Project Management Methodology

When to use Agile vs. Waterfall Project Methodologies

There are several ways to manage a project, two of the most prominent methods being waterfall and Agile. But when should one approach be used over the other? Is one of them superior?

Many debates as to which is better can be found all over the internet. Today, we’re arming you with information about both waterfall and Agile methodologies so that you can make an informed decision as to which approach makes the best sense based on the nature of a particular project.

What is the waterfall methodology?

Much like engineering and manufacturing workflows, waterfall methodology is a sequential design process. This means that as each of the eight stages (conception, initiation, analysis, design, build, testing, implementation, and maintenance) are completed, the project team moves on to the next step.

As this process is sequential, once a step has been completed, there is no going back to a previous step – not without scratching some or all of the project and restarting from the beginning. There’s very little room for changes or errors, so a project outcome and an extensive plan must be set in the beginning and then followed carefully.

Advantages of the Waterfall Methodology

  1. The waterfall methodology stresses meticulous record keeping. Having such records allows for the ability to improve upon the existing program in the future.
  2. With the waterfall methodology, the client knows what to expect. They’ll have an idea of the size, cost, and timeline for the project. They’ll have a definite idea of what their program will do in the end.
  3. In the case of employee turnover, waterfall’s strong documentation allows for minimal project impact.
  4. It is easier for offsite resources to be an effective part of a waterfall-based project than an Agile team.

Disadvantages of the Waterfall Methodology

  1. Deliverables are typically only tested at the end of the project or phase. If problems were introduced early but discovered late, the team can’t go back to a previous stage and make changes – some or all project work may have to be redone..
  2. Waterfall methodology relies heavily on initial requirements. However, if these requirements are faulty in any manner, the project will likely be in trouble.
  3. Additionally, the temptation to delay thorough testing is often very high, as these delays allow short-term wins of staying on-schedule.
  4. A waterfall-based project plan doesn’t take into account a client’s evolving needs. If the client realizes that they need more or something different than they initially thought and demands changes, either time is spent for documentation to be routed and approved, or significant risks are introduced.

When should you use waterfall methodology?

  1. When there is a clear picture of what the final product should be.
  2. When clients won’t have the ability to change the scope of the project once it has begun.
  3. When definition, not speed, is the key to successful deliverables.

What is Agile?

Agile came about as a “solution” to the disadvantages of the waterfall methodology. Instead of a sequential design process, the Agile methodology follows an iterative and incremental approach.

The project team starts off with a simplistic project design, and then begins to work on small modules. The work on these modules is done in weekly or monthly sprints, and project requirements are re-evaluated and prioritized prior to the planning of each sprint. These sprints allow for bugs or defects to be discovered, and customer feedback to be incorporated into the design before the next sprint is run.

The Agile process, with its lack of initial design and steps, is often hailed (or criticized) for its collaborative nature that focuses on principles rather than process.

Advantages of the Agile Methodology

  1. The Agile methodology allows for changes to be made after the initial planning. It is assumed that the user’s needs are ever changing.
  2. Because the Agile methodology allows you to make changes, it’s easier to add features quickly, keeping you up to date with the latest developments in your industry.
  3. At the end of each sprint, project priorities are re-evaluated. This allows clients to add their feedback so that they ultimately get the product they desire.
  4. The testing or validation included in each sprint ensures that errors are caught and taken care of earlier in the project life-cycle. They won’t be found at the end.

Disadvantages of Agile Methodology

  1. As the initial project doesn’t have a definitive plan, the final product can be grossly different than what was initially intended.
  2. It is difficult to estimate durations and budgets at the beginning of the project, as the scope will likely change later.
  3. Daily stand-up meetings are needed, which could create logistical issues for some teams.

When should you use Agile methodology?

  1. When clients desire the ability to change the scope of the project.
  2. When there isn’t a clear picture of what the final product should look like.
  3. When you have skilled resources who are adaptable and able to think independently and collaboratively.
  4. When the product is intended for an industry with rapidly changing standards.

The Choice is Yours

Both the Agile and waterfall methodologies have their strengths and weaknesses. The key to deciding which is right for you comes down to the context of the project. Is it going to be changing rapidly? If so, choose Agile. Do you know exactly what you need? Good – then maybe Waterfall is the superior option. Or better yet, as we do here at INTEGRIS, consider taking aspects of both methodologies and using a hybrid approach in order to meet the unique needs of each project.

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