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Should You Go Agile, Waterfall or Leverage a Combined Approach?

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Last updated on
11th Mar, 2021
21st Nov, 2018
Should You Go Agile, Waterfall or Leverage a Combined Approach?

By this article, I wanted to take a closer look at a struggle that most companies face. In the field of project management, there is a debate concerning the ideal approach for the organization to do project management. On one hand, we have a “free” format of Agile and on the other side of the spectrum, we have the traditional Waterfall approach. 

In this article, I’d like to take a close look at pro’s and con’s for these methodologies and describe how a PM could even use a best of both worlds approach.

Traditional/Waterfall methodology
Traditional/Waterfall methodology

In a traditional waterfall project, the project manager has given a (somewhat) fixed budget and he or she should accomplish a task within a deadline, which most of the time has resulted into a finished product or service. This is a time-honored traditional way of approaching projects. Where there is a goal, a timespan and a number of resources that should be utilized to achieve that goal. 

                                                                                          Do You Know?

                                                           Waterfall approach is used where the end result is fixed. 

This approach is particularly useful in situations where the outcome is fixed. Such as the construction of a building or car or even a phone. These products have a physical footprint and changes to these products can almost always be labeled as a completely new project. For example, adding a new floor to the building. 

The waterfall approach tools of choice are Excel, Microsoft Project (or server) and Primavera. As well as some tools that are highly focused on a specific niche. A traditional project could look something like this (example in Microsoft Project):

 Microsoft Project

Pro’s for the traditional/waterfall model

  • Clearly defined result
  • Time, resources and quality are budgeted up front

Con’s for the traditional/waterfall model

  • Product or service is only finished at the end of the project
  • When the end product is ready, it is done. There are no further iterations
  • There is a need for a lot of documentation
  • Scope creep can be very costly due to late response to changes

Agile Methodology

Agile Methodology

The completely opposite to the traditional/waterfall approach.  Its origin is found in software development. The Agile Manifesto is the document that describes the Agile methodology and the core values:

Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools

Working Software over comprehensive documentation

Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to Change over following a plan 

Organizations are struggling to find a suitable approach for Agile in all departments of the organization. This, in my opinion, is mainly due to the fact that it is found rooted in the software development departments. And therefore wasn’t designed for all types of organizational projects.

The Agile approach tools of choice are Excel, Jira, VSTS (or Azure DevOps as it’s now called) Basecamp and Trello. As well as some tools that are highly focused on a specific niche. An Agile “project” could look something like this (example in Microsoft Project):

Agile project

Pros for working Agile

  • Fast time to market for a first iteration and working product/service
  • High focus on quality delivery

Cons for working Agile

  • Not all products seem suitable for this approach
  • No clear end in sight
  • It requires a team to be fully assigned to the product/service
  • Difficult to negotiate budgets to upper management

    Cons for working Agile

Making Agile and Waterfall model work together 

1. Agifall approach.

As the hype for Agile Project Management is slowly subsiding, there are more and more people that believe that Agile is not the holy grail of project management. We are coming to a more mature understanding of the overall complexity of projects in general. There are so many factors that come into play among others: politics, resource availability, budget, client’s needs, communication difficulties.

Maybe we should look for a solution that is best of both worlds. 

Maybe we can find a way to combine the Agile and traditional Waterfall methodologies. There are multiple sources that advocate a Water–Agile–fall approach. This approach will help to reach a finished product if followed properly. 

This includes ample documentation and clear goals from the start. But, it also includes an Agile part where a team will have sprints to improve the product in the phase where real development is done. This enforces fast delivery and high quality with a lot of client interaction. 

In any case; pure Agile and pure Waterfall companies are hard to come by. So, most organizations are pushed to integrate Agile into a Waterfall world, mainly because of certain departments in the organization work more towards Agile than Waterfall and the other way around. Now, let’s see the two popular hybrid methodologies-

  1. Water-Scrum-Fall approach 

Water-Scrum-Fall Approach

Water-Scrum-Fall Approach

Water-Scrum-fall model is the one model which allows the blending of Agile and Waterfall methodologies. The teams like Business analysis and Release management teams conform to the traditional Waterfall model, whereas the Development team and testing team adheres to the Scrum method in a limited way. 

In Water-Scrum-Fall approach, the processes in the traditional Waterfall model are mixed with the processes of Scrum framework model. The Waterfall processes like planning, requirements gathering, budgeting and documenting the project’s progress are integrated with the timeboxed, iterative version of Scrum during the product development. The mixing of Agile and Traditional Waterfall strategies is done if there are enough details to start the development phase.

Water-Scrum-Fall model Usage

Organizations use this approach in the following conditions-

  • When the project needs in-depth details in the planning phase to make a precise budget estimation. Because, if the project processes are well-planned, then the management can also feel secure to portion out the funds for the project implementation.  
  • The natural tendency of the developers and testers to look at the Agile practices during the development phase. This happens because the Agile methodology provides them the chance to collaborate as per the needs of the project.

 AgiFall methodology 

 AgiFall methodology

The motto of getting the best of Agile and Waterfall gives birth to the concept called AgiFall. This approach was first presented at Vancouver Digital Project Managers Meetup Group. It consists of the mixture of Waterfall and Agile principles. The aim is to increase the speed, decrease the cost, and most importantly improve the quality of the end-product.  

The AgiFall approach carries out the Waterfall processes like planning and requirements phases activities in an Agile manner. These activities are broken into the user stories and prioritized them in the Sprint. In this method, you don’t need to wait for one phase to finish to begin the next one. This means that you can carry on with the development process while the planning phase is going on. in AgiFall model, the development phase implements the Agile principles.

Can Agile and Waterfall Hybrid go with each other?

Today, backlog management replaced the comprehensive documentation due to the evolution of techniques. This can be the best example of successful adoption of the hybrid model. The Waterfall-Agile hybrid model is most suitable for the projects which expect that the team should address and deliver the constantly changing requirements within a limited period of time.

When the Manager has to implement a particular methodology during the Planning phase, the best way is to select that methodology which matches the project needs. Additionally, the team should have crystal clear understanding of the hybrid model and its implementation knowledge. Otherwise, it will result in a failure spreading a mess with no benefits.

Final notes

I hope you liked reading my first article on the Knowledgehut. The screenshots I took came from the Office Insider version of Microsoft Project Pro for Office 365. I’ve done a video on how to get the office insider version. This is the version that includes the newest features released by Microsoft. Such as the Agile board I’ve used in the example of Agile.

Keep Planning with Waterfall, Executing with Agile, and Speed up the Product Development process!

If you like to read more about Agile and Waterfall, here are some great articles I found interesting to read. Click to read a relevant article which I found interesting.


Erik van Hurck

Blog Author

Erik van Hurck is a senior PPM consultant working with Projectum, a Nordics and Western Europe based Microsoft Gold partner. Erik’s contribution to the community has awarded with the status of Most Valuable Professional by Microsoft. It is Erik’s goal to help current and future users of Microsofts Project and Portfolio Management software to achieve the most while making their experiences with the tools as enjoyable as possible.