Many project managers tend to find a single project management strategy that they prefer and stick to it regardless of a project’s needs. In recent years, there has been a push towards adaptive (agile) methodologies over the more conventional predictive (waterfall) methodologies. In truth, some projects lend themselves more readily to one or the other, and there isn’t a methodology that is best for every project.
Adaptive vs. Predictive Planning
Agile methodologies are designed to be naturally flexible. As customer requirements and project specifications change, the team remains mobile and able to respond. Agile is considered to be the more modern type of project management strategy, as it was designed primarily to counter some shortfalls of the more predictive waterfall methodology. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the agile methodology is always better.
Waterfall project management is a more predictive planning strategy that utilizes specific steps and milestones to control the process. A predictive planning strategy may fail when confronted by significant project specification changes or customer modifications, but it will also be more likely to generate the anticipated result. Agile methodologies can be more susceptible to project evolution and scope creep, whereas waterfall strategies will create a more consistent final product.
Project managers tend to learn either agile methodologies or waterfall methodologies and rely upon their strategies consistently. This acclimates team members to specific work processes, but it may not lead to the best results. Though there are strengths of both these strategies, both of them also have fairly significant weaknesses that can be exposed in the wrong project.
Choosing the Right Project Management Strategy
Agile methodology tends to be best for rapidly developed projects that may change significantly in scope and may need to adapt to future client demands or considerations. The agile, adaptive method is generally faster than the waterfall strategy because the timeline is looser and there is more room for change. However, it’s also best for fast projects because a longer project will be more susceptible to scope creep. With agile methodology, it is possible that the final product may not look anything like the initial concept; this makes agile methodology ideal for projects that are more exploratory and innovative in nature.
Meanwhile, the waterfall methodology tends to be best for projects that have very strict, rigorous standards, which must be sustained throughout the life of the process. Compared to agile methodology, the waterfall methodology is far more concerned with maintaining the specifications of the final deliverable product. Though there will not be a lot of flexibility in development, flexibility isn’t always desirable. Waterfall methodologies can be ideal for projects that have already been fully explored in the past and now need to simply be implemented correctly and efficiently.
Project managers will find that familiarity with both project management strategies will vastly improve their ability to produce projects both to their timeframe and to their client’s desired specifications. Though working with a single strategy consistently may improve the project manager’s ability to implement these strategies, it may not improve their final end product. As with many project management concerns, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution.