Agile vs. Waterfall project management methodologies

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems

Project management is an increasingly important skill set across every industry, helping supervisors and stakeholders maintain oversight and ensure delivery of each step within a given initiative. The ability to consistently and successfully streamline the management of project activities is imperative in every pursuit, but is a bit unique when it comes to technology and application or website development.

Two distinct management styles currently utilized within information systems and development include agile and waterfall development. Professionals entering the field of information systems should have an in-depth knowledge of best practices for project management, as well as a keen understanding of the different methods used.

Students enrolled in the University of Alabama’s Online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems can bolster their project management skills through course MG 417: Project Management. This three credit-hour course is part of students’ information systems core curriculum, and explores different methods, techniques, principles, tools and best practices for project management within information systems.

Today, we’ll take a closer look at agile vs. waterfall project management, including the characteristics and processes that make each approach unique, and the ways in which information systems professionals leverage these strategies to support project management.

Digital abstract of 3D lines on a blue background representing code development.

Waterfall management

This style of development is typically viewed as the more traditional and long-standing approach. Waterfall project management has been used in the development and information systems sectors for years, and treats software development as a single project, which is then separated into different phases. As the name suggests, subsequent phases cannot begin until the previous step is completed, thus creating a “waterfall” of operations, with each process feeding into the next.

As The Telegraph explains in its definition of the waterfall project management methodology, the different steps or phases involved in each initiative do not overlap, but instead flow downward from one step to the following phase. The original waterfall approach was first established during the 1970s in order to prevent the need for costly changes or revisions to a product once later-stage work has already begun, with the view that it is cheaper to make adjustments earlier a project and avoid having to repeat steps or impact later stages of development.

The six main phases involved in waterfall project development, as The Telegraph explains, include:

  1. Requirements: First and foremost, the project manager and his or her team work to establish the goals and expectations. The different risks that could impact working processes or the final product are also identified and analyzed, and these requirements are then used to direct and guide the rest of the initiative.
  2. Design: Once the objectives are defined, the team can move on to the actual design of the software. Developers leverage the initial requirements to create a project blueprint to support the software’s interface, features, capabilities, etc.
  3. Construction: During this phase, the actual development and writing of code takes place, using the requirements and blueprint created during the initial two steps. Developers write the code and “construct” the actual software product.
  4. Testing: Once the code has been written and the software created, developers can work with testers to see how the product performs under user stress. This phase also includes the identification and remediation of any errors or bugs within the code that impacts performance or use of features. Finally, stakeholders double check that the product remains aligned with the goals and requirements created in the first phase.
  5. Installation: After the software has been tested and any bugs are addressed, the product can be rolled out and implemented according to the agreements between developers and the client, stipulated within the project requirements. Once installed, the team completes a second round of testing to ensure software performs as it should.
  6. Maintenance: The final phase includes scheduled maintenance of the product to support its continued performance and use.

A waterfall approach enables benefits like cost savings, high-level visibility and simplicity, but can also be somewhat rigid in its strategy. For these reasons, it is best applied to smaller projects with particular cost or time restraints.

Agile management

Agile project management, on the other hand, is much more flexible. As the Project Management Institute explains, this style enables frequent and continual inspect of software, the elimination of waste or unnecessary processes and a key focus on the customer and their needs.

Unlike waterfall development, which treats processes as a single pursuit with strictly defined steps, the agile project management process includes more simultaneous work and ongoing, prioritized tasks as part of its process. Developers make up the team, and are directed by a Scrum Master, who keeps a close eye on the product owner or client, and their needs and requirements for the project.

As opposed to phases, agile projects include “sprints,” which are project iterations planned ahead of time and regularly reviewed. Developers also take part in a daily standup, or meeting to examine what was accomplished each day and what remains within the tasks for that particular sprint. Agile projects also hinge upon a sprint breakdown chart, which list the different processes involved and the progress the team has made. Each sprint takes place according to a specific timeline, and team members collaborate heavily on each step, compared to waterfall projects.

In this way, agile development supports improved cooperation among team members including developers, testers, and the Quality Assurance team, and helps provide project managers (Scrum Master) and the product owner with improved visibility into processes and progress.

Those heading up projects within the information systems sector must understand and be able to apply key skills like planning, scheduling, organizing workloads among different stakeholders, while also observing budget and performance requirements.

Students within the University of Alabama’s Collat School of Business will gain waterfall and agile project management training, and build other crucial skills through the Online Bachelor of Science in Information Systems, and course MG 417: Project Management. Review our website and reach out to one of our advisors today to learn more.

Recommended Reading:

How IT project management is unique

Web developer vs. software developer: What’s the difference?



UAB BSIS Course descriptions

Project Management Institute