Agile vs. waterfall: Project methodologies compared
Choosing the right project management methodology for the job is the first step in project success. But knowing which methodology best fits your organization and the project at hand can be challenging — especially with so many project management methodologies to choose from.
Two of the most commonly used methodologies are agile and waterfall. Which is the best for your organization will depend on factors such as the types of projects your organization seeks to complete, and your organization’s team structure, skills and talent. Following is an overview of each methodology, outlining each approach’s pros and cons, what types of organizations are best suited for each methodology, and the types of skills necessary to be successful.
What is agile?
First discussed in depth in the 1970s in a published paper by William Royce about the development of large software systems, agile is a project management methodology composed of short incremental development cycles called “sprints.” Each cycle focuses on continuous improvement in the development of a product or service. Guided by four fundamental values and 12 principles in the Agile Manifesto, this provides an iterative and people-centric approach to software development and involves the following processes:
- Planning: This first step involves customers and key stakeholders working together to conceptualize, brainstorm, define, prioritize, resource, and budget a project, which is then approved and initiated.
- Design: User experience experts work with a Scrum master, client, product team, and other key stakeholders to determine what the product should look like and all of the other desired elements.
- Development: In this build phase, the development team works through various iterations called “sprints” to create a product that meets the client’s requirements.
- Testing: This phase ensures the product is in line with requirements. If defects are detected, the product goes back through a development phase to correct the issue before being tested again. This cycle continues until the product meets the desired specifications or goals.
- Deployment: Once perfected, the final product or deliverable is released to the client.
- Feedback: Teams then look back at the entire process to evaluate how to either improve the product or team performance.
Skills involved in agile development
Agile teams are highly customer-focused, adapt well to changing environments, and excel at product delivery even under pressure. Agile development requires individuals with a strong sense of teamwork and accountability, not only to the team but also to the customer. They thrive in a fast-paced environment and are focused on quality and improving deliverables and processes.
What is waterfall?
Waterfall methodology is also used in product development but is linear with the development process following a specific sequence from start to finish when the final project is delivered. Project teams execute and fully complete each process or cycle below in the same and exact order.
- Requirements gathering and analysis: Here, information is gathered from clients and other key stakeholders about the functional, system, or technical specifications to be used in a project.
- Design: User experience experts work with clients, product team, and other key stakeholders to determine what the product should look like and all of the other desired elements.
- Testing: Performance, systems, and user acceptance testing is then done to ensure the product meets the identified requirements. If defects or bugs are discovered, then they are addressed before delivery.
- Final project delivery: Once the product meets the specifications established at the start of the project, the product is delivered to the client.
- Maintenance: After delivery, a customer can request additional scope changes to be added and approved. These will result in additional project costs and time.
Skills involved in waterfall
Traditional waterfall project teams work well in a structured environment where processes and procedures are well-entrenched. They don’t require much excitement and instead work better without it. They are methodical and requirements-focused. Team members can collaborate well with stakeholders from many different areas within the organization as well as customers and adhere well to policies and strict guidelines.
Agile vs. waterfall: Pros and cons
There are many benefits to using agile and to using waterfall, including the following:
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