Agile vs. Waterfall: Choosing the Right Software Development Methodology
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When talking about software you most likely have heard the term “agile” float around during conversations. The Agile method can integrate changes and feedback on the fly and keep both the team and customer happy during the development process. When something new and exciting comes along, you might also wonder where it stemmed from, so what was the drop off from existing methodologies, and why did Agile rise into favor among development teams across the globe?
Another popular method that still has some traction among more focused and linear project structures is the Waterfall method. As the name suggests, it flows in one direction from top to bottom and has a designated end goal in sight. Before going too far down the rabbit hole, let me break down some starting points we can expand upon in this post.
Agile means being flexible and quick when making changes, implementing new features and designs, and having short bursts of engaged and timed development sprints. After completing these sprints, stakeholders take a step back and review what was done, possibly switching something up before proceeding further.
Waterfall means that you plan out every step and feature of a software project, with little flexibility once the water starts flowing. You are keeping the development process to its core principles. It is more useful for teams that have a desired function and outcome from the project (e.g. create a database for storing videos and other digital documentation).
Both methods have their merits, and both will be able to create great products and software, but you might have noticed issues with each.
If you are an agile team, but the project owner wants to make changes and consider others’ feedback continually, it may take forever to get to a point where they are happy.
If you are a waterfall team, you may not have enough flexibility to discover functions left out from the design period. It would be best for everyone if you can be very specific about what the product is planning to do. This rigidity can be a good thing for developers or a bad thing depending on the product’s lifecycle and the amount of time it remains in operation.
Let’s look deeper at some of the benefits and drawbacks of each method.
Benefits of Agile:
- Agile is a client forward process, so the product owner or client is involved during every step of the product development cycle.
- Agile teams are well organized and motivated which helps to improve the final results and ease of future development work.
- The overall quality of the development is continuously tracked.
- The process focuses on making smaller steps to reach the end goal, meaning you will know what has been done and what hasn’t.
- It is incremental and helps to reduce the risk.
Drawbacks of Agile:
- Agile isn’t well suited for small projects.
- The product owner or project manager needs to be involved in nearly all meetings to make decisions.
- The cost is typically more than other methods.
- If the project manager is not clear when delegating and specifying what changes he/she wants, the project can derail itself at times.
General Process Outline:
- Initial requirements
- Verify sprint results
- Request feedback
- Determine new requirements for the next sprint based on feedback & repeat until you achieve the final desired product.
Types of Agile:
Topping off the agile subcategories is the most used project management practice, namely Scrum. Scrum centralizes on a team and product owner, the project manager. The project manager is going to create a backlog and organize sprints to ensure that features and functions are being completed on time and are tested. As the product owner sees fit or as the priorities shift, the team will follow suit. Most teams practicing the agile methodology will be following the Scrum subset.
Agile Portfolio Management:
Agile Portfolio Management is a methodology that combines Agile techniques and portfolio management practices. Portfolios are becoming more challenging to manage, so using Agile methodologies, project managers and separate projects into individual requirements and smaller pieces. When the project is more bite-sized, this allows for better adaptability and flexibility for new features additions and modifications.
Kanban is a popular methodology within the Agile grouping. Originally used for assembly line style workflows in Japan, Kanban is workflow method relying on visual ques and “cards” that is successful among Lean practitioners.
Benefits of Waterfall:
- Waterfall is a very straightforward model because each phase has specific deliverables and a review process.
- Waterfall is generally better for smaller and precise projects.
- Waterfall can be very well-documented and fast.
Drawbacks of Waterfall:
- With Waterfall, it is quite difficult to makes changes to previously done work.
- Larger sized projects aren’t a great fit for Waterfall.
- If the requirements aren’t concise from the start, Waterfall is a less effective method.
- Testing comes after development is complete, meaning that any bugs found are going to be expensive to fix.
General Process Outline:
- Gather and document all requirements upfront
Types of Waterfall:
Being as there are no distinctive subsets of the Waterfall method, we have opted to highlight some similar options. Some Agile alternatives that take a waterfall-like approach that we can explore are Rapid and Spiral methods. Rapid more focuses on starting the project and not overly complicating the pre-planning process, meaning you develop and make changes when the feedback is provided. Spiral is a combination of this rapid method, coupled with waterfall stages and steps. It comes out to be much like an agile cycle but centralizes the idea that some feedback and iterations are done before the bulk of development. From this, you get the operational prototype and move towards the typical development process. It gets to be a little convoluted though, as it is walking the line between “top-down” and “bottom-up” methodologies.
To take a step back and evaluate. Agile teams focus more on projects that need to be adapted and modified mid-development, often to meet the needs of the users or to include newer technologies and trends. Waterfall can be used by focused teams looking to complete smaller projects that have a clear end goal. In the software development space, specifically in mobile development, you will find teams practicing the agile methodology. In more rigidized enterprise environments with set budgets and timelines, that software may be developed using waterfall techniques. It all comes down to preference and the team’s ability. Some smaller teams feel more comfortable with set in stone requirements and other teams like to have the flexibility to change things as they see fit.