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Agile vs Waterfall Methodologies

By ILX Team | 21 February 2019

When managing projects, choosing a methodology that is going to work for the project, and the team, is crucial. But where do you start and how do you know which methodology is right for your project?

Essentially, a project management methodology is a set of processes that help project managers complete project tasks. Each methodology has a different strategy that addresses the different issues arising throughout the course of a project. Let’s compare the two broad methodologies, Agile and Waterfall.

Agile & Waterfall definitions

Agile is principally used for projects that are incremental and iterative. These projects are built on collaboration by teams that are cross-functional and self-organised. The Agile project management methodology is based around the Agile Manifesto, written in 2001. The purpose of Agile is to provide a structure that’s clear and measurable. It should build team collaboration, iterative development and change recognition.

The Waterfall project management methodology is more traditional in its approach, being linear in design and where progress goes in one direction downwards. Waterfall was arguably introduced by Winston W. Royce in 1970. The main basis of this methodology is that you have to complete the current phase of the project before starting the next. Typically, documentation is an important aspect of the Waterfall methodology, particularly as each stage must be reviewed and approved by the customer on completion before the next stage starts.

The Agile methodology is iterative and takes a team-based approach, where time is boxed into phases, or ‘sprints’, that have a specific duration. Each sprint has a list of deliverables which are prioritised by business value, decided by the customer. Work on the project can be evaluated and reviewed by the customer and the project team via end-of-sprint demos. Because of this, Agile needs a high level of involvement from the customer throughout the project.

Different Agile & Waterfall applications

There’s no single Agile or Waterfall way of carrying out a project. Many organisations have developed their own set practices. Many of them aren’t strictly Agile or Waterfall, but are instead ‘Agnostic’, i.e. open-ended and tailorable to any type of project.

MethodologyOverviewWaterfall / Agile / Agnostic
PRINCE2Process-based method for any type of project. Based around 7 key principles
Agnostic
PRINCE2 AgileThe PRINCE2 framework interpreted to work better with Agile methods
Agile
PMPA standardised and evolving set of project management principles. Not a strict framework for running projects
Agnostic
ScrumSmall teams break their work into short ‘sprints’ and track progress in 15-minute meetings called ‘scrums’
Agile
APMA broad body of knowledge about projects. Easily compatible with other methodologies
Agnostic

As you can see, while some methodologies are strictly Agile, most standard bearers don’t design their methodologies to be Waterfall-only. In fact, PRINCE2 and PMP, which are popular for traditional-style projects, have only become more compatible with Agile methods with each new update.

Before choosing a methodology, it’s important to understand what your project requirements are and the relationship with your customer. At ILX, our project management courses are recognised worldwide and backed by the Project Management Institute. A Project Management Professional (PMP) certification will help improve the way a project manager progresses a project. The right experience, education and competencies will lead to successful projects.

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