Project Management

What is the Difference Between Agile and Traditional Software Development?

April 28, 2015

Bita Beigishah

Whether you are new to software development and trying to understand what these terms mean or if you are a manager trying to decide which method is best for your group, this blog post will explain the difference between these opposite methodologies.

Full disclosure – there is no right or wrong, you choose the option that works best for you and your development team. So as long as you achieve the desired results, who cares if you are Team Waterfall or Team Agile?

This post is only intended to showcase the differences in the methodologies, so here it goes.

What is Waterfall?

Waterfall Method

Waterfall, also known as the traditional management process, is sequential in nature. Developers move through a very linear train of thought designated by development stages. These stages include: 

  1. Requirements Gathering and Documentation
  2. Wireframe/Design Phase
  3. Code/Unit Test
  4. System Testing
  5. User Testing
  6. Respond to Issues
  7. Final Delivery

In this process, the team does not move to the next step until their current stage is complete and there is no moving backward after a stage is considered complete.

Why do some developers/managers prefer waterfall?

To many developers and managers waterfall is the seemingly more predictable model to follow. During that first step, the Project Lead is expected to take all requirements from the customer and create a proposal for their time and cost based on the overall scope. They are able to address customer concerns and present a visually appealing plan for moving forward.

Additionally, detailed documentation is another stressor in the waterfall method making it easy to continue forward even in the face of employees being taken off or added on to a project at any stage. Waterfall makes proposals to the customer a much easier and straightforward process.

Best Feature: Waterfall makes proposals to the customer an easier and straightforward process.

Worst Feature: Waterfall makes it harder to address evolving customer needs in a timely manner.

What is Agile?

Agile Development Method

While waterfall is more like a tightrope act, Agile is similar to a Ferris Wheel. Agile functions on less up front planning and design and more on an iterative process.

Through the Agile method, cross-functional teams tackle smaller pieces of the overall project in short bursts of time usually anywhere between 1 week or 1 month, with daily standups to report on the project’s status.

The smaller timeboxed sprints do not allow for adjustments in time or quality. In other words, you plan a two-week sprint to deliver three items but during the sprint it’s realized all three cannot make it to deadline successfully. At that point, the deliverables are re-prioritized and in some cases, they may need to be added to an additional sprint or extra overtime hours will be necessary to bring the action item to completion.

Either way extra money is spent or the scope is reduced so that the sprint still delivers a finished, functional piece of the project.

Why do some developers/managers prefer the agile way?

The biggest reason developers/managers choose the agile route is for the flexibility this method provides. Agile developers are able to quickly respond to customer requests because they are only tackling small bits of the project at a time and the customer must approve each sprint or iteration before it can be considered finalized.

Daily check-ins with team members also facilitate a greater understanding of the project’s state at all times. Very rarely will a problem go unidentified for more than 48 hours.

Best feature: Agile makes it easier to accommodate evolving customer needs and address potential problems quickly.

Worst feature: Due to surface-level planning up front, it’s hard to provide the client a detailed plan. Also, due to close communication, if a team member is pulled away from the project or the client is unresponsive, it is hard to keep working fast during each sprint.

#TeamWaterfall or #TeamAgile?

I hope this gave a good overview of what each method requires. I would love to hear which side of the fence you are on and why. Feel free to comment below or use the hashtags above to tweet @PhoenixTS_Train or @Ash_Wheeler and tell us why you choose your development method.

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