Agile Vs. Waterfall: Which Project Management Methodology Is Best For Your Team?

Agile and Waterfall are two well-known project management methodologies. Both of them are popular in software development but each is best suited for different types of projects. The main difference is that Waterfall is a linear system of working that requires the team to complete each project phase before moving on to the next one while Agile encourages the team to work simultaneously on different phases of the project.

Agile Methodology

Agile methodology was developed as a response to Waterfall’s more rigid structure. As a result, it’s a much more fluid form of project management. A software development project can take years to complete, and technology can change significantly during that time. Agile was developed as a flexible method that welcomes incorporating changes of direction even late in the process, as well as accounting for stakeholders’ feedback throughout the process.

In Agile, the team will work on phases of the project concurrently, often with short-term deadlines. Additionally, the team, rather than a project manager, drives the project’s direction. This can empower the team to be motivated and more productive, but also requires a more self-directed team.

Waterfall Methodology

Waterfall methodology is a linear form of project management ideal for projects where the end result is clearly established from the beginning of the project. The expectations for the project and the deliverables of each stage are clear and are required in order to progress to the next phase.

Agile and Waterfall Comparison

Waterfall has a fixed timeline. The idea is that the start and finish of the project are already mapped out from the beginning.
Agile is a lot more flexible and accounts for experimenting with different directions. Rather than a fixed timeline, the schedule adapts as the project progresses. The Agile Manifesto, an online document released in 2001 by a group of software developers, says team members are expected to, “​​Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.”

Which project management methodology should you use?

Unsurprisingly, the answer to this question depends on your unique team and its aims. To help you decide, ask yourself these two questions.

What goals do I have for my team?

While each methodology has the same goal of project completion, their secondary aims make them truly distinct. Your goals can help you decide which methodology is the best fit for you.

Determine what you want most for your team. If you simply want to produce work faster, try Scrum. If you want to improve your production process, use Kanban. If your projects demand a linear workflow, implement Waterfall. If you’re not sure, explore other Agile options and ask yourself the next question.

Which methodology will we actually stick to?

The differences in project management methodologies only matter if you use the methodology consistently. Without WIP limits, for example, Kanban is just another complicated Agile methodology. And if you don’t keep your phases discrete when using Waterfall, then you might as well just use an Agile methodology.

As such, the best project management methodology for your team is the one you’ll execute perfectly. Using piecemeal parts of a methodology will only make you lose out on the benefits that popularized the methodology in the first place. So while you certainly can adapt methodologies for your team’s use, it’s best to use a methodology as intended, adjusting only as necessary.

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