Transition to agile software development

Many organizations take up the transition from waterfall to agile with the best intentions in mind. Like so many other companies, you might also be seeking to replace your traditional waterfall processes with agile in a quest to shorten the time-to-market and deliver high quality applications.

The road to agile, though, can be a rocky one! That’s why we have put together a few lessons and tips that will help you in succeeding in moving from waterfall to agile successfully!

1: Embrace the agile culture first

Agile is more a mindset than a process. It is imperative that the teams embrace the agile culture before they can fully embrace agile. The key to success is that everyone involved knows what to expect, is patient and, most importantly, embraces change.

Agile guides you to a better way of working using collaboration in order to deliver the highest value to your users. But how you choose to implement those guidelines is mostly up to you. There are no hard and fast rules to follow, and most teams coming from a traditional style of software development find this aspect the most challenging.

2: Adapt roles and responsibilities

The shift to agile affects roles and responsibilities within a company. Sure, agile seeks that developers and testers should work closely along with business people. But that is not the only change it seeks. Roles, responsibilities and styles of working need to change across the company including the product team, business analysts, engineering and IT. A top-down command-and-control culture should be replaced with horizontal conversations.

Management helps to remove impediments, encourages teams and ensures the business alignment of projects. It becomes a facilitator and is in charge of creating an environment in which teams can grow. The agile team itself is a group of experts, who know best themselves what should be done by who and how. They are self-organizing and self-reliant.

3: Take a whole-team approach

The whole-team approach involves constant collaboration. The team needs to collaborate right from the beginning: when it comes to defining requirements, the scope of projects and what is needed to assure the quality of the software. Software quality is a continuous process that requires commitment from everyone involved.

Testers on agile teams are involved in all discussions, a part of all communication, design deliberations and sharing of documentation. This brings them closer to the intricacies of a feature during its design and development.

All team members are equally responsible for the successful delivery of their promised tasks within an iteration- irrespective of their roles. So, when it comes to it, everyone is ready to pitch in on testing, reviews, documentation or any task at hand.

4: Test early and often

You will see many teams argue that by far the biggest change that comes when adopting agile is for the testing process. Testing now needs to happen continuously, all the time! At every stage and phase of the software creation process, you must think of and incorporate tests of some kind.

As software is developed incrementally, code is constantly changing. Every time you check in new code, you have to ensure that it meets its requirements and does not break existing functionality. The frequency of code commits requires fast feedback from automated tests that can only be achieved with automation. When you integrate tests into your continuous integration process, you get the flexibility to decide the frequency of their execution, when they are triggered and who gets notified of their results. The goal is near real-time feedback, which helps you in reacting to potential errors as soon as possible.

5: Remember that agile is iterative

In waterfall projects, teams are used to a linear approach to their tasks. Teams are used to working in a sequential manner: requirements, design, implementation, then testing and maintenance. Everything was strictly planned and scheduled. But agile is not a linear process, It is incremental and iterative in nature. Software is developed and delivered in small chunks in agile. To ensure it meets actual market needs, an application is continuously adjusted according to changing requirements as well as to feedback from customers and stakeholders.

So, teams need to learn to be flexible and dynamic in choosing, executing, and reworking their tasks as and when needed. Business managers, developers and testers must work together closely and stay in sync to evaluate the situation and determine the right next steps.

6: Encourage transparent communication

Agile gives everyone a voice and values every person’s opinion. This can be the biggest change for teams where they were used to only the managers speaking while others nod in unison. Some team members may even be flustered because they are now asked to voice their opinions!

Agile teams need constant and clear communication to achieve the high targets the teams set for themselves. In an agile environment, small teams that communicate and work together efficiently are important. Consequently, transparency is key to success. Be open about failures, discuss impediments and work on a solution together. This will create unity in the team and build towards a better product. At the same time, you need to encourage exchanges between those highly productive units so as to avoid isolation of individual teams.

7: Make test automation your friend

Agile software development will not succeed without test automation. While most waterfall projects might have treated test automation as an afterthought or a luxury, that can not be the case with agile projects.

Each iteration of the agile project will require runs and reruns of your functional tests. Performing regression tests manually is slow, labor intensive, inconsistent and prone to errors. If you want to reduce the time-to-market and release small increments of software in frequent iterations, agile test automation must be an integral part of the project from the beginning. Well-designed automated tests are faster, provide continuous feedback on software quality, increase risk-coverage and will give you confidence in your application.

8: Commit to early feedback and re-planning

The core concept of agile is to fail fast and learn in order to succeed. So whatever you do in your initial iterations will be reviewed keeping the ultimate goal in mind. This early feedback using demos and reviews is what helps shape the project better.

Similarly, early feedback from test automation is also a great indicator of the quality of the software being built. The earlier you find bugs in your software, the easier and cheaper they are to fix.

The key is to understand what to automate and when, in order to get quality feedback from your automated tests. If you want to get early feedback on the quality of your code, you need to shift testing left and perform more automated testing on a unit and mid-tier level. The iterative feedback increases transparency and enables you to react to potential problems faster, decreasing the risk of release delays and software failure.

9: Include the whole organization in the agile transformation

People are most likely to accept, adopt and champion a process when they feel like a part of it from the beginning. You won’t be able to reap the rewards of agile without engaging both the management and the team.

If not everyone involved is committed and participates effectively, you’ll unavoidably run into problems. That’s why you have to make sure that the transition to agile is a joint activity. Communication, effective contribution by everyone involved and continuous planning is required to get all interest groups on board, and avoid tension between how the teams operate and how management runs the company.

10: Adopt tools to enable team collaboration.

Agile teams will need newer and better tools to work together to the best of their abilities. Your aim should be to make it easier for them to adopt new processes, without adding extra burden or tasks for constantly writing emails, documents or having meetings to discuss changes. So, find the best tools that fit your needs and your team’s interests for easier collaboration – be it development tools, source control, knowledge sharing, documentation tools, code reviews or testing tools.

The same is true for continuous testing and team collaboration on agile test automation projects. When you choose a test automation tool for your team, make sure that it fosters this collaborative dynamic in cross-functional teams, enables you to start with test automation early in the development cycle, supports reusability of tests and encourages communication and feedback. Always keep in mind that after all, your team is one of your greatest assets.

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About the Author

This post was originally published in December 2016 by the Ranorex marketing team. It was updated in June 2021 by Nishi Grover Garg. Nishi is a corporate trainer, an agile enthusiast, and a tester at heart! With 13+ years of industry experience, she currently works with Trifacta as a Community Enablement Manager. She is passionate about training, organizing community events and meetups, and has been a speaker at numerous testing events and conferences. Check out her blog where she writes about the latest topics in Agile and Testing domains.

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