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Waterfall vs Agile: Which Methodology Should You Follow?

Tania Cheema

Tania Cheema

Staying competitive in today’s digitally disrupted marketplace means that organisations now have to speed up their innovation in every part of their business. This has been a big reason for the increased adoption of agile development which delivers customer value faster. But is agile always a better methodology?

Project managers generally choose between agile or waterfall approaches to their software development projects, and it’s hard to decide which approach is better as both have pros and cons.

The waterfall model is a sequential design process, in which progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through the phases

Traditional approaches such as the waterfall methodology usually follow a distinct set of steps through the project’s lifecycle – where each step follows, upon the completion of the previous one, cascading down like a waterfall. Usually seen as a “safer” method, the waterfall approach involves detailed documentation and signoffs from senior management, which many organisations find reassuring.

As this methodology has a defined start and ending to each stage, results can be easily measured and the project benefits from a lower number of defects through thorough planning. This structure also makes it easier to allocate resources that are fully available throughout the duration of the project. And, in terms of budget allocation, it’s easier to estimate costs as the project is divided up into clear stages.

On the flip side, however, it lacks flexibility and changes made at later stages can be costly and laborious to implement. This is mainly because, often at times, clients don’t know what their requirements are upfront. Similarly, designers are also unable to foresee problems that will arise out of the implementation of their designs.

Agile development empowers people to collaborate and make team decisions in addition to continuously planning, testing, and integrating.

The agile method, on the other hand is an iterative approach to projects, where solutions are developed through collaboration between the client and development teams. Instead of extensive planning and design upfront, the agile methodology involves producing a working product and then making incremental changes over time based on feedback.

This approach allows development to start swiftly and there is greater flexibility in the process for responding quickly to changes occurring at any stage. There is also greater communication between the development team and the client, which ensures that the final deliverable meets the customer’s needs.

But agile methodologies are more difficult to understand than linear approaches like waterfall. The lack of long-term detailed plans and lower level of documentation can lead to extra inefficiencies in large organisations. It’s also difficult to dedicate the right resources at all times and cost estimation becomes difficult due to limited upfront knowledge of the length of the project. It’s important for clients to embrace agile as a partnership with matching budgets to flex up and down as needed.

So it all comes down to the question: which methodology should you follow? The answer is not straightforward. It’s difficult to say which method is better as both agile and waterfall can be powerful approaches. In the end, it all comes down to the context of the engagement and the type of client you have. Though both methods can help deliver your project, it’s important to effectively manage the expectations of your clients and delivery a high quality product at the end.

Which methodology do you prefer and why? Share your thoughts with us by emailing me at tania@wearefutureheads.co.uk and I’d be happy to hear from you!