A Comprehensive Comparison between the Agile, Scrum, and Waterfall Methodology

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Throughout a project, you’ll have to make a number of decisions - often too many to count. And one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is choosing the right framework to guide your project.

Many robust methodologies and frameworks for project management have been introduced these past few years. They are used by different industries to ensure effective collaboration and team management within the workplace.

From the waterfall model, several approaches we know today are now being used by software development teams across the map to achieve more streamlined projects. It also enables them to have additional control over the deliverables and project flow.

Before finding the ideal approach for your team and particular project, various factors should be considered first. The growth of these frameworks, however, has made it quite difficult to differentiate them and weigh their pros and cons.

In this blog, we will discuss the agile, scrum, and waterfall methodologies, and how they can benefit your team as a whole.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a subset of the agile approach. It is a framework used for project management that prioritizes accountability, teamwork, and iterative progress in order to achieve a clear goal. The scrum method is based on a simple premise: begin with what is easily seen or known. Once you’ve done that, you can then start tracking progress and making changes as needed.

There are three pillars to remember when using the scrum framework: adaptation, inspection, and transparency.

Scrum project management, or the agile scrum methodology, is named after a formation in rugby. Each member of a scrum team has a specific role to play. In a product development process, scrum roles include the scrum master, the product owner, and the scrum development team.

  • Scrum master – In a scrum process, the scrum master facilitates the team. This person is the one responsible for making sure that only the best scrum tools and practices are used. They are also the ones who keep the project moving forward.
  • Product owner – This is a member of the team who acts as a liaison between the customers and the development team. They are responsible for ensuring all expectations for the final output have been clearly communicated and agreed on by stakeholders.
  • Development team – This group works together to achieve a common goal. They work to create and test the final product’s incremental releases.
Related Content: What is Scrum Management in Software Development?

What Makes Scrum Unique?

A scrum process is different from other agile methodologies because of its specific practices and concepts. Scrum has three categories: Time Boxes, Artifacts, and Roles.

Generally, scrum principles are used to deal with complicated software and product development. Because it’s part of the agile approach, it also uses incremental and iterative practices during the development process.  

Similar to the classic waterfall frameworks, scrum is known to increase productivity and reduce time. It also allows organizations of any size to adjust to fast-changing requirements smoothly, and come up with a scalable product to meet evolving goals of a business.

A scrum method can benefit any organization by helping it…

  • Have greater control over the project and schedule
  • Expect changes and handle them better
  • Offer better estimates but spend less time on it
  • Increase deliverable quality substantially

What is the Scrum Methodology?

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The scrum methodology is a straightforward framework facilitating team collaboration on projects that are considered complex. While it’s easy to understand, mastering it can be a challenge.

Scrum focuses on project management teams. This approach puts a lot of stress on accountability, since it’s a process that involves iterations toward a well-defined objective or goal. Everyone is working to quickly adopt strategies.

In scrum, a product owner closely collaborates with the team to determine and focus on system functionality. They do this by establishing a product backlog, which includes whatever should be accomplished to deliver a properly working software. The backlog should have bug fixes, non-functional requirements, and features, among other things.

When priorities are set in place, cross-functional teams need to estimate and sign-up to provide increments of software within continuous Sprints that usually span 30 days. After committing a sprint’s backlog, only the team is allowed to add functionality to the Sprint. Once Sprint delivery is done, the product backlog is evaluated and reprioritized if required, and the succeeding deliverable set is selected to be part of the next Sprint.

In a study conducted by Forbes, 49 percent of the top managers surveyed by the company believed a scrum is an effective approach. They claimed that its popularity is due to the fact that it focuses on customers. Additionally, it is a proven and tested methodology for optimal collaboration.

Because it also effectively reduces errors and helps finish project deliveries in a timely manner, scum is gaining more attention in the world of agile. It's actually the most popular methodology in agile; the 12th annual State of Agile report even revealed that 70% of software teams rely on either scrum or a scrum hybrid.

The benefits of scrum have already extended to other business functions, including marketing and IT. In these areas, there are projects that need to move forward in the presence of ambiguity and complexity–something that scrum can greatly help with.

Most leadership teams are also starting to base their agile management practices on scrum. They often use it together with Kanban and lean practices, which are both subsets of agile.

What is Agile?

Agile refers to the ability to create and react to any kind of change. It’s a framework that enables team members to effectively deal with–and ultimately be successful in–a turbulent and unstable environment.

The idea behind it is simple: you think about how you can comprehend what’s happening in the agile environment you’re currently in, determine any uncertainty you’re dealing with, and find out how to adapt to that as you move along the process.

Agile's roots go back to February 2001, when 17 software developers convened in Utah to discuss lightweight methods for software development. This meeting ended up with the publication of the Agile Manifesto, a brief document with four values and 12 main principles about the agile framework.

