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What is Adaptive Software Development?

What is Adaptive Software Development?

Over the years, the Agile philosophy in software development has evolved into a standard, making a significant impact across various industries. Its emphasis on collaboration, adaptability, and iterative development has proven effective in diverse sectors, enabling teams to respond to changing requirements and enhance project efficiency.

Agile is a broad umbrella term that encompasses various methodologies and frameworks, such as Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming (XP), and more. These methodologies share a set of values and principles outlined in the Agile Manifesto, which emphasizes customer collaboration, responding to change, and delivering working software in small, iterative cycles. While Adaptive Software Development might not be as widely recognized or adopted as some other methodologies, some even consider it a separate and distinct approach sharing some principles with Agile, it does have its own strengths, especially in environments that require a high degree of adaptability and a more principle-based approach. 

What is Adaptive software development (ASD)?

ASD serves as a project management method focused on creating flexible and adaptable software. It recognizes the dynamic and complex nature of software development and that project needs and goals may evolve over time. It aims to deliver working software quickly while maintaining flexibility to accommodate changes. Central to its philosophy is a strong emphasis on collaboration and communication among team members, stakeholders, and customers. The development team works closely with partners throughout the development process to describe and enhance project needs. They prioritize features based on business importance and incorporate continuous feedback, a practice that aligns with Agile's iterative philosophy.

In essence, ASD excels at breaking down software development into manageable steps, showcasing progress by delivering functional pieces of the software in short, iterative rounds. This adaptable method fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement, as the team consistently reflects on its processes and actively seeks feedback from partners. ASD proves especially effective in projects characterized by changing needs or high degree of uncertainty or complexity, where traditional plan-driven methods may fall short. Rather than trying to predict the future, the team tests hypotheses and adjusts their approach based on the results.

Adaptive Software Development (ASD) vs Rapid Application Development RAD

ASD and RAD are methodologies that share a historical connection. ASD, one of the earliest Agile methodologies, originated from the collaborative work of Jim Highsmith and Sam Bayer on RAD. RAD is an adaptive software development model that prioritizes feedback and prototyping. It focuses on gathering requirements through workshops or focus groups and involves early testing of prototypes by customers. This iterative approach ensures swift adjustments based on continuous feedback.

Since ASD evolved from RAD, they exhibit similarities: both emphasize short iterations, rapid development, and a focus on delivering functional solutions in minimal time. They incorporate feedback loops as integral components of their processes. RAD uses prototypes for user feedback, with the learnings applied to the actual solution. While both ASD and RAD share structural similarities, one key distinction lies in project closure. RAD allows for a defined project completion period, whereas ASD recognizes the norm of continuous adaptation in the software development process. It operates under the principle that software is never truly finished; instead, there are stable periods between new releases in a continuous improvement cycle.

Characteristics of ADS process

ASD life cycle is mission-focused, feature-based, iterative, timeboxed, risk-driven, and change-tolerant.

  • Mission Focused: ASD prioritizes project objectives over tasks, repeatedly iterating until goals are met. 

  • Iterative: The ASD life cycle involves repeated activities or processes, allowing for continuous improvement and incremental refinement of the software product.

  • Timeboxed: Timeboxing, a key value in Agile development, is inherent in ASD. Short, fixed time periods (1-4 weeks) are allocated to specific tasks, resembling Agile sprints.

  • Feature-Based: ASD concentrates on delivering specific functionalities or features that meet user requirements. Features are prioritized and added in increments. This approach allows software development with the right features and functionalities that satisfy all users and customers.

  • Risk Driven: ASD recognizes the importance of addressing potential risks in software projects. It involves proactive risk identification, particularly in technical aspects, requirements gathering, and changing customer expectations. The methodology swiftly mitigates risks and responds to issues during the development process.

  • Change Tolerant: ASD is inherently change-tolerant, adapting easily to changing requirements, project goals, and user needs. Changes can be incorporated at any stage of the development process.

The three phases of ASD

The ASD process consists of three distinct, yet often overlapping, phases: Speculation, Collaboration, and Learning. 

