When leaders organize processes for software development and other teams, the waterfall project management model and Agile mindset principles are among the most common approaches. But before choosing between these two models, leaders need a strong understanding of how each provides certain advantages. With the right methodology and a software solution to keep employees on track, an agile project manager can guide the way to successful project completion while staying in line with the organization's larger mission. With some research, you can decide whether a waterfall model is the best way to move forward.

Understanding Waterfall Project Management

The basic concept behind the waterfall model, which was first described in 1970, is apparent in the name. A project proceeds sequentially from its conception, each phase leading into the next. While there are a variety of modified versions, the basic model breaks down into a series of six steps — and as an example, let's imagine a software project: 

  • Waterfall project management starts with the requirements phase, or laying out the system's intended functions and qualities
  • Developers create the software architecture during the design phase
  • Then comes construction, in which software is developed and integrated
  • During testing and debugging, the team finds and addresses flaws in the software
  • Next is installation, when the product is implemented
  • The last phase is maintenance, which involves supporting the product, keeping it working properly for the customer 

The waterfall model comes out of the strict processes used in industries like construction and manufacturing. It's an approach focused on creating the best possible final product, with little room for adjustments or upgrades following the project's completion. Since today's technology makes it feasible to adopt a more flexible methodology, other ways of developing software and other products have become popular, but waterfall remains highly influential.

The Basics of Agile Process Management

Agile management is all about providing a framework for building systems that allows plenty of room for interaction, customization, and frequent updates. An early form of this methodology was Scrum, developed in 1986, which presented the concept of requirements volatility. This principle acknowledges the reality that customers might end up having different needs or expectations for the software than originally intended and new challenges may come up after release. And this methodology accounts for this by being highly flexible to react to those changing needs.

In Agile methodology, teams work in short cycles - called sprints - to provide continuous improvements. The major principles driving this development philosophy include the following:

  • Teams should always prioritize customer satisfaction, which is achieved by delivering products or services quickly and consistently.
  • Developers work in close collaboration with other stakeholders.
  • The team members must be motivated to reach the best possible outcomes and provided with all necessary tools and resources.
  • All must focus on technical achievement and simplicity in design.
  • Development goes on at a constant and consistent pace.
  • Teams will get the best results by organizing themselves, but they must also make regular improvements to processes to maximize efficiency.

This way of thinking about the development process has served to streamline the work of many software development companies. However, it has also proven popular in other industries, like finance, marketing, and education.

Determining the Right Approach

When assessing Agile vs. waterfall project management, each has its pros and cons. While the Agile process produces more exciting new features at a faster rate, each change will likely require some time to eliminate bugs. With the more strictly organized waterfall process, new versions come out more fully formed, making it simpler (theoretically) for a leader to budget the money, time, and labor that go into completing the project.

From the customer's perspective, continuous Agile development leads to incremental improvement in the products they already own and a greater focus on delivery models like monthly subscriptions. Waterfall development means their expectations for new products and innovations are restricted, but simply waiting for the next version of the product can inspire anticipation and excitement. Plus, teams that use the waterfall method often concentrate more on how the final product will fulfill the needs of customers and provide a positive experience, rather than their own opportunities to innovate.

Use a Tool That Can Do Both Waterfall or Agile

Wrike, a powerful project management solution, allows leaders to use the method that best suits their goals. Set up a waterfall workflow using Gantt charts, or set up your Agile workflow using dashboards and custom workflows. No matter which method you choose, you can closely monitor progress with a project timeline, maintain communications with team members and stakeholders, and easily share important information and documents.


Sources: Telegraph.co.uk, Queue.ACM.org, CIO.com, Inc.com, Forbes.com