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Agile Development Comes With Hidden Costs, Warns Report

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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The fashionable development practice may be bending IT out of shape

Agile software development methods are being adopted widely, but they  could cause confusion and result in higher costs, suggests recent research by US analyst firm Voke.

The Agile development movement proposes iterative and incremental methodologies that can get working systems to users quickly, but the rreport entitled “Market Snapshot: Agile Realities” warns of a downside. Comparing the experiences of over 200 companies, with the majority finding the transition to Agile “confusing, hard, or slow”. The cost of rework for Agile projects is also considerably higher that non-Agile counterparts.

Voke outlines something it calls the “Agile Dilemma” – a realisation that the practice brings both benefits and drawbacks, and might not be appropriate for all organizations or projects.

Need for speed

Out of over 200 participants, 64 percent said that switching to Agile Development was harder than it initially seemed. Forty percent of respondents did not identify an obvious benefit to the practice. Out of those who did, 14 percent thought it resulted in faster releases, and 13 percent – that it created more feedback. Seven percent of participants noted that Agile developers were happier due to reduced future planning and documentation.

However, documentation is essential for future maintenance, and that’s why faster development practices could be damaging to some projects. “The Agile movement shifts the broad, inter-departmental process of software engineering to one that is focused on software development to the exclusion of QA and operations,” says the report.

According to Voke, since the global financial crisis of 2008, the average cost of software projects has seen a sharp rise, even though developer teams have become smaller and the deadlines tighter. Meanwhile, the risk of software failures associated with Agile Development has remained high.

The number of high-profile software glitches in the news is as high as ever, doing serious damage to the reputation of companies like RIM and RBS Group. The quality of the code is an important issue, which is often overlooked during rushed development. Research calls the associated price of reworking the code the “hidden cost” of Agile practices.

“While many people assume that Agile is faster, better, and cheaper, actual results vary greatly. Many organizations are diving into the Agile movement without a clear understanding of what it is, and what the consequences of adoption may be. They may not realize that today’s solutions are tomorrow’s problems,” said Theresa Lanowitz, lead analyst at Voke.

The report provides details on the types of software projects that are more likely to succeed with Agile. These include smaller projects, custom-development projects and Web applications, along with projects that used Agile “only when appropriate and by experienced teams”.

Voke also suggests that Agile might be a passing fad, a developer rebellion against unwanted paperwork, or just an opportunity to sell additional services including certification and training.

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