5 Stages of the Agile System Development Life Cycle

Micheál Clesham
By | Updated November 9, 2023 | 11 min read
Agile Project Management

Customer needs are changing at a rapid pace, particularly in software development. Agile development embraces constant change through an iterative technology design and development approach. 

In a world where adaptability is critical, Agile offers a framework that allows for quick pivots and customer-centric solutions. According to a comprehensive study on agile software development, this approach is efficient in today’s fast-paced tech landscape.

The Agile lifecycle adds structure to a fluid and flexible method of delivering a working product. Breaking builds into smaller segments offers a better product faster.

This approach is not just about speed – it’s about delivering quality and value at every stage, ensuring that the end product aligns with user needs and market demands.

Let’s look at the 5 stages of the Agile System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) to understand how this methodology can be applied effectively in your projects. 

Whether you’re a seasoned Agile practitioner or new to the framework, this guide will provide the insights you need to navigate the Agile landscape successfully.


Manage every project phase with a free SharePoint template, or consider using an Agile project board to keep things organized.



5 stages of the Agile Life Cycle

The Agile Life Cycle is a dynamic and flexible approach to software development designed to deliver high-quality products that meet customer needs. This cycle is divided into five critical stages, each with its unique focus and set of activities. They are:

  • Project Initiation: Discussing the project vision and ROI justification. The role of DevOps is considered.
  • Planning: Release planning, backlog creation, and prioritization based on business value and dependencies.
  • Development: Incremental development through sprints or iterations, often assisted by AI and machine learning.
  • Production: Deployment and monitoring of the product, focusing on continuous delivery practices.
  • Retirement: Decommissioning the product, often due to newer releases or lack of support.


1. Project Initiation

The first stage in the life cycle of agile software development is often called the inception or envision phase. During this stage, an agile project charter is prepared during project initiation to discuss the project vision and ROI justification. Here, it’s essential to consider the role of DevOps in aligning with the project’s vision for a seamless development and deployment process.

This is a high-level feasibility discussion and does not delve into the specific details. During this step, you should identify team members and determine the time and work resources required to complete the project. Taking stock of resources is crucial to deciding the economic feasibility of project approval.

2. Planning

This speculative phase is when the Agile lifecycle takes shape for the team. Release planning is where the team gets together with their sponsor or product owner and identifies what they seek with precision. 

They discuss how this will be made possible by building the backlog at the story level. You can read about agile sprint planning for a more detailed guide on this.

The importance of upskilling and cross-skilling for team members cannot be overstated here. 

Value Stream Management can also be incorporated into planning to make data-driven decisions and prioritizations. Below are the key components that are integral to the Agile planning phase:

  • Backlog Building: Discuss and create a backlog at the story level.
  • Upskilling and Cross-Skilling: Emphasize the need for team members to acquire new skills or enhance existing ones.
  • Value Stream Management: Incorporate data-driven decision-making into the planning process.
  • User Stories: Define what the end-user wants from the product, including the type of user and the reason for the feature.
  • Business Context: Consider the broader business opportunity and its impact on project viability.
  • Risk Estimation: Evaluate and estimate potential risks involved in the project.
  • Milestone Development: Create an initial release plan with critical milestones.
  • Prioritization: Ensure the backlog items are prioritized based on business value and dependencies.

Planning is only complete when your backlog is complete, and you have prioritized the items based on business value and dependency. The importance of planning in Agile methodologies is further emphasized in a review of Agile Methodologies Applied to the Development of Internet of Things (IoT)-Based Systems.

The Agile System Development Life Cycle (SDLC)

3. Development

The development stage kicks off once the planning phase is complete and requirements are clearly defined. Agile development thrives on delivering high-quality, functional products through incremental steps known as sprints or iterations

In today’s tech landscape, AI and machine learning are revolutionizing this phase, automating mundane tasks and offering data-driven insights for better decision-making.

Developers craft the product’s first iteration, aiming for a functional, albeit minimal, version by the end of the sprint. This is just the starting point – the product will undergo multiple refinements and feature additions in subsequent sprints. AI algorithms can assist here by automating code reviews or suggesting optimal code structures, thereby accelerating development.

Critical Strategies for Sprint Success:

Teams can deliver in these sprints by:

  • Ensuring seamless collaboration within the team and with stakeholders. Machine learning can facilitate this by analyzing past team interactions and suggesting effective collaboration methods.
  • Adhering to coding conventions and style guidelines. AI-powered tools can automatically flag inconsistencies, helping maintain a high-quality standard.
  • Sticking to the priorities set by stakeholders, who have the final say on the project’s scope, budget, and timeline. AI can assist in real-time budget tracking and scope adjustments.
  • Aiming to deliver a working product, however, limited in scope, at the end of each sprint. Machine learning algorithms can predict the success rate of each sprint, allowing for timely adjustments.
  • Remember that testing isn’t a one-off but an ongoing process. AI can automate repetitive test cases, allowing human testers to focus on more complex scenarios. 

After completing the necessary sprints to evolve from a minimal viable product to a fully functional solution, the product is ready for production. By this point, you’ve likely conducted multiple rounds of testing after each sprint, although final testing is still crucial. 

