Which one is better—traditional waterfall project management methodology or agile?

This isn’t a new debate. While agile is the buzzword these days, it may not suit all your small business projects. Some projects actually perform better with a traditional waterfall project management methodology.

That’s why, which methodology to choose to manage what kind of project is the relevant question to ask, but tough to answer.

According to a PMI report, about 44 percent of projects use predictive approaches (traditional waterfall project management), 30 percent use agile approaches, and 23 percent use hybrid approaches. So, businesses are using both methodologies—and sometimes, both—for successful project delivery.

As a project manager, you must identify which projects need to be agile and which need to be managed traditionally for optimized project performance. If you fail to use the right project management methodology, you will waste about 9.9 percent of every dollar that you invest.

In this article, we compare the two popular project management methodologies—waterfall and agile. We offer insights into their unique features, with examples of project management software that suit each kind of approach. This will help you identify who should adopt which method.

Jump to the following sections for a quick overview:

Waterfall methodology: For simpler, short-term projects

  • Key features of waterfall project management methodology
  • Who should use waterfall project management?
  • Which project management tool suits waterfall methodology?

Agile methodology: For complex, long-term projects

  • Key features of agile project management methodology
  • Who should use agile project management?
  • Which project management tool suits agile methodology?

Should I choose waterfall or agile project management?

Waterfall methodology: For simpler, short-term projects

This methodology is a linear project management approach where the project is completed in distinct stages. Only the final product is then shared with customers.

Use the waterfall approach if a project requires large-scale design or analysis and the impact of changes during the process is deep. The approach is well suited for projects that have dependencies on cross-functional teams.

Key features of waterfall project management methodology

It has sequential workflow, one-time ultimate delivery: This approach breaks down the overall project into several smaller and sequential tasks. The tasks are assigned to team members along with the expected delivery dates. Once the tasks are completed, the final product is shared with the customer.

It has clear, detailed requirements from the start: Stakeholders are aware of client expectations from the start to finish. Team members also understand the development and designing expectations before starting the coding and design. This understanding makes it easy for project managers to plan resources, time, and budgets from the beginning.

It disallows continuous changes in project life cycle: In waterfall projects, the code is tested for bugs once the final product is ready for release. If the design and development aren’t complementary and redesign is required, the budget increases. Re-dos imply a failure in understanding customer requirements and reduce the scope of change during the project life cycle.

Its customers have limited role post initial phase: Stakeholders collate customer requirements and create the product roadmap in the beginning. After this stage, the customer involvement ceases until the final product is delivered.

It involves heavy documentation: Waterfall projects need meticulous documentation and planning at every stage. This lowers the risk of employee turnover. At any instance, a different project manager or developer could step in during the middle of a project without interrupting the workflow. Also, the extensive documentation makes it possible for project managers to repeat the process with little or no change.

Who should use waterfall approach for project management?

Small business IT project managers should consider this methodology to manage shorter, smaller, and simpler projects.

It also works well for remote teams as they are clear about the project requirements from the start and there’s not much scope for change in the project life cycle. This makes it easier to manage remote workers and monitor the timely completion of each task.

The waterfall approach suits projects with stringent requirements and standards such as the regulation-driven aviation industry or medical and construction-related projects.

Which project management tool suits waterfall methodology?

Gantt chart in ProjectManager.com

Gantt chart in ProjectManager.com (Source)

ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management tool that’s well-suited for waterfall projects. It offers Gantt charts that allow a project manager to demonstrate the project life cycle on a chart.

Project managers can also create tasks and assign those to team members. It helps teams understand dependencies in the task to be able to manage the overall task in a timely manner. The project manager can track the progress of each task at each phase using a real-time dashboard. The comprehensive graphs provide visibility into the planned versus actual progress.

The software also offers unlimited online file storage. This helps in documenting and storing the documents through the waterfall project.

Agile methodology: For complex, long-term projects

The agile project management methodology focuses on delivering a project iteratively and incrementally. Agile teams develop products and services in short development cycles called “sprints.” Before each sprint teams organize a scrum meeting to discuss the way forward.

Use the agile approach if the projects are new and they require creativity. You can let the project develop and expand as well as manage it efficiently. However, this method could be stressful on team members who are working on multiple projects because the iterations and feedback can come in any time.

Key features of agile project management methodology

It’s delivered incrementally and iteratively: An agile project is conceived and visualized as a whole. This large project is then split into smaller tasks, called iterations. Each iteration is two to eight weeks long and has a unique goal. The team focuses on delivering that particular goal at the end of each iteration. A project is successful when each iteration is successfully delivered to the customer.

Its stakeholders jointly analyze high-level project requirements: The team jointly outlines the requirements in an agile project to develop the product. Throughout the project life cycle, stakeholders use a team-driven approach to contribute to product development.

It allows continuous feedback and change: An agile team delivers a part of the product in each iteration. The overall product is constantly refined and reprioritized. The stakeholders evaluate each iteration for its business requirements, functionality, and bugs. Customer and stakeholder feedback is incorporated in the next iteration for continuous improvement. This fosters early issue identification and resolution.

It emphasizes customer satisfaction: Agile development projects provide the opportunity to beta test software after each subsequent sprint. This generates valuable feedback to make the desired changes. The user/client involvement during the product’s development process is high and user expectations are effectively managed.

It doesn’t require exhaustive documentation: Agile project management requires ongoing, comprehensive but short documentation. Agile teams have to document the project’s architecture, user stories, training materials for support workers, risks, and other such details.

Who should use agile approach for project management?

Small business IT project managers should consider using this methodology to manage complex projects with undefined and vague requirements. Agile is also well suited for projects from an active client as the agile project flow allows them to provide constant input throughout the project life cycle.

Which project management tool suits agile methodology?

Sprints in Jira

Sprints in Jira

Jira is a cloud-based project management tool for agile teams. It offers Jira Scrum Board for sprint planning and iterative development. The scrum board can be accessed by any team member at any time. It improves team communication and collaboration.

It also offers certain extensions that further boost agility. For instance, agile cards help in printing user stories from the Jira Scrum Board for the daily scrum and sprint planning. The project template manager extension lets users create Jira projects using customized templates.

Jira also offers certain other features, such as Kanban boards and agile reporting, which make it suitable for agile projects.

Breakdown of waterfall vs. agile methodologies

Here’s a quick breakdown of the most important aspects of both methodologies:

Breakdown of waterfall vs. agile methodologies

Should I choose waterfall or agile project management?

Making this decision isn’t going to be easy. However, this guide should have already given you some ideas about the pros and cons. All you have to do is match those with your needs.

To help you do this, here are some considerations:

  • Identify loopholes in current and past projects: Once you identify specific areas that need to be fixed, assess how to tackle them by tweaking your project management methodology. Based on your project and business needs, choose a project management methodology that fits your bill.
  • Garner responses from your teams: It’s imperative for your team to agree with your decision to change your project management methodology. The feedback will give insights into their individual project management challenges.

  • Offer support and training to your team: Before choosing to change your project management methodology, inform your team that you will provide additional support during the change. This would ease any resistance to change, while helping them maximize their output despite the revised workflows.

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