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Can software development be too Agile in an evolving industry?
Tue, 21st Mar 2023
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Historically, payments technology came out of big banks which utilised traditional 'waterfall' development methods. But this approach is increasingly being set aside in favour of Agile development in a bid to keep up with the pace of change in the industry. 

It's fair to say the payments and financial services industry has traditionally been somewhat pedestrian. And for a long time, while we were happy to pay with cash or swipe our credit cards, that was fine. But the pandemic changed all that. Now contactless payments are expected, biometric payment cards are a hot topic, and contactless wearables are an increasingly common sight.

The pace of innovation in meeting customer demand and the shifting economic environment presents a challenge when developing payment technologies. As a result, the traditional 'waterfall' approach, which relies on planning out a long, straight timeline with a specific deliverable at the end, often doesn't work.

Because Agile is better suited for teams that plan on moving fast and experimenting with direction, it's often seen as ideally suited to the payments industry, where pace and innovation is needed to keep up with consumer expectations.

So, a word of caution: Agile has a mixed reputation when applied too dogmatically and doing it well at scale is difficult. When it comes to agility, 'flexibility' should be the watchword.  

Embracing agility with flexibility

The payment industry faces a range of unique challenges, including data security, compliance, working alongside legacy systems, and improving user experience. It also has challenges in common with other industries; any business will find it difficult to succeed in using software to scale because commercial-grade software requires the right mix of culture, talent, time, and teams to bring its benefits to life. 

An Agile approach is essential in developing modern software fit for purpose. Agile development is characterised by iterative development cycles, user testing, sprints and prototyping. There is so much anecdotal evidence that adopting agile practices and values can improve the effectiveness of software teams, and the payments industry is no exception. 

But Agile software development doesn't mean eliminating the need to plan and document. There are still stakeholder expectations to manage, so software developers considering throwing out the waterfall approach should take care not to throw communication and discipline out with it. 

Cultural components for agile software development

Once considered a software development methodology, today, 'agile' reflects a set of values that organisations in any industry can embrace. I believe that when combined with a disciplined and flexible attitude, they are particularly useful in payments.

For emerging payment tech, this agile methodology provides opportunities to assess the direction of a project throughout its development lifecycle through regular micro-deliverables, where early releases are continually assessed against market developments. 

All this means that developers can bring products to market faster and that the products match customer needs better, as they are closely involved in the development process.

The payments industry, with transactions embedded across all channels, is unique in the technology sector. But perhaps more than any other, it benefits from a fluid approach to product development so it can produce solutions that are hyper-focused on the customer. What we need to avoid is an Agile Dogma that will cloud our judgement about what approach is best suited to individual projects.

We are all part of the digital revolution. Still, for those of us driving it, an Agile approach, combined with planning rigour, can help overcome the challenges of creating software that anticipates, meets and exceeds the needs of our customers.