Difference between Agile and Waterfall: Software Development Methodologies

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Over the past five year, organizations have made a concerted push for a more agile project management model to replace the waterfall model.
According to the 15th Annual State of Agile Report (August 2015), there has been a strong rise in agile adoption, with more than 94% of respondents indicating that their organization practices agile. Goremotely.net also reports that 71% use agile methods for their software development and business project approaches.
Jump to…
What is Waterfall? What is Waterfall? And why are organizations turning away from it?
The Agile Challenge
Create an agile team and embed the guardrails
How to Determine if a Project Can be Delivered Agilely
Flexible Support for Organizational Problems
What is Waterfall? What is Waterfall? And why are organizations turning away from it?
Waterfall is a more sequential approach to project management. It relies on each phase (i.e. analysis, design, development, and testing) being completed once the previous stage has been approved. It is difficult to manage projects that aren’t perfect and neat. However, it is possible to move through each phase sequentially. Projects and products are more evolutionary. Waterfall doesn’t allow for much evolution.
Although waterfall has many benefits, the challenges that it presents can be more important than key factors for organizational success. The following are some of the main disadvantages to waterfalls:
The project planning phase can take a lot of time. It can take a long time to gather requirements and get alignment and sign-off.
Focus on well-structured, often lengthy deliverables (i.e. reports and documentation). These can take more time than necessary for already allocated resources.
The UAT and system testing is done at the end of a project, so there is less opportunity for stakeholder input. It is possible for stakeholders to have very different expectations of what they see on paper and in reality. Changes can be costly.
Implementation timelines that are too long or excessive can lead to a decrease in the organization’s return.
However, there are many benefits that are close to the heart of a veteran project manager. These include:
The ability to track the details of the schedule, costs, and impacts of dependencies. This will allow for better insight into performance.
Design excellence is possible through full discovery and alignment between teams and organizations (whole system approach).
Clear agreement regarding project scope and deliverables. The “contract” that the PM (Project Manager) is required to deliver is well-defined. This can feel like a safety net.
There is less confusion in managing the effort.
The Agile Challenge
Based on the benefits of Agile, project management offices (PMOs), want to become an agile organization. But what does this mean? It is common for organizations to want to use a certain approach in managing and delivering software and business projects iteratively over short time periods. However, this is not agile.
Leaders request PMOs to change the organizational project approach to agile. They are often looking for a prescriptive, waterfall-like process with a set of standardized documentation templates that use agile words and practices. However, this is not agile.
Agile is not about having a set of actions to follow, but rather a mindset and principles to apply to the right situation.
Create an agile team and embed the guardrails
It is different to lead a project with a single agile team than to create an agile team. All project teams can be made agile.