Agile vs Waterfall: which is the best method for your digital campaign
When starting a project, it’s always good to know which work method is going to be used, so everyone involved knows the process and the steps they’ll have to follow.
But digital communication is filled with trendy words that buzz a lot but aren’t understood by those who utter them. It’s easy to ask for Scrum or Kanban because they’re the thing all the cool kids are doing, but if you don’t know what they are it makes as much sense as ordering from a menu in a foreign language we don’t understand: there’s a risk of indigestion.
There are two main project management methodologies that, as in everything, have their own pros and cons, and can the most or less effective according to each project. Let’s take an overview of each so it’s easier to make a choice between them.
What is Project Management?
A project is a set of actions with the purpose of creating a single product, service or result, in finite and defined period in time. Project management is what establishes which actions to be taken and when, to reach that final goal.
This is where methodologies step in, as rules on how to implement those actions by the different elements of the team. They’re important because they make planning more complete, set a timeline for each milestone, increases action effectiveness by defining clearly the goals for each one, gets everybody on the same page, identify risks and alternatives, keep the project within budget.
But they come in more ways than you can imagine.
Agile Vs Waterfall
Let’s just discuss these two, since they seem to be the ones everybody is talking about.
It’s the traditional project management method, and it has a sequential logic, which is to say you can only move to the next stage after completing the previous one. Its simplicity makes it the most used in project management.
Waterfall management divides the project in seven different stages that do not overlap:
- Planning – the time where the overall structure of the project, goals, milestones and timeline are set.
- Analysis – according to the demands set in the previous stage, decisions are made on what and how will be produced, using which materials and resources.
- Design – with the raw materials (ideas and tools to be used) defined and with the goals and deadlines established, this stage is to decide how to work them.
- Development – production begins, based off of the information generated in the previous stages. Coders code, designers design, creatives create, the raw gets cooked.
- Testing – the outcome of the previous stage is put to a test. Imagine you’re a film producer and this is the stage you’ll the trial previews of your movie, with test audiences to see how they react. Assess then correct or change whatever necessary.
- Deployment – get your product or service on the market.
- Maintenance – that neverending stage where all you do is keeping things running smoothly, and do minor improvements and updates.
As you can see, half of this method is planning, which is most likely the core strength of Waterfall.
The pros of this method are the simplification of processes thanks to a thorough planning, that shows what, when and who is responsible for doing it. Well set stages make the project progression easier to follow, and although you spend a huge chunk of time in planning before reaching the development stage, you save time because it’s all decided beforehand.
The con is exactly that: not all projects can or should be planned to the most minute detail before execution (a skyscraper has a blueprint that should be followed during its construction, but not a documentary). There is no space for improvisation or last minute changes. And if the initial planning is incorrect, the costs will rise since you’ll have to go back to stage one.
Waterfall is based in careful planning for effective execution. And that may be the way to go to build your large ecommerce website, but not your app, for example.
Agile holds different methods, all with their merits and quirks, but they all follow the same philosophy: get your idea running, do something with it, deploy, improve. It’s an attitude that comes from the coding world, where developers had to present a working version of their softwares, no matter how bug-ridden it was, to prove concept.
Instead of sequential linearity, Agile is based in loops, where all stages (sprints) concur. The fundamental stages for these Agile based methods are:
The purpose is to go as fast as possible into the production stage, test, fail, improve, repeat. Samuel Beckett provides the mantra: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Until you get it right. Each one of these stages happen simultaneously in the different units of the project.
Going back to the film metaphor:
- Waterfall works well for a fiction blockbuster, that follows a well defined script, with a storyboard depicting each shot, with room for minimal changes throughout the shoot, providing a very accurate idea of how the finished product will look like.
- Agile is more like working on a documentary, that goes after an initial premise – a question to be answered – but that can be radically change while those answers come up. Definition of the final product happens while on the process of production.
In the pros list: Agile implies a bigger client involvement and availability, that must be ready to be a part of the process, in constant communication with the team. The quality bar in every loop can be set higher since there’s a granular view of the project and by giving room to experiments there’s the chance for innovation. And the repetitive cycles allow for faster evolution.
The cons: higher risk of missing deadlines and failing budget, since different production units will work in different speeds. Communication is more complex since everyone needs to know what is happening and how their work fits in the overall picture. And no matter how clear the initial idea may be, you might still end up with a totally different result than the expected, which it can be a bad thing.
Agile methodology, in its many versions, demands more from clients, that need to be permanently following the changes and evolutions that occur during development and keep them in sync. And many clients just don’t have the time or the ability to do that.
Which methodology should you choose?
First of all, don’t be trendy for the sake of it. There is not a better method than other, there are just different ways of doing things, and some can be more effective for your project and the team involved and their specific needs. When you hire an agency to develop your project
you’ll have to trust them to suggest the most suitable project management method for everyone. We bet they know them all.
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