What is Agile Programming? - Definition & Methodology

Instructor: Lucinda Stanley

Lucinda has taught business and information technology and has a PhD in Education.

In this lesson, we will discover what agile programming is and why it was developed. We will identify some key features and take a look at how the process works.

Why Agile?

How does that software come into being? How does it go from an idea of something someone could use to the actual program? Well, to get from the idea to the finished product we rely on software development. There are a number of software development frameworks or processes. The most commonly used, and the oldest is a sequential development process known as the waterfall methodology, where there is a linear plan for developing the software and the developers go through the process step-by-step. Like this:

Software Programming: Waterfall Approach
Software Programming:Waterfall Approach

The process is this: the designer gets the list of requirements, completes the storyboard (plan out the architecture and design), writes the code, tests the software, and works out any bugs; done. Looks great, right? Well, it is, however, as software became more complicated, this linear approach was no longer enough; the linear process assumes that the developer knows exactly what is going to be needed when the project begins. With newer software projects, developers often don't know all of the requirements before the project begins, developers found they couldn't build software the same way you could build a car or a house. So, what happened?

In 1970 (yes, that long ago!), Dr. Winston Royce created a different process for software development. It became known as agile programming or agile development. Agile programming is a software development framework that is iterative, meaning as new requirements are found, they are added to the process.

Key Features of Agile

Why do software developers like Agile so much? Let's take a look:

Frequent Testing

The software is tested during the development process rather than at the end. This means any 'bugs' in the software are worked out as that section is developed rather than trying to fix the bugs all at once in the end.


Because the product is tested, and new requirements can be added as new information presents itself. There is time to adapt the product before it is complete to make sure it meets the clients' needs.


While new requirements are added as needed, the time to project completion does not change. Because the software is tested and debugged as it is developed, it reduces the amount of time it takes to go from an idea to a finished product. This decreased development time results in a reduction in cost. Reduced costs mean increased revenue!


One of the real powers of agile programming is the active involvement of all the stakeholders - from the client who is requesting the product, to the design team, to the production team. There is continued communication with the client, which results in a high level of requirement capture, meaning, the needs of the client are being actively considered and the product is adapted as needed. An important element of the teamwork approach is that teams are given the authority to make decisions right then and there without having to get permission. If they think this is the best approach, they are encouraged to go with it.


We saw what the waterfall approach looked like earlier, let's take a look at what the agile approach really looks like.

  • Brainstorm - The client and the designer get together to determine the initial requirements.
  • Design - The designer creates a storyboard, or the anticipated flow of the program.
  • Development and quality assurance - The designer develops pieces of the program, tests it, fixes bugs, demonstrates it to the client, and makes changes based on the clients' feedback.
  • Deployment - The product goes to production.
  • Release to market - The product becomes available to the end user.

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