The Waterfall Method
The Waterfall method is the traditional approach to software development where a project is broken up into distinct stages that must be completed in sequence.
Its name implies its workflow: each stage represents a discrete phase of software development, and you must complete one phase before you can proceed to the next. In a pure Waterfall implementation, returning to a previous phase is prohibited—you can only travel downstream and must complete a full development cycle before returning to the top. Also, there’s typically a review of requirements at the end of each stage.
The number of stages in Waterfall vary across organizations, but the general approach might look something like this:
Conception: The first phase of the systems development life cycle (SDLC) starts with an idea, evolves into a cost/benefit analysis, and ends with a rough estimate of the scope of the project.
Initiation: The second phase involves hiring the project team and expanding upon the project scope with objectives, purpose, and deliverables.
Analysis: A feasibility analysis is conducted by looking at the scope of the project and gathering all the requirements into a requirement specification document.
Design: Mockups, wireframes, and storyboards—in this phase, the designers put a face to the project. Requirements are reviewed and evaluated, team goals are set, and a plan of action is developed.
Coding: The developers start building the actual app based on flowcharts, mockups, and designs created in the previous phase.
Pros of Waterfall
Clear deadlines: Waterfall’s static nature and predictable workflow make it easy to estimate costs, create timelines, and stick to deadlines.
Disciplined by design: Since each phase has a clear start point and a requirement review gate at the end of it, the team is forced to complete all tasks before the project as a whole can proceed.
Well-documented: Waterfall requires documentation and a clear paper trail for each phase of development. This makes it easier to follow the logic of past projects and lay the groundwork for future projects.
Clear communication: Predictable timelines and well-documented projects make it easy to give status updates to upper management, stakeholders, or clients with strict requirements.
Easy learning curve: As the traditional approach to project management across industries, teams usually don’t require any prior knowledge or training in order to start working on a project with the Waterfall method.
Cons of Waterfall
Change can be costly: The major downside to Waterfall’s rigidity is the hampered ability to handle change. Testing occurs late in the project life cycle, and if you find out that your end users don’t like the product you’re building, it can be too late to pivot.
Slow delivery times: As many as four phases of development need to be completed before any coding begins—which means stakeholders and customers won’t see a working product until late in the life cycle.
The Agile Way
Agile takes an iterative approach to software development. Instead of handling all the planning upfront, Agile focuses on being lean, and producing minimum viable products (MVPs) over set periods of time while improving with each iteration.
The different phases of the development cycle can happen in parallel, and a backlog is kept to keep track of desired features and requirements. Agile methodologies place an emphasis on teamwork, constant user feedback, continuous improvement, and the ability to adapt to changing requirements. Agile is a broad term that refers to any methodology that abides by the Agile Manifesto established on February 17, 2001.
We’ve listed a few of the more popular implementations below:
Scrum: One of the most popular ways to do things the Agile way, the Scrum framework defines uniform roles, responsibilities, and meetings that provide critical stability in an otherwise dynamic project development methodology. Scrum is known for its fast-paced Sprints in which an MVP is delivered every one to two weeks.
Kanban: The Japanese word for “visual sign” or “card,” Kanban helps more traditional organizations improve their processes by visualizing their workflow, limiting work in progress (WIP), and enhancing the flow of backlogged items.
Extreme Programming (XP): XP emphasizes high software quality and responsiveness to changing customer requirements. Pair programming, extensive code reviews, and unit tests characterize this Agile methodology.
Pros of Agile
Adaptability: The short development cycles of the iterative design process give the project the flexibility to pivot when it needs to.
Immediate user feedback: The emphasis on getting shippable products into the hands of users means the project is guided by the market. This reduces the risk of building an app that nobody wants while increasing the chances you’ll find that killer feature that will sell your product earlier in the project life cycle.
Test-driven development (TDD):The beauty of breaking a project into manageable chunks is that there is enough time to write unit tests for the few features that made the cut for the MVP.
Fast, high-quality delivery: TDD at each iteration leads to fewer bugs and higher-quality releases. A solid foundation leads to quicker, higher-quality releases with successive iterations.
Teamwork: Agile methodologies place an emphasis on frequent communication and face-to-face interactions. Teams work together, benefit from pair programming, and interface daily with business development.
Cons of Agile
Nebulous timelines: With all of its advantages, Agile’s flexibility can also easily leave the door open to procrastination. Since tasks are often being reprioritized and generated with every iteration, the overall timeline can seem to stretch into infinity.
Skill-dependant teams: Agile was designed for small multidisciplinary teams. Oftentimes, that translates to only one person per role (i.e., the designer). The relative lack of structure when compared with Waterfall means that each member must be self-disciplined and proficient in their role.
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