Posted by Marbenz Antonio on May 12, 2023
The critical choice to be made before starting any development project is the approach the team will take to execute it together. This decision can often lead to intense discussions as there are two significant development methodologies to consider. Essentially, a development methodology specifies the manner in which the tasks of a project will be structured and carried out.
Agile and Waterfall represent the two primary development methodologies extensively utilized in software development, consequently affecting project management practices. The fundamental distinction between these methodologies lies in their approach to project execution. In the case of a waterfall, projects are carried out sequentially, whereas agile projects are characterized by an iterative and cyclical nature.
Both the agile and waterfall methodologies come with their own unique advantages and disadvantages. In general, both methodologies can bring value to a software development team. The decision of which one to choose largely depends on the specific project type and the prevailing circumstances.
According to a poll conducted in 2019, less than 20% of professionals reported that their organizations employ the waterfall methodology. On the other hand, a significant majority of 81% stated that their organizations opt for the agile methodology. Additional research conducted by HP reveals that 54% of agile users consider enhanced collaboration and teamwork as the primary motivating factor for choosing agile over waterfall.
The software development process following the waterfall approach is characterized by a highly sequential structure, consisting of seven distinct phases. These phases adhere to a fixed order, where each phase must be completed before proceeding to the next. In the waterfall methodology, the initiation of phase two is contingent upon the completion of phase one.
The phases of the waterfall methodology are:
Due to the increasing popularity of Agile methodologies, there is a tendency to label Waterfall as “inferior” or “obsolete”. Some product teams may feel tempted to adopt Agile simply because it’s a trend, even though it may not necessarily be the optimal choice. It’s important to recognize that Waterfall has numerous strengths, including its proficiency in various areas.
There is no universally applicable software development approach that guarantees success for every team and situation. The waterfall approach does have a few limitations or drawbacks.
So, in which scenarios do these advantages become prominent?
In the tech industry, speed often takes precedence. However, this focus on speed can sometimes lead to compromises in stability, organization, and clear frameworks. The waterfall method is particularly suitable for teams that possess well-established and organized development practices. The project management ideology of waterfall is excellent for delivering consistent and reliable results for software or other systems that don’t undergo rapid changes. On the other hand, Agile methodology is a significant driver of innovation and encourages rapid and flexible thinking. Sprint planning and extreme adaptability can be highly beneficial, but there are instances where those characteristics may not align with the specific requirements of a product.
In the simplest terms, if agility is not a requirement, Agile may not be the best choice. The most effective project managers possess a deep understanding of their teams, testers, and available resources.
With the increasing prevalence of remote work, there are situations where Waterfall can provide a valuable level of structure to development, particularly when it is necessary for a manager. This is particularly true when teams are simultaneously working on multiple aspects of a system. If one person’s work needs to be completed before another can begin, Waterfall fits excellently into that scenario as it is designed to accommodate such dependencies. In a chaotic environment, excessive flexibility can bog down the subsequent phases of development.
While Agile is commonly perceived as the flexible alternative (and that perception is generally accurate), there are specific areas in 2021 where Waterfall can prove to be a more adaptable philosophy. Time-boxed sprints may not be feasible when individuals are working in the presence of their children or have to attend to distractions such as a dog chewing on the table. These circumstances can disrupt the smooth progress of sprints. Importantly, this does not apply universally but rather represents a possibility. Effective project managers will attentively listen to the situation, learn from their staff, and make decisions accordingly.
The major difference between agile and waterfall methodologies can be summarized as follows: the waterfall approach prioritizes upfront planning, whereas the agile approach emphasizes adaptability and engagement.
Within agile development, there exist various iterations that share fundamental similarities. These include:
The agile methodology encompasses two essential elements: teamwork and time. Rather than creating a linear timeline for a single extensive software development project, agile divides the project into smaller, manageable deliverable pieces. These segmented phases, known as “sprints,” are time-boxed and typically span a few weeks. Upon completion of each sprint, feedback from the previous phase is incorporated to plan the subsequent one.
Based on this collaborative and time-sensitive approach, agile development projects adhere to several fundamental principles.
The advantages of agile development are directly related to customer satisfaction and the final outcome of the development project. While adopting the agile approach may require some adjustment, the effort invested can be worthwhile for the appropriate development team.
Similar to any singular development approach, agile may present drawbacks in certain settings or for specific teams. However, with proper planning and a committed team, these additional challenges can be successfully overcome.
Agile development revolves around creativity, teamwork, and intense focus sessions. When executed effectively, it can foster an agile team that thrives on iterative improvements based on customer feedback. However, at its worst, it can devolve into disarray with a backlog of tasks and distorted development phases.
The teams that can derive the most benefits from Agile are those who feel constrained by Waterfall and aspire to unlock their team’s creativity. To succeed, they will require highly skilled managers who can strike a balance between an iterative approach and the inherent chaos of the development cycle. Agile has the potential to eliminate bottlenecks and unleash the capabilities of product teams, while also preventing burnout and avoiding a cluttered landscape of unfinished software projects.
How can you determine if Agile is the best approach for you? In reality, you likely already have an idea. If your team operates in bursts of creative energy while utilizing organizational tools like Kanban boards to maintain clarity, you have the necessary resources. If your projects demand creativity, frequent adjustments, and a customer-centric final product, you have the motivation. Lastly, if your management team can harness this creative potential, promote employee well-being, and foster a healthy work-life balance, you have the opportunity to succeed with Agile.
How do the leading project management software solutions in the market compare in terms of agile vs. waterfall? To assess this, we examined the most reviewed project management tools, focusing on reviews that specifically mention agile or waterfall. Each of the products mentioned below has been verified by customers.
Among these project management tools, agile is referenced more frequently than waterfall across all products. Out of nearly 400 reviews that mention agile or waterfall, 83% specifically highlight agile. This observation aligns with the fact that agile development is more widely adopted than waterfall development. Consequently, it is more common to find project management software explicitly designed for agile rather than waterfall methodologies.
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