Agile vs Waterfall - Which Methodology is Right for Your Project?

What are Agile & Waterfall?

Both agile and waterfall are sound methodologies that help organisations complete projects efficiently. However, each methodology takes a different path to the finish line. In general, Agile is an iterative approach to project management that delivers a product in increments, instead of all at once at the end of a project. Waterfall is a more traditional, sequential approach to project management that delivers a completed product once the project is finished.

Agile vs Waterfall: Pros & Cons

Comparing these two methodologies can be difficult to visualise, so we put together an easy-to-understand comparison table below based on input from Kurt Bittner, VP of enterprise solutions at Scrum.org. The list highlights different project attributes in an agile vs. waterfall environment.

Phases

Waterfall: Linear, with each phase being completed before continuing. This allows for easier task management

Agile: Linear & Iterative, with each phase allowing backwards or forward movement as necessary. This allows for easier task conextualisation for the entire project. 

Primary Goal

Waterfall: Create a finished product

Agile: Create a minimum viable product (MVP) then work to improve it over time. 

Scope & Approach

Waterfall: Must be well-defined prior to starting the project.

Agile: Can be left undefined before starting. 

Budget & Schedule

Waterfall: Set based on the defined scope of the project.

Agile: Updates based on frequent feedback on each increment, however, can also be set. 

Progress Metrics

Waterfall: Well documented and measured against the original plan

Agile: Minimal documenting and measured against the availability of the MVP. 

Success Metrics

Waterfall: Focus on project delivery time window, budget and scope

Agile: Focused on end-user outcomes and results.

Working Product

Waterfall: Typically not available until the testing phase

Agile: Available from the early stages of the project.


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Agile or Waterfall for Project Management?

We recently released our report the state of IT & Project management in 2020, in which we conducted independent research with a group of over 110 delivery professionals to understand the unique challenges faced by Project and Programme Managers. One area which proved particularly interesting was our respondent’s approach to methodologies.

Over the past decade, delivery professionals have had to adapt to the rapidly changing technology landscape. This can be seen in the mass adoption of agile methodologies and the changing practices that focus on breaking up large deliverables. Over 80% of our report participants are currently implementing agile methodologies. 

It should, however, be noted that almost 80% of respondents reported that their organisation still follow a more traditional Waterfall method. So the question must be asked, can Agile and variants such as Scrum live up to their promise of increased velocity? This is something that can only be answered using data to measure the overall success of a project- something that surprisingly almost 20% of respondents do not do.  

You can read our full report ‘The State of IT & Project Management in 2020’ here (no sign up required).

Time & Expenses vs Fixed-Price Solutions

We sat down with our Sales Director Rob Bellingham to hear his thoughts on the two pricing models associated with large-scale projects: Fixed Price and Time and Expenses (T&E). Fixed price solutions are generally associated with waterfall methodologies, whilst T&E is mostly used in-line with agile projects.

“There are three main priorities in almost every project; price, time and functionality. Unfortunately, this can end up being a bit of a trade-off. For example, if you try to push the increase the functionality of a project, it will undoubtedly end up costing more and taking longer to produce.

Fixed price solutions are a good way of managing cost, as there is a set budget that is adhered to as the project progresses. This can limit functionality but is a great way of setting a baseline for the project, particularly if you plan to expand the product’s offering over time. Fixed price solutions require an intricate understanding of the business logic, end product and sign-off date, meaning they are best achieved through waterfall PM methodologies.

T&E solutions allow for the budget to change throughout the project, which allows for a greater level of functionality but requires flexibility in terms of the time it will take to produce. For clients and suppliers who aren’t used to agile solutions, this can seem a little daunting. It requires genuine trust between the parties and close control given the increased likelihood of scope creep. It’s no secret that T&E methodologies can be difficult, particularly if you’re not used to agile working, but they are a fantastic opportunity to fine-tune your project to an exact specification.

If you’re going to market with a new product, regardless of whether you are a large corporation or a start-up, setting a clear finish line for the minimum viable product is really important.  For this reason, waterfall methodologies are often more useful for new projects and products But then transition to an agile project when work can be packaged into small segments. 

That being said, T&E does allow for the client to have a deeper involvement in the project, creating a true partnership. With fixed-price solutions, there is always a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’. If the project comes in under budget in terms of time, the business is likely to pay more than the going rate for their project, whilst if it is over, third party suppliers end up ultimately working for less money.”

Summary: Is Agile or Waterfall Better for Your Project? 

Agile projects are typically cheaper and can be delivered quickly. They offer greater flexibility, but also produce less predictable results due to the uncertainty and unclear nature of many of the project characteristics.

Waterfall projects are typically more expensive and take longer to deliver. They are also less flexible to change mid-development. However, due to the certainty and rigour of waterfall resulting products suffer less from scope creep and are more likely to achieve their desired mark.

T&E Time & Expenses budgeting methodologies require a greater level of flexibility but allow for fine-tuned projects and true partnerships with third-party suppliers. T&E budgets are most often used in Agile development.

Fixed Cost Fixed price solutions are generally associated with waterfall methodologies, and require rigid time-scaling This means more time during the specific stage, resulting in better cost control.  

Interested in more project management insights? Read our first Netsells report: The State of IT & Project Management in 2020

 

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