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Agile vs Waterfall: A tale of two methodologies

March 30, 2022

The software development debate of Agile vs Waterfall has been circulating since the Agile methodology was first introduced in 2000. While both methodologies are usable and considered mature respectively, there are varying schools of thought among the development and outsourcing community.  Due it’s more methodical nature, some believe Waterfall is the best development methodology for organizing software development projects. Those that adhere to a more flexible school of thought will tell you that the more fluid approach of Agile is the most productive way to manage a software development project.

Whether you are using staff augmentation services from an IT outsourcing company or managing a project in-house, we’ve provided an overview of each methodology to help you make an informed decision as to which method works best for your unique project.

What is the Waterfall Methodology?

First established in 1970 by Winston Royce, Waterfall is like a workflow— each stage of the project is completed before you move on to the next stage. There are eight stages in total —conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, implementation, and maintenance. Once a stage is completed, you cannot go back to a previous stage without shutting down the project and starting over again. Any project using the Waterfall methodology must have a known project outcome, a plan set in stone from the beginning that is followed to the letter with zero mistakes.

Waterfall is best for projects where:

  • You have a crystal-clear picture of the final product
  • Speed is not a factor
  • Clients and stakeholders, like your outsourcing company, know what they want
  • You won’t need to change the scope of a project midstream

Advantages of Waterfall Methodology

  • The predictable workflow and fixed nature make estimating costs, creating timelines, and meeting deadlines easier.
  • A clear starting point and requirement review gate mean the development team must complete all tasks before the project can proceed.
  • Set timelines and documentation make it simple to provide status updates to all stakeholders
  • Documentation for each phase of development makes it easy to follow the logic of past projects and lay the groundwork to ramp up new projects.
  • As the traditional approach to software project management, teams typically do not require additional training.

Disadvantages of Waterfall Methodology

  • Changes or errors mean the project has to start over from the beginning with most of the previous code scrapped.
  • Typically, four phases of the project need to be completed before actual development begins, which can mean slower delivery times.
  • The need to gather all requirements upfront can increase the possibility of missing the coding mark.
  • Testing at the project’s end may cause a rush through the testing process in order to meet a deadline, resulting in a poorly tested product and possible failed launch

What is the Agile Methodology?

Agile follows an incremental approach with developers starting off with a simplistic project design, working on small modules in weekly or monthly sprints. Once each sprint is completed, project priorities are evaluated, and tests are run. These tests allow for bugs and defects in the code to be discovered sooner rather than later. It also accommodates for client or stakeholder feedback to be incorporated before the next sprint begins.

Agile is best for projects where:

  • Production speed is the focus rather than project quality
  • The scope of a project may change
  • The picture of the final product isn’t clear
  • You have outsourcing or in-house developers with the skillset to think independently
  • The product is for an industry with rapidly changing standards

Advantages of Agile Methodology

  • Changes can be easily made as part of the standard procedure.
  • Easily add new features to keep current with changing industry standards.
  • Evaluating project priorities at the end of each sprint allows all stakeholders to provide feedback to help ensure the end product meets the requirements.
  • Testing at the end of each cycle ensures bugs are caught quickly and addressed in the development cycle vs the end of the project.
  • Thorough testing means that the product is likely to reach its intended launch date.

Disadvantages of Agile Methodology

  • Flexibility can lead to procrastination and timelines can be stretch if a quality project manager is not engaged with the Scrum team.
  • Each person involved in the project must be self-disciplined and highly proficient.
  • Active team involvement and face-to-face collaboration can mean a greater time commitment.
  • Working software over documentation forces teams to strike a balance between code and documentation.

Waterfall vs Agile, So Which One?

Choosing the right methodology depends on the context of your project. If you know upfront that you’ll need to take a more fluid approach that allows for changes as well as ongoing client and stakeholder input along the way, Agile is best choice.

If the client and stakeholders have a clear direction and defined outcome that will not require changes to be made as the project progresses, Waterfall is the best choice.

The question often arises, what about combining elements of each? It’s possible, but like most things, it takes some compromise and adjustments.

At Onshore Outsourcing, we believe that the Agile methodology is typically the right one for most of our clients. We work with companies that are typically in highly dynamic and highly regulated environments where the pressure to be agile and nimble is significant. Our staff augmentation team is highly trained in Agile methodology and fully understands the responsibilities of each role in the process. When our Managed IT Services team takes on a new project, we typically follow the Agile methodology to ensure we can meet the needs of our clients.

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