Agile Manifesto authors decided on the word “agile” as the label for the development approach because it represented adaptiveness. It also described a fast response to change, which is one of the pillars to their agile process.

Related Content: [UPDATED] An in Depth Look at the Agile Methodology

What is the Agile Methodology?

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In project management, agile methodology is defined as a process by which a team breaks up a particular project into multiple stages. This methodology also involves constant collaboration with major stakeholders and constant iteration and improvement at each stage. The agile methodology starts with clients discussing the purpose of the end product and what kind of problem it will solve. Through this, the customer's expectations of the team handling the project is made clear.

Once the project officially kicks off, teams go through a cycle of planning, implementing, and evaluating. These steps might change the final output in order to fit the needs of the client better. To make fully-informed decisions on the project, continuous collaboration is necessary among team members and with stakeholders.

Simply put, agile testing and management is a process for handling a project characterized by constant collaboration and iteration to better respond to a customer’s needs.  

What is Agile Development?

Agile development is an umbrella term defining a set of practices and frameworks based on the values and principles laid out in the Agile Manifesto. When approaching software development, experts suggest you adhere to agile principles and values and use them as a guide to determine the correct things to do given a specific context.

The agile software development community primarily focuses on the self-organizing team and collaboration. But that doesn’t mean managers are non-existent–it just means teams are able to independently figure out how they will approach a certain project. This means agile teams are cross-functional.

Managers still have a place in an agile model. They ensure that each team member has, or obtains, all the right skills required for the project. In an agile framework, managers work by creating an environment that brings out the best from the team. However, instead of being at the forefront, they often step back and allow the team to determine how they will deliver products. Managers only step in when teams fail at resolving issues after multiple tries.

What is the Waterfall Method?

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Also referred to as a linear-sequential life cycle model, the waterfall model was the first Process Model that was introduced. Originating in manufacturing and construction, the waterfall model was initially meant to be used in physical environments–those that are structured significantly and were not easily adaptable to changes.

In the software development life cycle (SDLC) waterfall model, each set or stage of tasks should be finished before the next stage can begin. In waterfall project development, this is done to keep the project stages from overlapping.

 The waterfall approach got its name because it’s specifically designed to flow in one direction (downwards) just like a waterfall.  Its stages include analysis, initiation, testing, design, construction, deployment, maintenance, and testing.

Just like any other approach, the waterfall method comes with many benefits. For one, the stages of project planning and design are more established. With waterfall software development, customers and the development team are more in sync when it comes to project deliverables.

Waterfall development also makes it easier to track progress because you know the scope of the project right away. Rather than having the whole team prioritize one stage, the waterfall methodology enlists experts, developers, analysts, and testers to focus on their roles in the project.

Related Content: SDLC Methodologies: What is the Waterfall Model?

Agile vs Scrum

Scrum is a kind of agile methodology. It is one of the process frameworks included in the agile approach.

In the scrum methodology, the basic unit of development is called a Sprint. Every Sprint begins with a planning meeting in which tasks for the sprint is defined. This is also the part where the estimated commitment for the sprint goal is made. A Sprint concludes with a retrospective or review meeting where progress is evaluated and the next sprint lessons are figured out.

Meanwhile, the agile framework involves a team working through a complete SDLC. The product goes through several iterations throughout the process. Scrum sprints may correspond to agile iterations.

Agile vs Waterfall

The waterfall model works best for projects with specific requirements and no expected changes. Agile, on the other hand, is more ideal for projects where there is a greater chance of frequent changes in the requirements.

Some developers prefer the waterfall approach because it is a rigid yet easy to manage method. It’s also sequential –making it more effective for projects. Agile is best known for its flexibility, which would allow you to implement changes at any stage of the  development process, to keep up with potential changes in requirements.

A waterfall framework is different in the sense that changes are defined only once by a business analyst. When it comes to the project description, agile developers can alter details anytime during the SDLC process–something that is not applicable in the waterfall framework.

The agile methodology follows an iterative approach for software development because the planning, prototyping, development, and other phases of software development may appear multiple times. This is the complete opposite of the waterfall approach where development stages like testing, design, development, and so on, are finished once.

Choosing the Right Framework for your Project

Now that you’ve learned the differences between agile, scrum, and waterfall, it’s time to choose which approach would be suited for your project. It’s essential to make the right decisions regarding your software development process right from the start–as you might have a hard time applying changes down the line.

Whether it’s waterfall methodology vs agile or agile vs scrum, comparing frameworks allow you to have a better understanding of their advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your project’s needs, your final choice should give the best results for the time and money spent.

Topics: agile methodology, scrum principles, waterfall approach, agile vs scrum, waterfall methodology vs agile, difference between agile and waterfall