Agile vs Waterfall - How can a project management style affect your software delivery?

Q: I hear all these buzzwords about types of project management, but surely how an agency manages their work doesn’t really matter to me - it’s something internal to them, right?

A: Actually, a project management style has a large impact on the delivery of your project, from how much it costs to the end product. It’s something you should really pay attention to.

At Switchplane, we adopted the Agile Scrum methodology of project management just over 4 years ago and it has transformed our delivery of projects. We explain more about Agile and Waterfall.

The history, in brief

Waterfall methodology is the ‘traditional’ model for software development, which came about in the 1970s, derived from Waterfall manufacturing methods of the Ford assembly line.

Waterfall typically involved writing a lot of documentation upfront before any coding could start. A specification could be huge and the development of a system could easily take a couple of years. Teams were large, and any changes in requirements would go through a long review process and tweaks to the code were tricky.

At the turn of the millennium, a group of experienced software developers who had moved away from using Waterfall processes got together to put the core Agile principles in place. These are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Teamwork, simplicity, trust in individuals, reflection, customer satisfaction and value are all found in the key principles behind the Agile Manifesto. This methodology also encourages an ongoing process of improvement and team members are more productive and happier working with this process - it helps to attract and keep talent. Indeed, one investigation even showed that Agile Scrum improves quality of life.

Who uses Agile today, and why?

Many large organisations and tech companies today use Agile - including Apple, IBM, Microsoft and Fitbit - and not just within their software development teams: management and HR teams can also be found organising themselves in this way. Even the FBI uses it.

According to a survey by Organize Agile, respondents agreed that Agile working improves flexibility and agility (83%), improves financial results (68%) and creates a more open and productive culture (61%). These factors are beneficial to both the teams using these frameworks and the end clients.

Pros and cons of the Waterfall methodology

Pros

  • There is a well-defined scope before starting work
  • There is a sequential, linear nature to the project, where it’s clear what’s coming next
  • Your budget is more predictable

Cons

  • There is a lot of upfront planning, which can mean a lot of foresight is needed (especially when unknowns may still remain)
  • You have to wait until the end product is ready before you can use it, review and give feedback
  • Your needs and requirements may have changed by the time the end product is ready
  • The focus is on whether the project was delivered on time and within budget, rather than on the end user
  • The project is usually less flexible, typically more expensive, and take longer to deliver

Pros and cons of the Agile methodology

Pros

  • You have regular opportunities to see progress and give feedback
  • It’s easier to accommodate new ideas and changes in scope
  • You see a faster return on their investment, as each Sprint brings new deliverables
  • Agile projects are typically cheaper and can be delivered quickly
  • It’s proven that Agile methods produce higher-quality software
  • The focus is on the user

Cons

  • The results are less predictable
  • The budget is less predictable
  • It’s possible to lose track of longer-term objectives
  • It requires a deeper level of involvement from you, the client

Our experience with Agile

Overall, from our experiences with both methodologies, Agile project management works really well for both our team and our clients. We use the SCRUM variant of Agile (the most popular of Agile frameworks); this includes a few tweaks to make it work best for us and our clients, such as by introducing budget predictability.

With Agile, we are constantly delivering new features, showing the development of the project to our clients and getting immediate feedback from end-users. We focus on the area causing most ‘pain’ for clients first and typically get something in their hands in 6-8 weeks of a new partnership, which means that clients can start gaining value from the custom software whilst we’re working on the next feature. A project generally flows from one area of a business to another, according to the top priorities, which can mean we are working on multiple streams of development for a client’s various teams at once.

Internally, our two-week Sprint cycle is pretty satisfying. Work is planned and allocated at the start of a Sprint, the teams know exactly what they need to work on in that period, and the list is complete and ready for client feedback by the end of the Sprint - and the cycle begins once more. Tasks are allocated by the hour, so can easily be switched between team members if one should fall behind - something we keep on top of on a daily basis at our stand up meetings.

Our methodology effectively is one of our products, and it is something we celebrate.

Things to consider

Before partnering with a software development agency, consider what values are important to you.

Find out in advance how often you’ll be checking in with the team, what sorts of deliverables you can expect, and how frequently you’ll be able to give feedback and suggest changes.

Keep in mind that both Waterfall and Agile methodologies have advantages and disadvantages, but decide which suits your business model better. You will work much more in harmony with your agency if you share the same mindset and ideals - something that is as important as technical skills and a portfolio.

The Switchplane Team

Hey! We are Switchplane and we help businesses save time and money by building them custom software. This can be anything from a job management portal to a complex ecommerce solution. Want to find out more?

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