Waterfall vs. Agile: Which One is For You?
Waterfall and agile are two concepts you will typically hear in software development project management. Waterfall is the more traditional and more linear approach that employs a step-by-step process. This process typically goes from 1) conception, 2) initiation, 3) analysis, 4) design, 5) construction, 6) testing, 7) implementation, and 8) maintenance.
On the other hand, agile is an iterative project methodology. It removes the limitations set by waterfall, and gives designers and developers more freedom to respond to changes in scope throughout the project duration, as long as the deliverable can be launched at any time with the minimum requirements.
While agile is the newer methodology, it has become increasingly popular in the technology world. However, both approaches have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages.
Waterfall puts emphasis on having detailed project plan before any kind of development is done. The benefit of doing this is that estimates and budgets are set more accurately, to the happiness of most clients. Waterfall also tends to be very secure because they stick to a documented plan — so even if a designer or a developer drops out during a project, it won’t affect the rest of the team because the person who will inherit the remaining tasks will just refer to the plan.
The biggest disadvantage of the waterfall approach is that it is not flexible. Because of its rigidity, dealing with changes in the scope and design at any point during the project is a management nightmare. Responding to changes will typically require big amounts of time, which also means money. Another waterfall con is that the feedback, testing, and QA happens very late into the process.
Waterfall needs to be able to identify all requirements and forecast potential issues upfront to ensure that the project becomes successful.
Agile is the complete opposite of waterfall with its flexible and adaptive approach. With iterative planning at the core of agile, the methodology welcomes change at any point in the project. This is an excellent option for projects where clients’ goals are not very clearly defined and may eventually become more distinct during the development process. Agile is also beneficial for experimental software projects. Another advantage of agile is that customer feedback is provided during development and testing. This enables the team to meet client expectations more rapidly.
At the same time, the lack of a concrete plan in agile poses a couple of drawbacks. Agile software projects are typically difficult to forecast in terms of timeline and budget. The active customer involvement and collaboration is very time-consuming. Moreover, team members must be committed until project completion since development is based on the person rather than a plan.
Both the waterfall and the agile methods have their benefits and drawbacks, and it cannot really be said whether one is better than the other. At the end of the day, what matters is to apply the approach that better fits the project requirements. If it’s more static where changes are not expected, then the waterfall method is very suitable. Contrastingly, if many changes are anticipated, agile is the better option.