Waterfall and Agile are simply names of two different approaches to the organization of a project, the approaches, and the stages of its implementation.
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Waterfall project management
Waterfall is the more traditional approach practiced most often in Western societies. It involves a strict organization based on precise planning and clearly defined process stages.
In essence, the Waterfall approach relies on a linear methodology, i.e. each team member works in a strictly defined sequence toward the achievement of a finite set of goals.
Each participant in the project has clearly defined roles and they are not expected to change during the implementation of the project. The same applies to the defined phases of the project as well as to its objectives.
It is for this reason, due to the need for strict planning, control, and management of processes, that Waterfall defines as the main role of the project manager – a worker or employee directly charged with the responsibilities of planning, control, and management.
The typical stages of a Waterfall project are:
- Analysis: definition of preliminary requirements for the project, development of project documentation;
- Design: development of design and basic specifications;
- Implementation: start of the practical work – each of the teams begins to perform the assigned tasks;
- Testing: each of the elements of the project is subjected to tests and analysis to fulfill the set requirements;
- Delivery: the product or service is officially launched;
- Support: follow-up to ensure trouble-free operation and continuous improvement;
Advantages of the Waterfall
The advantages of the Waterfall approach lie mainly in its predictability and ease of replication – if necessary, once defined, the overall structure of a project developed according to this methodology can be easily copied both within and outside the organization.
A disadvantage of this type of project management is that the strictly defined and linear structure significantly reduces the flexibility of implementation.
When there are a change in the circumstances and/or goals within the project, it is little or almost impossible for it to be quickly and easily adapted to the new conditions and requirements. This makes the Waterfall system less suitable for some specific types of activities, such as software development for example.
Agile methodology offers a project management alternative that addresses this very weakness of the Waterfall approach. Historically, it originated in Eastern business organizations, as it corresponds to the traditions, culture, and perceptions typical of these societies.
Where Waterfall deals with strictly defined stages and processes, Agile follows rather the phases of the project life cycle. It focuses more on the specific actions to be performed, breaking them down into smaller cycles called “iterations.”
After its completion, each iteration is evaluated and analyzed by the entire project team, which includes representatives of all project participants.
The conclusions, ideas, and recommendations from this discussion are then used as a basis for determining the next steps of the project implementation.
Accordingly, one of the main advantages of the Agile method is the ability to flexibly adapt to changing circumstances and/or requirements during the implementation of the respective project. This can often result in savings in resources and/or time.
Because of its flexible, “team” structure, the Agile approach does not require the designation of one specific “project manager” figure. Instead, the Agile methodology distributes its traditional responsibilities, such as managing budgets, people, resources, and scale, among the various members of the project team.
The typical phases (iterations) of an Agile project are:
- Conceptualization: defining the vision for the project, including identification of the needs and desires of the end-users (clients), project participants, and individual members of the work teams;
- Brainstorming: defining the initial set of product requirements, with all teams working together to define key objectives within the development period;
- Development: each of the teams focuses on the implementation of the set parameters, but in parallel, constantly searches for alternatives to satisfy the predefined conditions of the project;
- Adaptation: the results achieved are reviewed and analyzed. The need to modify project parameters is assessed;
Finalization: the final version of the project is evaluated and analyzed against the predefined requirements. Errors and weaknesses are analyzed and reviewed to avoid them in the future;
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Waterfall and Agile project management methodologies: Conclusion
In practice, Waterfall and Agile project management methodologies are not at odds. None of them are inherently “right” or “wrong.” In essence, they are simply two different approaches, two different philosophies of project management.
Each of them has its strengths and weaknesses that make it suitable for managing different types of projects.
I hope this brief has clarified the issue of differences between Waterfall and Agile methodology.