ensure this mindset becomes part of the team’s DNA.

Agile metrics and tools

Agile metrics and tools play a key role. These help in tracking performance, predicting results, and driving improvements.

Agile Metrics

Agile metrics are quantitative measures providing insights into team performance and product quality.

Cycle Time

This metric reflects the time it takes for a work item to move from the start to the end of the process. It gives insights into how quickly tasks are completed. It helps teams identify bottlenecks and improve their process efficiency.

Lead Time

Lead time measures the total time from the moment a new task is logged until it’s completed. It includes the cycle time and any other delays incurred before work begins on the task. Understanding lead time helps teams improve their planning and forecasting.

Kanban board

One of the key tools in Agile is the Kanban board. This is a visual tool showing work at various stages of a process. It uses cards to represent work items and columns to represent each stage of the process. A Kanban board has several purposes. It visualises the workflow, limits work-in-progress, and maximises flow efficiency.

These metrics and tools assist in making Agile processes more transparent and effective. They provide actionable insights for teams. Agile teams can use them to streamline their workflow and deliver value.

Agile certification and training

Professional development in Agile methodologies is an asset in today’s business world. Agile certification and training help individuals gain Agile skills and knowledge. It can help them to apply Agile principles and values to help them deliver better results.

Agile certification is sought by professionals and demonstrates their proficiency in Agile practices. It’s recognised in many industries, adding credibility to professionals’ skills and knowledge. Some prominent Agile certifications include Certified Scrum Master and Agile Certified Practitioner.

Agile training courses provide hands-on experience or knowledge of Agile methodologies. Training offers numerous benefits beyond understanding the Agile mindset. They include learning how to apply Agile principles in real-world scenarios. These courses cover different Agile methods like Scrum, Kanban, Lean, and Extreme Programming. They provide a comprehensive understanding of different Agile methodologies.

Many organisations provide Agile certifications. These include the Scrum Alliance, and the Project Management Institute. They provide resources, collaborations, and certifications that help professionals deepen their Agile skills.

Agile certification and training can elevate professionals’ ability to navigate project challenges. They enable them to contribute to achieving team and organisational goals. They are an investment in continuous learning and professional growth. They also help foster an Agile culture promoting adaptability, collaboration, and value delivery.

Implementing Agile ways of working

Implementing Agile methodologies requires planning and a cultural shift. To move towards Agile ways of working, here are some key steps to kickstart the Agile journey:

Embrace an Agile mindset

An Agile transformation begins with embracing an Agile mindset. Agile values individuals and interactions, customer collaboration, and embracing change.

Define roles

Agile introduces roles like the Product Owner and the Scrum Master. Each role has its own distinct responsibilities. The Product Owner manages the Product Backlog. The Scrum Master facilitates the team’s progress towards goals.

Create self-organising teams

Agile thrives on self-organising teams that can make decisions and solve problems. These teams foster a sense of ownership and accountability.

Adopt Agile practices

Implement practices like time-boxing and Agile testing. Time-boxing plans and restricts work to a fixed period. Agile testing involves testing early and often.

Implement servant leadership

Agile leaders should embody the principles of servant leadership. This fosters an environment where teams feel supported and empowered.

Identify the value stream

The value stream identifies all actions which deliver value to the customer. It covers a product’s full lifetime. Recognising these steps maintains focus on tasks that lead to value creation.

Engage an Agile coach

An Agile coach guides a team through the transition to Agile ways of working. Agile coaches provide training, ease changes, and help the team overcome any challenges.

Implementing Agile methodologies is a journey. The goal is to adopt a new set of practices. It must create a workspace promoting adaptability, collaboration, and constant value delivery. Agile, when implemented correctly, can lead to a significant positive impact. It improves team efficiency and product quality.

Wider roles within Agile

In the Agile landscape, there are more roles than the Scrum Master or Product Owner. Let’s explore some broader roles within Agile.

Agile business analysis

Agile business analysts work alongside the Product Owner. They define user stories, refine Product Backlogs, and ensure the team delivers value. They bridge the gap between business stakeholders and the development team. They help communication and understanding.

Agile programme management

Agile programme managers oversee a set of related projects. They ensure these align with the organisation’s goals and deliver value. They coordinate across many teams. They align them towards a shared vision and manage interdependencies.

Agile portfolio management

Portfolio managers in an Agile context manage a collection of projects or programmes. They align the portfolio with strategic objectives. They prioritise initiatives based on value. They maintain a balance between risks and rewards.

Agile project management

Agile project managers manage projects in an Agile environment. They help collaboration and manage resources. They ensure the delivery of valuable outputs in an iterative and incremental manner.


DevOps emphasises collaboration between software developers (“Dev”) and IT operations (“Ops”). DevOps is a culture, or movement. It promotes shorter, more controllable iterations, frequent code releases, and robust feedback mechanisms.

These wider roles are critical to fostering an Agile culture in organisations. They enable teams to deliver value quickly and respond effectively to changes.

Profiles in Agile: key personalities

Various visionary leaders have shaped the Agile world. Here are some key personalities and their contributions:

Ken Schwaber & Jeff Sutherland

Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland were co-creators of the Scrum framework. Their work has been instrumental in popularising Agile methodologies. Their book “The Scrum Guide” is a definitive guide to Scrum.

Keith Richards

Keith Richards is an Agile pioneer from the UK. Keith was instrumental in bringing Agile to a wider community in the UK. He was the Lead Author for PRINCE2 Agile, and AgilePM, and a joint author of DSDM.

Alistair Cockburn

Alistair Cockburn co-authored the Agile Manifesto. He is known for his work in use cases and Agile software development and is the creator of Crystal Methods.

Mike Cohn

Mike Cohn is a well-respected Agile consultant and co-founder of the Scrum Alliance. He has written several influential books on Agile methodologies. These have often focused on Scrum and Agile estimation and planning.

Dean Leffingwell

Dean Leffingwall created the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). His work focuses on implementing Agile practices at the enterprise level.


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