Final Steps Before Production:

  • Quality assurance (QA) teams should conduct a comprehensive final test to catch any lingering bugs. AI can assist by simulating various user behaviors to ensure robust testing. 
  • Unlike earlier testing phases, involving a subset of end-users in this final testing stage is beneficial. Their feedback can be invaluable.
  • After testing, some rework is almost inevitable to fix any identified issues. Machine learning can predict potential bottlenecks, helping you account for this in the schedule.
  • Before deploying into production, consider training end-users or support staff to navigate the new features effectively.

For a deeper understanding of how AI is revolutionizing Agile development, consider reading the scholarly article on the impact of artificial intelligence in software engineering.

4. Production

Your product has now been deployed and is being used by final end-users. Scaled Agile and Scrum methodologies are crucial here, ensuring the product is efficiently produced and deployed. Here’s a comprehensive guide on agile methodologies for those interested in diving deeper into these practices.

A handover with relevant training should take place between the production and support teams. Scaled Agile and Scrum methodologies are crucial here, ensuring the product is efficiently produced and deployed.

Additionally, continuous delivery practices should be in place to facilitate quick updates and patches, allowing for real-time customer feedback to be integrated into the product, thereby enhancing customer satisfaction.

5. Retirement

This is the final stage of the Agile lifecycle. The product is now at the ‘end of life’ stage and will be pulled from production and decommissioned (sometimes referred to as ‘sunsetting’). Customers are notified and informed about migration to newer releases or alternative options.

Products are retired for several reasons. In most cases, it is because a newer release is being deployed, and (or) the older release is no longer being supported. In this case, some final, minor software updates may be made to the newer system.

It could also be retired because the product could be more cost-effective within the current business model and, therefore, phased out.


Moving from Waterfall to Agile

The waterfall method still holds a certain allure for some developers, primarily due to its predictability and well-defined costs. When you opt for the waterfall approach, you know what you’re getting and how much it will cost.

The Flexibility of Agile Methodology

Agile methodology, on the other hand, thrives on its ability to adapt and evolve throughout the development process. This flexibility allows teams to meet better the changing needs and demands of stakeholders, often resulting in a more refined end product – even if the outcome diverges from the initial vision.

No One-Size-Fits-All in Agile

It’s important to note that Agile isn’t a rigid framework. The Agile system development life cycle outlined above is a guideline rather than an unchangeable rulebook. Teams are encouraged to adapt these processes better to suit their projects’ specific needs and constraints.

Challenges in Transitioning from Waterfall to Agile

Switching from a waterfall to an Agile approach isn’t always smooth sailing. Organizations often need help in making a total commitment to Agile, particularly when under tight time or financial constraints.

The Importance of Communication and Collaboration

Effective communication and collaboration are the linchpins of a successful Agile transformation. By clearly outlining what is both desired and feasible during the initial planning stage – and at every subsequent iteration – you pave the way for a smoother, more effective adoption of Agile methodologies.


Transitioning from Traditional Methods to Agile

Many organizations need help moving from traditional approaches like Waterfall to an Agile approach. The transition often involves a shift in mindset across business units, from project managers to software development teams.

Adopting Agile Practices

Agile practices like Sprint Planning, User Stories, and Two-week Sprints are integral to the new development cycle. The benefits, however, such as faster time to market and higher customer satisfaction, often make the challenging issues worth tackling.

Overcoming Financial Constraints

One of the critical issues that organizations face when transitioning is the financial aspect. Agile development often requires an initial investment in training and new software tools. However, the iterative approach and frequent delivery cycles often lead to a quicker ROI, aligning with business goals.

Importance of Stakeholder Feedback

In Agile projects, stakeholder feedback is not just encouraged – it’s essential. Unlike traditional methods, where requirements are gathered upfront, Agile allows for adaptive planning and incremental development, making stakeholder feedback a cornerstone of the development process.

Building Cross-functional Teams

Agile methods emphasize cross-functional collaboration. Teams often consist of developers, designers, and business analysts. This cross-functional agile team works together in daily standups and Sprint Reviews, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

For those considering transitioning from traditional methods to Agile, this paper on Software Development Life Cycle AGILE vs Traditional Approaches offers valuable insights.

Navigating the Agile Landscape

Agile is more than a methodology – it’s a mindset that prioritizes customer collaboration and adaptability. If you’re looking for tools to facilitate this mindset, consider using agile boards to keep your team organized and on track. 

Whether you’re new to Agile or transitioning from traditional methods like Waterfall, this approach offers a flexible framework for software development projects. While initial costs and adaptation challenges may exist, quicker ROI and customer satisfaction benefits make Agile a worthwhile investment.

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, Agile practices are not just a trend but a necessity. They empower teams to be more responsive to market changes and customer feedback, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

As you navigate the Agile System Development Life Cycle, remember that the journey is as important as the destination. Agile is about learning, adapting, and delivering – values essential for success in the modern world.

Micheál Clesham
Micheál Clesham

Micheál is a SaaS product marketing specialist with BrightWork. For the better part of the decade, our in-house host has created engaging webinars and content with insights from Project Management Gurus and thought leaders. His go-to theme is Project Management best practices including project communication, collaboration and agile ways of working. Outside of work, Micheál likes to find new stories through podcasts, movies, sports, and travel.

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