Developing software that matches the client’s expectations is a complex process. As a project progresses, many decisions and actions will be involved.
The project manager faces various challenges throughout the process. Their responsibility is to plan, assess risks, and work within the limitations. Therefore, choosing the proper methodology makes this process run smoothly.
Waterfall and Agile are two popular software development methodologies. Each has pros and cons, so the final choice depends on your project. This post explains the main differences between Agile and Waterfall methods so that you can make better decisions.
What Is Agile
Agile development relies on customer feedback through the software project. The process is divided into distinct phases called sprints, which can last from one to four weeks.
A sprint is a planned period for completing a list of deliverables, which is subject to changes upon the customer’s request. The deliverables aren’t strictly defined and can be prone to reprioritizing.
The project manager, developers, customers, and testers evaluate the work. Results are presented in front of the entire team. The Agile methodology makes it easy to track progress, and team members will know what is completed and what isn’t.
Agile development projects are customer-centered and prone to continuous improvement. The product owner is highly engaged in the process and can provide constant feedback during any project phase.
The Agile approach provides a rapid version of working software, which is subject to improvements in iterations. The process involves several coordinated small teams dedicated to a specific task.
With the Agile method, the finished product is guaranteed to meet the client’s expectations. The changes can be prioritized in a way that provides maximum business value.
In addition, the manageable and defined project phases allow the team to focus on providing the utmost quality.
Although high customer involvement ensures the product meets their needs, customer availability can be a huge problem. The product owner might not have time to dedicate to high participation. The changes and reprioritizations alter the workflow, which can impact the overall costs.
With lots of changes involved, estimating the delivery timeline is difficult. Also, this approach requires the team members to be dedicated to one project.
Agile frameworks work best when team members work in the same physical space and manage implementation from their home environment. In such cases, the team manager must implement proper project management tools to ensure the process runs smoothly.
What Is Waterfall
The Waterfall model is also referred to as the traditional method, where each development phase is observed individually.
Developers must complete the current stage to get to the next one and can’t return to the previous ones. The process flows in one direction, thus the name.
The Waterfall process involves project requirements, design, code testing, system testing, UAT, resolving problems, and delivery. Each phase is individual and prone to feedback upon finishing.
Waterfall methodologies are used for construction, manufacturing, and engineering. Back in the 70s, the model was adjusted for the software development process. The design process is more accessible when the deliverable is strictly defined in the initial phase.
One of the significant advantages of the Waterfall is that the client’s feedback is only required during the gathering requirements phase. There is no strong customer presence throughout the project. Even though feedback is beneficial, a client’s indecisiveness can obstruct the project schedule.
The Waterfall model is quite rigid. The lack of customer participation is a significant disadvantage of this methodology.
Gathering precise requirements is the most challenging phase of this type of project. Software developers rely on written requirements to complete the project, so they need to be very specific. Customers might not be able to provide details, which can have a negative impact on the outcome.
The lack of details leads to a product that doesn’t meet the customer’s expectations. The client doesn’t have insights about the entire process until the final deliverable is completed.
At this stage, any modifications will be costly to implement. The nature of this linear approach doesn’t allow team members to return to previous phases to make changes.
Differences between Agile and Waterfall
The main difference is that Waterfall is a rigid and structured method, while Agile is more flexible.
The Waterfall methodology is plan-driven and only requires minimal customer involvement. It is divided into phases, while Agile consists of sprints. We can refer to them as many individual projects that need to be completed, while the Waterfall method includes only one project.
Waterfall doesn’t tolerate changes in requirements, whereas Agile is centered around the client’s changing needs. The iterative approach of Agile allows for repeating the software development phases, while projects that use Waterfall are completed only once.
Waterfall focuses on the project. Agile focuses on the software as a final product that needs to meet the client’s changing needs.
When to Use Agile vs. Waterfall?
Which one of the popular project management approaches you choose depends on the project cost, nature of work, and client involvement. Some organizations might adopt a hybrid model to suit their particular needs.
Waterfall methodology is a traditional, sequential approach, most suitable for larger projects, governments, banks, and insurance companies. The method is best applied when the initial requirements are clear and defined, and the dedicated team can do upfront planning.
Furthermore, Waterfall is a better solution for projects that require a fixed price and where the Agile approach isn’t feasible. The lack of customer involvement contributes to a clearly defined timeline and cost.
Agile project management methodology is ideal for small businesses, startups, and SaaS products. The Agile teams provide functional software, which is updated to meet the customer’s changing needs.
The Agile approach is a better choice when the development team requires ongoing client input and the work scope isn’t known in advance.