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Are you looking to choose between agile and waterfall methodology for your next project? It can be tough trying to decide which approach is right for you—after all, each approach has its pros and cons.

To help make the decision a little easier, let's explore both methods in detail so that you have a better understanding of when and why each might come in handy. Let’s take a closer look at how agile vs waterfall methodology stack up against one another—it could just save your next project!

Agile Methodology

If you've spent any time in the software development industry, you've likely heard the term "Agile", so let’s look at what it means as well as its strengths and weaknesses: 

What is Agile?

Agile isn't merely a buzzword in project management; it's a mindset that encourages flexibility, collaboration, constant improvement, and continuous delivery. The Agile framework's foundations are outlined in the Agile manifesto.

At its core, Agile product management is about breaking complex projects into smaller, more manageable pieces (called the product backlog) and continually refining and prioritizing them based on stakeholder feedback. It's like building a house; you wouldn't start with the roof before laying the foundation and framing the walls.

The product owner defines the roadmap, which serves as the north star guiding the product development process. During the development phase, the day-to-day workflow, including sprint planning for each new iteration or sprint, is typically managed in Jira, a popular Agile tool commonly used for software development projects to track deliverables and dependencies.

Agile project management enables teams to evaluate their progress at every stage of the software development life cycle and make adjustments as necessary to ensure that they ultimately deliver a quality product that meets their customers' needs. Whether you're developing software or planning your next road trip, adopting Agile principles can help you achieve your goals more efficiently and effectively.

Pros of agile

Flexibility: Agile offers more flexibility than traditional methods, as development teams can quickly adjust their plans when new information arises or when user feedback is received.

Better communication: The Agile methodology fosters improved communication between developers and stakeholders, promoting alignment and understanding.

Customer-centric: Customer involvement is emphasized in Agile development, as feedback is sought during each stage of the iterative approach. This ensures that the working software ultimately meets customer needs and leads to customer satisfaction.

Fast development cycles: Agile development typically results in faster delivery times, thanks to the short cycles or sprints in methods like Scrum or Kanban, enabling faster completion of tasks. Agile frameworks also make changes easier, reducing the need for extensive testing and debugging, and leading to further reductions in delivery times.

Ultimately, Agile development can help reduce costs associated with software development projects, thanks to shorter project timelines and fewer defects in the final product.

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Cons of agile

  • Requires discipline: Short development cycles demand a high level of discipline to complete a project.
  • Not suitable for all projects: Agile may not be appropriate for complex projects or those that require extensive planning.
  • Not for strict deadlines: The iterative nature of agile makes it difficult to predict completion times, making it unsuitable for projects with strict deadlines.
  • Challenging implementation: Large organizations may struggle with the significant change required to implement agile.
  • Difficult to scale: Agile may not be scalable for larger teams working on more complex projects.
  • Demands teamwork: Agile requires good teamwork to complete tasks within the sprint timeframe.
  • Challenging to manage: Constant communication and collaboration may be difficult for larger projects.
  • Stressful for team members: The short sprint timelines can create pressure to complete tasks quickly, leading to stress.

Who should use agile?

Agile is not just for software developers anymore. In fact, with the ever-increasing pace of technology and business, anyone who wants to keep up with the fast-moving world can benefit from using Agile. Whether you're a marketer working on a new campaign, a project manager trying to complete a project on time, or a teacher designing a lesson plan, agile can help you work smarter and more efficiently.

The key is to identify the areas that could benefit from a more iterative and flexible approach and to be willing to experiment and learn along the way. So, are you ready to join the Agile movement? Before you do, let's look at the waterfall methodology and its respective pros and cons.

Waterfall Methodology

Waterfall may sound like a term reserved for nature enthusiasts, but in the world of project management, it refers to a classic project management approach: 

What is Waterfall?

Think of waterfall project management as walking down a staircase—each step carefully planned out before you can move to the next one. This clever strategy involves a linear process of completing one phase before moving on to the next, ensuring a sturdy foundation for each step before building upon it.

And just like a waterfall, this approach can produce spectacular results when executed properly. So, in a world where agile and new methodologies reign supreme, don't underestimate the tried and true power of the waterfall approach.

