Agile vs. Waterfall — The differences every project manager should know!

Jul 24, 2020

The two most popular approaches to software management, Agile and Waterfall, are two quite opposing frameworks. Nevertheless, both have the capability to help you reach your client’s end goal. Check out our part 1/2 on Agile vs. Waterfall!

With the rise of manufacturing and construction industries, the Waterfall model has been coined as a highly structured and efficient approach to manage project activities into linear phases. It’s no surprise that it’s also been widely accepted as an efficient software management approach. But as we are adapting to more fluid work environments and cross-departmental collaborations, a newer framework has been more widely adopted amongst project managers in software development — the Agile approach.

We will be diving deeper into the two main methodologies and analyze Agile vs. Waterfall, comparing the pros and cons. The goal of this article is to give you a compact but necessary overview on both frameworks. Deciding on the best approach for your client comes with understanding how both frameworks work. Agile and Waterfall both have their own ways of navigating through the five main phases of your software development project:

  1. Initiation Phase
  2. Planning Phase
  3. Execution Phase
  4. Monitoring Phase
  5. Closing the Project

Agile vs Waterfall:

Agile

In Agile, it’s all about flexibility. You want to be able to quickly adjust and react to new situations. This means that your team, your project and methods need to have a high degree of flexibility. The only thing that should remain constant is your vision.

BENEFITS

Trust: With the client in continuous involvement during every stage, you quickly build trust and approval.

Client satisfaction: By having a faster feedback loop, there is less risk in the development process as the client has earlier opportunities to approve the work throughout the development of the project.

Flexibility: If time is a major concern, you can release the minimum viable version of the product: a basic, simpler version of the software. This can be further built on as you complete each new version of the software.

RISKS

More involvement, more requirements: You could run into additional iterations, a repetition of a development process, beyond what you had initially planned for. The more your customer is involved, the more features you are likely to add to your project. In this case you’ll have to be aware of additional project costs, time and workforce needed.

Drop in quality: The nature of an agile approach can lead to frequent changes that may threaten the initial architecture of the project. This could lead to an overall reduction in quality of your end-product if your core vision is not kept in alignment. Be mindful of this, especially when dealing with larger-scale projects!

Waterfall

The Waterfall methodology is a straightforward, structured approach to software development.

You follow a linear process from the start to the end of your project. This means there’s a lot of planning involved which requires detailed instructions on each stage of the process. It is crucial to have a very clear image of the final product.

BENEFITS

Simplified planning: As every step needs to be outlined in detail, planning, and designing becomes much easier, as long as there’s a clear vision of the end product!

Progress easily measurable: As milestones are clearly defined, your team and clients can easily monitor the progress of your project.

Save time and money: For example, you can have your design team for 2 months completing one stage of the process and hire a development team for the remaining months of the project. Hiring a team for a very specific time frame allows you to distribute your costs much more efficiently.

RISKS

Limited possibilities for input There is no client input during the process. The waterfall methodology does not allow user feedback until after the product is developed.

Unexpected costs (potentially): If you end up with a dissatisfied customer at the end of your software development project, adding changes will be costly and the steps will be difficult to reverse.

Dissatisfaction of end product: You might risk having a different interpretation of a requirement compared to the product owner. Or your client may be confident in the beginning of what their needs are but changes his mind along the way.

Both frameworks have their reason for existence. Nevertheless, we do see a rise in project managers taking the agile route. Furthermore, if the project requirements allow or require it, the hybrid approach is also a popular framework.

Choosing one over the other will most probably influence the 5 phases of your project management lifecycle. Therefore it is key to understand the frameworks thoroughly.

Next, you want to analyse your project timeline: complexity and customer involvement will be important key factors for deciding the best framework for your project. To know how these factors can influence which framework you choose, stay tuned as we publish our cheat-sheet next week to guide you when making your decision!