Introduction to Agile Gardening

Agile gardening borrows principles and ideas from agile software development. In this post, we explore the similarities and differences between software development and gardening. We also explain why every gardener should be agile.

Software engineering and gardening seem like two very different fields. However, they both have something in common — project management. Every software and gardening project should have a goal, and every project must be managed to be successful. With software development, developers create software for a customer. In gardening, you might be creating a garden for someone else, or that ‘customer’ may be you, yourself. As with software development, there are several common phases. You might recognize some of these phases from the context of gardening, too:

  • Requirements — gathering and analyzing the client’s needs and expectations for the software. It focuses on identifying and documenting the specific features and functionalities that the software should deliver to meet the client’s requirements.
  • Design — planning and creating the high-level architecture and structure of the software. It includes breaking down requirements into smaller components and creating detailed specifications for each component, laying the foundation for the implementation phase
  • Implementation — where the actual coding and development take place. Developers write the code based on the design specifications, building each module and integrating all modules into a complete software solution
  • Testing — involves comprehensive testing to verify the functionality and quality of the software. Defects and issues are identified and addressed to ensure a robust and reliable software product.
  • Maintenance — providing ongoing support and updates to the deployed software. It includes addressing bugs, fixing issues, and making enhancements or modifications based on user feedback or changing requirements.

Software Development Methodologies

Historically, software was developed using a heavyweight development methodology called waterfall. Because of limitations with the waterfall approach, many software developers began working with iterative methodologies. Eventually, in the early-to-mid 2000s, the principles behind many iterative methodologies led to the creation of agile software development strategies.

Waterfall Methodology

The waterfall methodology broke tasks into concrete, sequential phases. These distinct phases are completed one after the other, with minimal overlap: requirements, design, implementation, testing, maintenance. The methodology takes its name from the analogy of a waterfall, as progress flows steadily downward through the different phases of the project. One of the key characteristics of the waterfall methodology is its strict adherence to a predefined plan. It emphasizes documentation and comprehensive upfront planning. The focus on upfront planning and sequential progression through the project phases make the methodology quite inflexible and very challenging to accommodate changes or adapt to evolving requirements.

Waterfall methodology for software development
The waterfall methodology for software development requires a comprehensive upfront plan for the entire software. This model does not accommodate changes to the original plan.

Waterfall Gardening Example

The waterfall methodology would require gardeners to create a comprehensive, documented landscape plan before digging any dirt. You must know every measurement, every plant variety, every plant location, the full amount of fertilizer needed for the season, the full amount of mulch needed, the type of insecticide or pest management needed, etc. You then move through the phases of garden sequentially — plant everything, water everything, then let mother nature take control. In terms of maintenance, if a plant dies then you dig it out and replace it so that you maintain your original garden plan that you documented. This approach to gardening would not be useful if you start digging a hole and discover a rock or buried electrical line or pipe. Or — if you’re like me — you see a new plant variety that wasn’t part of your original plan and want to try it.

Agile Methodology

The agile methodology is an iterative and incremental approach to software development that emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and adaptability. Unlike waterfall, agile focuses on delivering value to customers in shorter cycles called iterations or sprints. The core principles of agile revolve around individuals and interactions, working software, customer collaboration, and responding to change. Instead of comprehensive upfront documentation and planning, agile breaks down the project into smaller, manageable units called user stories or features. These user stories represent specific functionalities or requirements from the customer’s perspective. The development team, along with the product owner, prioritizes completion of these user stories based on their value and complexity. The agile methodology requires active involvement and can be challenging to estimate and plan for the entire project. However, the smaller ‘chunks’ of features continuously provide value to the customer along the way instead of forcing the customer to wait until the entire software has been completed.

Agile methodology for software development
The agile methodology for software development breaks the software into individual features. Each feature is implemented in a separate iteration or sprint. The agile methodology accommodates changes throughout the software develpment lifecycle.

Agile Gardening Example

The agile methodology requires gardeners to have a general idea of the features they would like to have in the garden. For example, I might want a vegetable garden, a butterfly garden, and a perennial flower bed. Instead of planning all of those features comprehensively in the beginning (like the waterfall model suggests), I can focus on a different feature in each of my iterations. Maybe my first iteration focuses on designing and implementing/planting my vegetable garden. My 2nd iteration might focus on designing and implementing/planting the perennial flower bed; and my third iteration might involve the butterfly garden. Agile gardening allows me to complete smaller chunks of garden features, or even break a feature into multiple iterations. Perhaps, for example, I have 3 iterations for my vegetable garden — spring, summer, and fall. Each iteration requires a different design, different plans, different needs. Agile gardening also allows me to change my plans and adapt as needed — especially if I see that my local garden center has an intriguing new plant variety I want to try.

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