People investigating solutions
Agile Project Management Software Development
April 7, 2023 - Jon A.

Software Development Agile Spikes: Investigating Solutions Mid-Sprint

Agile development methodologies have been widely adopted in custom software development projects as they provide a framework that is flexible and adaptable to changing requirements. One of the key practices in Agile development is to break down work into small chunks that can be completed in a short time frame with smaller effort. However, there are times when there is a need to explore and investigate a technical solution or a requirement that is not fully understood, and this is where Agile spikes come in.

What is an Agile Spike?

An Agile spike is a time-boxed investigation that is carried out during a sprint to gain knowledge or develop a prototype of a specific problem or requirement. The purpose of a spike is to explore and understand the problem so that the team can estimate the work involved and determine the best approach to take in hopes of reducing risk and uncertainty while completing the task.

Why is an Agile Spike Important?

The end result of a spike is for a development team to gain a better understanding of the problem they are trying to solve. By investigating deeper the team can reduce the risk of implementing a solution that is not feasible or does not meet the requirements of the client. It also helps to identify any potential technical issues early on, which can save time and effort later in the project.

By allocating a small amount of time to an Agile spike, the team can gain valuable insights into the problem without affecting the overall sprint goal. The spike can be seen as an investment in the quality of the final product, as it ensures that the team has a clear understanding of the problem they are trying to solve. It’s the “slow down to speed up” effect.

Types of Agile Spikes

There are two main types of Agile spikes: technical and functional.

Technical spikes are used when the team needs to investigate a technical solution to a problem. For example, if the team needs to integrate a new technology or framework into the project, they may use a technical spike to explore the feasibility and potential issues involved. Technical spikes can also be used to investigate performance issues, security concerns, or other technical challenges that may arise during the project.

Functional spikes are used when the team needs to gain a better understanding of a particular requirement or user story. For example, if the team needs to develop a new feature that involves complex business logic, they may use a functional spike to prototype the solution and validate their assumptions. Functional spikes can also be used to explore user experience design, user interface, or any other functional aspects of the project.

Best Practices for Agile Spikes

To make the most of an Agile spike, there are some best practices that the team can follow:

Time-box the Spike: The team should agree on a specific time frame for the spike, and once that time is up, they should have a clear understanding of the problem and the potential solution.

Define the Goals: The team should define the goals of the spike upfront to ensure that everyone is on the same page. The goals should be specific and measurable, and they should align with the overall project objectives.

Collaborate and Communicate: During the spike, the team should have regular check-ins, sharing of findings, and open discussions. It often helps to designate a leader on the spike to ensure the findings are documented and managed for the next phase of the project.

Document the Findings: As noted above, the team should document the findings of the spike to ensure that the information is captured and can be shared with the rest of the team. This documentation can also be used as a reference point for future sprints or when implementing the solution.

Consider a Spike Before a Spiral

Agile spikes are an important tool in custom software development as they help teams to explore and understand technical solutions and requirements more thoroughly. Without this essential task type, a software development team has the potential to spiral on a particularly tough or unclear task. This often leads to scope creep and deadlines being missed.

To make the most of Agile spikes, it is important to time-box the investigation, define clear goals, collaborate and communicate effectively, and document the findings. By following these best practices, the team can ensure that they are working towards a high-quality solution that meets the needs of the client.


user research
February 24th, 2022 - Shane K.

User Research and Software Development