Pros of waterfall

  • Linear Approach: Waterfall methodology is a linear approach to project management that is easily understood and followed.
  • Requirements Management: The methodology ensures that all project requirements are met before moving on to the next project stage.
  • Improved Communication: Using the waterfall method can improve communication between team members, as each stage of the project has its own deliverables and milestones.
  • Quality Improvement: It can also improve project quality, as it encourages a thorough review at the end of each project phase.
  • Budget Control: The method makes it easier to stick to your assigned project budget, given that it's calculated ahead of time.
  • Straightforward Reporting: The reporting and monitoring process is straightforward—once implemented, it just needs to be followed and executed at regular intervals.

Cons of waterfall

  • Unsuitable for uncertain projects: The waterfall method does not work well for projects that are uncertain or have many unknowns.
  • Risk of scope creep: Applying the waterfall methodology can lead to scope creep, as it is difficult to make changes once the project has started.
  • Inflexible: It can be inflexible, as it requires strict adherence to the plan.
  • Costly: The waterfall approach can be costly, as all aspects of the project must be completed before it can be launched.
  • Time-consuming: The application of the waterfall model can be time-consuming, as each phase of the project must be completed before moving on to the next phase.

Who should use waterfall?

Waterfall is like a classic car - it's reliable, it's been around for a long time, and there's a certain charm to it. But just like not everyone can handle driving a vintage vehicle, not everyone should use the waterfall approach. 

If you're working on a project with a clear scope, well-defined requirements, and little chance of change, then waterfall might be the way to go. But if your project is complex, has a lot of unknowns, or requires flexibility, then you might want to consider a more agile approach. Don't jump on the waterfall bandwagon just because it's been around forever - make sure it's the right fit for your project before you hit the road.

Agile vs. Waterfall: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Now that we have looked at each methodology individually, let’s compare the sequential approach of waterfall vs. the incremental approach of agile:

Overall goal of the methodology To create a high-quality project output like running software that clients are satisfied with
Scope of activities They are similar with regard to collecting the project requirements, defining the design, undergoing development, testing, and the deployment phase
Project foundation It is similar for both, as it’s based on planning, executing, and tracking progress along the way
Analysis of feasibility
  • Requires a considerable amount of time in order to avoid rework during later stages of the project.
  • Requires the analysis of cost and potential gain from the project including financial, technical, and operational feasibility.
  • In some instances, a business case is required.
  • Takes very little time. You can deal with clients quickly, and establish the project requirements and task specifics throughout the early phases of the project.
  • Planning the project
  • Project planning is a one-time activity that sets the tone for your entire project
  • You can’t make changes to the project as you go, without losing time or money
  • See how well your team is performing against the plan with progress tracking
  • Get a product developed quickly and efficiently
  • Can change plans as needed, but only in the current sprint
  • Adapt to changes quickly and easily- Keep development costs down
  • Monitor and track progress
  • The project's progress is monitored frequently
  • Status reports are shared with management, sponsors, and stakeholders on a weekly/monthly basis
  • Progress is tracked in each sprint, either through the team's measurements or by demoing the functionality.
  • Delegation of roles Members are assigned specific tasks and are not allowed to change their roleAgile teams can self-organize and cycle through different roles

    Choosing the best methodology for your project can seem a daunting task. However, by comparing our two main contenders, waterfall and agile side-by-side, certainly gives you a better perspective of which method to use. To make this decision simple for you, check out my handy checklist below.

    Self-Assessment: Which One is Right for Me?

    Before adopting the Agile or waterfall methodology for your project, asking these questions can help you select the best methodology for your project:

    Project requirements and standards: Is the project subject to exact requirements and regulatory demands that will not be altered?

    Rigorous organizational processes: Does the company have rigid organizational processes that must be followed?

    Stakeholder and client participation: Are clients requiring frequent updates on the project progress?

    Type of project: Is it an existing service or product that requires an update?

    Project timeline: Is the project end date set and cannot be changed at all? Is it a short period?

    Project budget: Is the budget set and inflexible?

    Project complexity: Is the project not overly complex and without many interdependencies?

    Over To You

    When it comes to methodology, your project's success will depend on the approach you use. Choosing between agile and waterfall can be daunting, but weighing up the pros and cons of each method, it will make it easier for you to determine what is best for your specific project requirements.

    Our in-depth comparison of both options means that you are now armed with everything you need to start planning your next big project! So go forth and conquer—and don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter while you're at it.