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Every project has a methodology to match… find the right mix.

Posted by Brendan Canny in: leadership, open box

Waterfall vs Agile. As we take on any new project, this is inevitably one of the first debates. Which methodology will be best suited to the project? And rightly so, as the development approach can have a significant impact on your project, it's important to discuss and agree on a direction upfront.

Every project has a methodology to match… find the right mix.

When it comes to comparing the merits of these methodologies, there is simply no right or wrong answer. It all comes down to the specific project at hand. Today, I hope to outline the pros and cons, the strengths and weaknesses of each methodology to give you a clearer idea of what would be more appropriate your project – keeping in mind that it may very well be a combination of the two.

The Waterfall Methodology

This is typically a linear approach where the team works through a sequence of events that will look similar to this:

  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Build
  • Test
  • Implement
  • Support

In a conventional Waterfall project, each of these stages needs to be finished before the next one begins. One of the defining points of the Waterfall methodology is that the full scope of the work is defined up front. The software deliverables are laid out before development begins, which means that it is often the method of choice for intensive projects that require a highly structured approach (where multiple systems will need to interact).

Here are a few of the advantages of Waterfall:

  • It's cost and time efficient as you tend to identify potential issues upfront and deal with them accordingly.
  • Straight-forward planning and design is possible as the developer and client can discuss and agree on the deliverables in the early stages of the project.
  • As the full scope of the project is known in advance, progress can be easily measured.
  • It's ideal for projects with a fixed budget, as the timeframe and scope are defined upfront.
  • The client receives a comprehensive document defining the project upfront. This is updated when necessary throughout the process.
  • While upfront client involvement is necessary, this approach is less demanding in terms of the client's time as the project progresses.

And a few disadvantages of Waterfall:

  • Pure Waterfall isn't as flexible as Agile. If there are issues which have to be addressed, you need to undergo a formal change process.
  • In order to stick to timelines and budgets, the process relies heavily on the client's ability to provide comprehensive requirements at the beginning of the project.
  • The client is often only able to see the product when it's almost finished, by which time changes are costly and difficult to implement.

Agile Methodologies

The agile approach is an incremental, iterative approach, where team work and constant client interaction is crucially important. More flexible than Waterfall, Agile approaches, such as SCRUM, are ideal for projects where the end product is not known or set in stone.

Through these methodologies, there is a focus on the quick delivery of an application in complete functional components. Essentially, instead of sticking to tasks and schedules, the team has a running list of deliverables which need to be completed in a certain phase of time. These deliverables are prioritized according to the client's business needs.

Here are a few of the advantages of an Agile approach:

  • As it's more flexible, this approach is able to easily adapt to changes or roadblocks along the way.
  • The flexibility makes it ideal for projects where the client is unsure of the final goal or where there may be future issues to consider.
  • The client gains a strong sense of ownership through their high level of involvement.
  • Working extensively with the development team, the client has many opportunities to review, evaluate, make changes or decisions throughout the process.
  • As the client is so integral to the process, the end result is often more user-focused.

And a few disadvantages of an Agile approach:

  • One cannot provide a final estimate in terms of time or cost for the entire project, only for the next few iterations.
  • The process depends heavily on team work and collaboration – team members need to be specifically dedicated to the project.
  • The lack of an overall project plan can make a project's success hard to predict.
  • Collaboration and client involvement can be problematic as it requires a lot of time, in most cases daily meetings, from both the client and the vendor.

With these points in mind, and the fact that every project is individual in its requirements, Open Box believes in a hybrid approach which aims to get the best out of both methodologies. We start by considering all the factors, and then tailoring our approach accordingly. It's all about finding the right mix.

For instance, in a particular project our approach may lean towards Waterfall, but we will be sure to have regular demonstrations along the way to benefit from the client's feedback. Often, we provide clients with a 'proof of concept' which gives them a better view of their finished product, much earlier than usual in the development process. It helps us to determine whether an approach or technology will solve an unknown problem. What's more, the 'proof of concept' can also be used to prove business value at the outset of a project.

Every project has a methodology to match… find the right mix.

We would also keep the client involved to mitigate some of the risks involved in Waterfall, bringing in some of the Agile benefits. Essentially, this hybrid approach would be suitably structured, yet broken up incrementally.

At the end of the day, few projects require a 'pure' methodological approach. Through our tailored hybrid approaches, Open Box aims to augment the structured approach to be quicker and more flexible, giving clients the best of both worlds. A win-win for all.

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