Waterfall Vs. Agile Methodologies: Which Is Best For Project Management?

“Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.”

Henry Adams

When working in any service-based industry, timelines and processes hold great importance. The sheer effort required to build a functional and feature-rich product, irrespective of the technology stack employed, requires different departments to work together like the cogs and gears of a well-oiled machine. Any lapse in coordination or communication can throw a wrench and throw the entire project into disarray. This costs time and money for the company & the client and puts the company’s reputation at risk.

Most companies offer development using two different project management methodologies when browsing for software development services. Both the methodologies structured flow and individual, differentiated phases. However, both have other purposes & use cases. So let’s understand both project management methodologies in detail.

What Is Waterfall Methodology?

You can consider the waterfall model a tiered project management approach where the project’s next phase will only start at the completion of the current phase. Every aspect of the project is planned beforehand, and the progress is in a linear, unidirectional direction. So, it’s the project manager’s responsibility to collect the brief and expectations from all the stakeholders before creating the plans, managing the schedules, or allocating the budget & resources appropriately.

Any changes or alterations are not possible once the project has been initiated. Hence, the waterfall methodology is suitable for projects that have predictable, recurring processes or small projects where the requirements are easily understandable. The entire project management model is broken down into six individual phases, as shown below:

waterfall project management methodology

Requirements

The project manager collects all the project requirements upfront. Then, all the different metrics of the project, such as the costs, assumptions, risks, dependencies, success KPIs, and completion timeline, are drawn up to be discussed with the client. Once approved, the project moves to the next phase.

System Design

Project specs such as the programming language, frameworks, and wireframes/ mockups are finalized at this stage. In addition, any documentation needed for the project execution is also created at this stage.

Implementation

Based on the specs from the previous phase, programmers create a working prototype. It represents the barebones but functional version of the final product.

Testing

Once the development team dispatches the final product, the QA testing team gets to work to find and iron out any errors overlooked in the previous phase. However, with the sheer amount of planning and expectation matching done in the previous phases, any such issue would be rare, however catastrophic.

Deployment

The team submits the deliverables to the client to be released or released.

Maintenance

Any updates or vulnerability patches are provided as a part of the maintenance phase of the model.

Benefits

  • The team remains on the same page throughout the span of the project.
  • Planning and designing become straightforward and simple.
  • It becomes easy to measure progress as the milestones are defined earlier.
  • Save time and money.
  • Clear documentation at every phase allows the whole team to be more prepared.

Disadvantages

  • Not applicable to large-scale projects.
  • Initial planning and documentation will be challenging and time-consuming.
  • Changes to the product can be expensive.
  • The scope for mistakes is high.
  • Very less customer feedback until product deployment.
  • Delays and setbacks to the deadline can be catastrophic.

What Is Agile Methodology?

Agile Methodology is a more customer feedback-oriented project management approach. This methodology prioritizes individual responsibility, short timescales between deliverables, consistent communication, feedback, and sustainable development, making it more suitable for large-scale software development projects. In this methodology, the entire project is divided into small incremental builds called sprints, and iterations are reviewed & implemented at the beginning of every sprint. The customer remains a part of the project during the development phase, and any changes are immediately implemented.

This project management method is highly suitable for complex projects and delivering small and rapid releases. Moreover, the agile methodology Focuses on individuals and interactions over processes and tools. The overall Agile methodology has the following stages:

Agile Project management methodology

Brainstorming

We discuss numerous ideas based on the project brief and strive to produce a project plan based on the suggestions.

Design

To help visualize the ultimate product, the team generates design concepts, wireframes, prototypes, and frontend mockups at this stage. At this point, the programming language, frameworks, and wireframes/mockups are confirmed.

Development

Programmers write the software and set the first precedent for the final product based on the design implementations. Feedback is applied after approval, and work on improving the product for testing begins.

Quality Analysis

No project or product is allowed to be launched until it has passed rigorous QA testing. Using time-tested testing procedures and tools, any problems or malfunctions in the code are identified and fixed.

Deploy

In the event of a web-based or cloud-based service, the final result is sent to the customer or service provider.

Loopback for Feedback

Any recommendations or adjustments are included, and the process cycles back to the brainstorming step before continuing further.

Benefits

  • Quicker response to any iterations
  • Updates and patches are faster
  • User feedback ensures the product suits the end client’s expectations
  • More Flexibility
  • Better visibility/accountability
  • Dedicated teams drive better productivity over time
  • Extremely motivated and self-organized project management methodology

Disadvantages

  • More difficult to budget, time-manage, and predict timelines
  • Less documentation
  • Difficult to replace or change a team member in between projects
  • Steep organizational learning curve cost
  • Many technical dependencies and engineering costs
  • Can easily go off track if outcomes are not clear

Agile Vs Waterfall: Core Differences

Factors Waterfall Agile
Timeline A fixed timeline is mentioned at the start of the project. A more flexible timeline with scope for experimentation and corrections.
Customer Feedback The client can only feed during the requirement/ planning phase. Clients are involved in the project development at every step.
Flexibility Requirements have to be frozen at project initiation. Severely limited flexibility at later stages. Short bursts of work allowing incorporating of new information, even at a later stage of the project, possible.
Cost Fixed budget as per the documentation. So missed deadlines can severely limit the available options. High levels of flexibility cause the budget to fluctuate very less in comparison.
Flow Linear & Sequential flow through phases just like a waterfall. Incremental approach with loopback from iterations.
Progress Measurement In terms of completed and reviewed artifacts. In terms of developed and delivered functionalities.
Documentation Requires formal documentation. The working prototype as the basis.
Testing Testing is performed once the software is built. Continuous testing is performed during each iteration.

Agile Vs Waterfall: Which to Use?

You may be concerned as to which project management methodology would work better for you. So let’s break down the ideal use cases for both waterfall and agile project management methodologies.

When to Use Waterfall Methodology

The waterfall technique is best suited for organized, predictable projects since it is far more rigid than agile. This system is only effective if the following conditions are met:

  • When the expectations are clearly defined: When there are no regular interactions during the execution phase, waterfall works best when the project manager understands exactly what the stakeholders desire.
  • Development decisions are left with project managers: Stakeholders refuse to engage in the execution process because they don’t have time. Waterfall works if they clearly define its requirements and insist on doing evaluations at the conclusion of the project life cycle.
  • Money is no hindrance: Good, quick, and inexpensive: these are three words that come to mind when searching for software development. Although combining all three is unfeasible, project managers can use the waterfall process to generate results swiftly.

When to Use Agile Methodology

Agile is exactly what it sounds like: it’s all about the deployment of small and updated software with agility. It’s about having the flexibility to experiment, try new ideas, and make last-minute adjustments to a project. This approach is most effective when:

  • Expectations are undefined: If your project stakeholders aren’t sure exactly what they want in the deliverables, the agile approach offers an iterative process that motivates trial and error and customer feedback.
  • Business needs are dynamic: Certain businesses demand a more adaptable strategy to meet the ever-changing clients’ expectations. Agile approaches enable you to revisit deliverables and enhance them in response to changing requirements.
  • The cost of making changes is minimal: Due to the continuous cycle of delivery and feedback, Agile is more prone to budget overruns. As a result, if the cost of making project modifications is expected to be low, Agile will provide you with the flexibility you want.

Wrapping Up

Waterfall may be the greatest match if you clearly understand the project outcomes from the start. On the other hand, Agile is better suited to teams who want to move quickly, experiment with direction, and have no idea how the end project will appear before they begin. It is an owners favored strategy because of its flexibility and frequent check-ins with business and stakeholders progress.

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