In software development, two project management methodologies dominate: Agile and Waterfall. If you’re a project management professional, it’s likely you’ve heard of these approaches; since their conception within software, they’ve spilt out into the wider corporate field. Although both methods aim to streamline project development, they do so through varying approaches, and subsequently, each project management professional will have their preference. In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of each and their appropriate use cases.
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Outlining Agile and Waterfall
Strictly speaking, Agile isn’t a project management framework, it’s more of a philosophy. Originally developed in the software field, Agile aims to deliver a project incrementally around short iterations, improving each prototype as the project progresses. A key aim of Agile is to keep projects as flexible as possible so that adjustments can be made in both a time and resource-efficient manner.
Waterfall projects go through a series of overlapping phases. In contrast to Agile, Waterfall projects tend to have a more clearly defined direction, which may be subject to change control to ensure the project stays on target. Although this can create limitations, it makes the project’s progress easier to explain to stakeholders.
The pros and cons of each
|Output is constantly reviewed reducing risk and better managing resources.||Simple to understand but requires substantial commitment to execute.|
|Allows for creativity as new requirements emerge.||It can be less clear what the final deliverable will be, which can make it difficult to convince stakeholders in the early stages.|
|Changes and new priorities can be introduced at almost every stage.||Project goals and outcomes tend to be less definitely defined.|
|Agile gives the team continuous opportunities to learn via feedback and apply this knowledge to future projects.||Although this level of communication is desirable it may not always be feasible.|
|Reduces silos in projects through encouraging feedback and collaboration.||Agile projects can be intensive, which means developers are unlikely to have capacity to work on multiple projects.|
|Usually means that projects require less re-working in the completion stage, as problems tend to be picked up earlier.||Agile principles aren’t always compatible with deadlines or clearly defined timescales.|
|Well-managed Waterfall projects can provide more confidence as to what the final deliverable will be.||Some types of sectors and projects don’t lend themselves well to clearly defined deliverables, making early planning flawed.|
|In large-scale projects, it reduces the impact of downstream design adjustments.||Risk can be generally higher in Waterfall, as it may emerge products aren’t fit-for-purpose late in development.|
|It’s easy to measure progress as the scope of the project has been defined in advance.||More closed lines of communication can present risk, especially when there is limited early review.|
|As the feedback process is less perpetual, team members don’t necessarily need to be co-located.||Waterfall projects tend to consist of ‘teams within teams’, which can create silos within the project.|
|Projects are easier to deliver on time and to budget, and subsequently, evaluate.||It can be difficult to make changes in the later stages, thus increasing the pressure on resources and time management should this be necessary.|
Use cases: Which method a project management professional should choose
If you’re a project management professional, you’ll be aware there are compelling arguments for both Waterfall or Agile. Often, organisations will use both depending on the nature of the project’s objective. Agile initiatives are best suited to developing products for new markets where consumers requirements are less easily defined. As such, Agile is most appropriate for cases where there is a high level of uncertainty. It’s also useful for instances where products are continually delivered to customers, such as websites and apps. With products like this, user feedback can be incrementally incorporated.
In contrast, Waterfall projects are best suited to situations with clearly defined requirements. Moreover, it’s also best suited for projects where the deliverable can’t be produced in stages. For instance, CEO of TechLoris Shayne Sherman gives this example: “When the deliverable is offline software that can’t be updated easily, it’s important to try to deliver a fully developed project. In this case, Waterfall is best because it will ensure that the product is fully functional and complete before delivery.” However, Waterfall can deal with adjustments though a formal change-management process, albeit challenging and costly.
Choosing the right strategy
Both Agile and Waterfall are effective methodologies for successful project development and rollout. While Agile is gaining popularity, Waterfall is still a tried and tested approach to project management. However, they are very different processes; Waterfall can be applied virtually anywhere, whereas Agile requires specific conditions. Most of these conditions relate to the working environment and company culture, and moreover, there needs to be flexibility around requirements. That said, despite Waterfall’s pliability, it does come with a higher degree of risk. Which works for your project will depend on analysing the project’s goals, constraints and conditions.