1. Speculation

The term "speculation," used to characterize the initial phase of the adaptive life cycle, encapsulates the essence of ADS. In ASD, the speculation phase corresponds to the planning phase in other methodologies but with a distinctive approach. Unlike traditional planning, which implies certainty, ASD embraces uncertainty and continuous improvement. Rejecting the term 'plan' for its deterministic connotations, ASD opts for the open-ended 'speculation' phase, fostering innovation throughout the project. Still, the speculation phase doesn't dismiss planning entirely; rather, it focuses on big-picture objectives, setting the project's mission, and providing a loose framework for the end product. Iterations within this phase represent cycles toward realizing the mission, allowing for exploration and experimentation as ASD adapts to the dynamic nature of software development.

The speculation phase is generally divided into project initiation and adaptive planning. The project initiation step lays the foundation for the project, including project management information, the mission statement, and essential tools. The adaptive planning step involves assigning product features to different teams based on their expertise and skills. Teams decide on the project's timebox, the number of development cycles, the time allocated per cycle, a theme and objective for each cycle, the assignment of components, and a task list.

2. Collaboration

While the speculation phase in ASD is where the adaptive plan is initially created, the collaboration phase focuses on executing the plan, fostering teamwork, and making adjustments based on ongoing collaboration and feedback. The collaboration phase, as its name implies, is characterized by extensive collaboration among the development team, stakeholders, and customers. This phase focuses on refining requirements and prioritizing features. It also marks the beginning of the actual development process. 

This phase operates on foundational principles that emphasize the dynamic nature of software evolution. Complex applications are seen as evolving entities rather than strictly planned constructions. To effectively address complex problems, the phase involves collecting, analyzing, and applying a substantial volume of information. This process requires diverse knowledge, achievable through collaborative efforts. The collaboration phase is intricately managed by balancing traditional project management techniques and a collaborative environment that embraces emergence. The success of this phase is often tied to principles such as Mutual Trust, Mutual Respect, Mutual Participation, and Mutual Commitment among team members.

3. Learning

The learning phase in ADS is centered on delivering incremental pieces of working software and collecting user feedback. Teams engage in short iterations of design, build, and test cycles, allowing them to accumulate knowledge by making small mistakes and subsequently correcting them. Through this iterative approach, the team learns from user experiences and adapts the software based on received feedback, enhancing software quality and aligning with user expectations. This phase aligns with the review or retrospective phase in other methodologies, involving evaluating the product from both technical and customer perspectives and assessing the team's performance to identify opportunities for improvement.

ASD strengths:

  • User-centric approach: ASD prioritizes end-users, contributing to the creation of intuitive software solutions and increased user satisfaction.

  • Rapid development: Designed for the swift development of complex software products.

  • Efficient requirement fulfillment: ASD cycles ensure the fulfillment of requirements and expectations from various stakeholders.

  • Prevention of costly mistakes: Short iterations help prevent costly mistakes and incorrect directions.

  • Flexibility for emergence: Allows opportunities to explore unplanned directions, allowing for emergence.

  • Transparency: Encourages high levels of transparency between the development team and the customer.

  • Client collaboration: ASD integrates the client as an integral part of the development process, fostering a collaborative environment. It enhances positive outcomes and increases knowledge diversity for collaboration.

  • Intense testing: Intensive testing of short iterations reduces bugs and vulnerabilities.

  • Result-oriented: ASD prioritizes tangible outcomes over task completion, holding individuals or teams accountable for results, fostering a result-oriented mindset.

ASD weaknesses:

  • Loose starting plan: A loose starting plan, often limited to the project mission, can pose challenges in maintaining focus for individuals accustomed to detailed planning.

  • High user involvement requirement: ASD relies on constant user feedback, which may not always be easy to ensure. End users may also not always provide clear requirements.

  • Complex collaboration dynamics: While essential, collaboration can become tricky, leading to unnecessary meetings and discussions that might result in project delays.

  • Testing costs: Intense testing at each iteration can increase project costs.

  • Low documentation with frequent changes: Frequent changes to the project can result in low levels of documentation. 

  • Burnout: Emphasizing constant product iteration and feedback may lead to burnout among team members.

When should you opt or not opt for ADS?

Choosing ASD is reasonable when the product's rapid development and continuous evolution are of priority. It's ideal when securing deep customer involvement is feasible and there's a preference for risk mitigation through continuous testing, even with potential baseline cost increases for exploring new ideas. On the contrary, other Agile frameworks are recommended for a more rigid product vision, teams lacking experience or adaptability for ASD's uncertainty, or challenges in providing extensive user feedback and collaborative involvement.


Maryna Kharchenko


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