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Agile and Waterfall Models in Project Management Essay (Critical Writing)

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Agile and Waterfall management models are among the most popular instruments used by managers in the software development area. The difference between the mentioned models is not as much theoretical as practical. The selection of a methodology that does not fit a project will, at best, significantly slow down its development, while, at worst – it will become a top-failure of the year. Agile is a system of ideas and principles of flexible project management, and Waterfall is a project management technique that involves a steady transition from one stage to the next without overlaps and returns to previous stages.

The purpose of this paper is to explore Agile and Waterfall management models based on the innovative development perspective, organisational practice, and management practice, thus providing relevant insights and recommendations on the given issues. The essay will start with the definition of the key concepts and their presentation in the scholarly literature. Agile and Waterfall management models will be compared and contrasted in terms of organisational goals, their significance to managers, and the topic problematisation, leading to a meta-theoretical understanding of the processes. Ultimately, the paper will end with the provision of evidence-based recommendations to promote innovative development and integrative conclusions.

Background to Topic Area

The Waterfall method is the invention of Winston Walker Royce, a pioneer in software development and director of the Lockheed Software Technology Center in Austin, Texas, USA. The Waterfall model of management implies a sequential passage of the process that is to be broken down into stages. The transition to a new stage is possible only after the completion of the previous one. As noted by Chari and Agrawal (2018), Walker’s original work called “Managing the Development of Large Software Systems” describes six stages of product development that were accepted as the standards of managing software development processes. In particular, the first stage of system and software requirements implies fixed product requirements document (PRD), and the second stage focuses on the analysis of models, schemes, and business regulations (Chari & Agrawal 2018; Baseer, Rama Mohan Reddy & Shoba Bindu 2015). The subsequent stages that seem to be rather elaborate involve design, coding, testing, and operations, where the latter consider a product adaptation, regular updates, and technical support to customers.

Likewise other popular methodologies for the development and management of projects, Agile has appeared in the United States relatively recently – in 2001. 17 US IT specialists from Utah were responsible for the emergence of this flexible development methodology. Along with the “Flexible Software Development Manifesto”, in which the term “Agile” was used for the first time, they registered 12 principles of software development (Azanha et al. 2017). Based on the critical literature review, their essence may be reduced to several key principles that determine the nature of the identified methodology. One may enumerate the prioritisation of people and interactions instead of processes and tools, a product rather than exhaustive documentation, as well as cooperation with customers and readiness for change as opposed to the initial plan.

Currently, Agile serves as the basis for a number of flexible techniques, among which the most known are Scrum, Lean, and extreme programming (XP). Scrum may be defined as Agile-based flexible development methodology based on a sprint – a period of one to four weeks, at the end of which a working version of the product should be achieved (Azanha et al. 2017). The research identifies the concept of lean as a method that focuses on the philosophy of continuous improvement at all levels of the organisation, where one of the key concepts is customer value (Azanha et al. 2017; Stare 2013). In its turn, XP is another significant strategy, where an important role is given to the periodic involvement of a customer in planning.

The theoretical perspectives that underpin this study are associated with the solid foundation based on the critical review of the recent scholarly literature presented within the last five years in peer-reviewed journals. The existing body of the literature seems to be thought-provoking and contributing to the development of further discoveries, yet the modern environment sets new challenges. Considering the rapidly developing technology, it becomes evident that the available research should be enriched with new studies on Waterfall and Agile management models to understand their role, trends, threats, and potential.

Organisational Goals

In the Waterfall model, it is easy to manage the project. Due to its rigidity, the development is quick, while the cost and time are predetermined. However, this model leads to an excellent result only in projects with clearly defined requirements and methods of their implementation as there is no way to step back, and testing begins only after the development is completed or almost completed (Baseer, Rama Mohan Reddy & Shoba Bindu 2015). Products developed for this model without a reasonable choice of it can have shortcomings, which become known only at the end due to a strict sequence of actions. Therefore, the topic of the Waterfall model is important to companies as it provides a valuable opportunity to systematise the process of production and ensure coherent innovation development.

To achieve the organisational goals of a company, it is essential to remember that the Waterfall model is applicable to specific conditions. For instance, it seems to be the best option when all the requirements are known, understandable, and fixed since contradictory requirements are not acceptable (Baseer, Rama Mohan Reddy & Shoba Bindu 2015). More to the point, Waterfall management model proved to be effective primarily in relatively small projects with the availability of programmers of the required skills. On the contrary, when the needs of customers are constantly changing in a dynamic business, it is more appropriate to apply Agile to accomplish the organisational goals set. The changes to Agile are realised at a lower price because of frequent increments. In contrast to the Waterfall model, only small planning is sufficient in the flexible model to start a project.

In the essence of Agile, there are daily meetings and regularly recurring meetings – once a week, every two weeks, or once a month. At daily meetings, team members discuss the following issues: a report on the work done since the last meeting, a list of tasks that an employee is expected to perform before the next discussion, and difficulties encountered in the course of work (Azanha et al. 2017). The above methodology is suitable for large or long-term projects that are constantly adapted to market conditions. Accordingly, requirements change during the implementation under the impact of creative people who tend to generate, give out, and try out new ideas weekly or even daily (Chari & Agrawal 2018). The flexible development is best suited for creative executives and leadership style. For example, a company’s internal start-ups are usually developed under Agile.

At the same time, Agile almost does not limit the project team. If one needs more terms of reference, specifications, or any other documentation, he or she can write it up; if one needs additional acceptance criteria, it is possible to create them (Baseer, Rama Mohan Reddy & Shoba Bindu 2015). In case a prototype is required, one can make them in the form of block diagrams, a real sample model, et cetera. The level of detailing and formalisation always depends on the specifics of the system and the project team, including their competencies and experience in implementing similar projects.

Management Practice

It is useful for a project manager to know the specifics of using different methods in order to correctly apply certain elements or whole structures in their own projects. The managers need to understand what tools are appropriate to the needs of the project and apply them in a timely manner. According to Chari and Agrawal (2018), even though there are specialists in the project team with different skills and opportunities, there is always a need to correctly manage them and maximise the benefits. A project manager knows when the efforts of analysts are needed, and when – the programmers. Limiting oneself to a certain framework entails the restriction of possibilities and variability. A broad understanding of the fundamentals, processes, methods, and tools help managers to accelerate progress, overcome obstacles, and succeed.

Speaking of the recent trends in the area of software development management, it is important to emphasise that both Agile and Waterfall methods impact everyday practices of managers. For example, it should be stressed that the process of Agile development is adaptive with constantly changing conditions, which is achieved by developing for short iterations, after each of which there is a revision of the requirements and, if necessary, a change in communication practices and the work of the team (Tarhan & Yilmaz 2014). In other words, the application of Agile model implies everyday consideration of a change that may benefit a project in either short- or long-term period.

Analytical thinking and rapid decision-making processes may be noted as the most characteristics ones to Agile. During the programming and testing phases of a project, a manager can participate in the change management process or confirming and planning changes by managing query priorities. At the phase of commissioning (pilot operation), the managerial role of the IT manager is reduced to defining the tasks of implementing the information system, software control and distribution, managing the reliability based on availability management, and eliminating service management problems (Tarhan & Yilmaz 2014). In addition, Agile management model implies flexibility in forecasting changes in the automation of the project by developing proactive management measures, preparing reports, and initiating modernisation of the information system as a whole.

In its turn, the Waterfall model implies a consistent and one-time implementation of every phase of the project that determines the managers’ everyday practice. The transition from one phase to another is possible only after the successful completion of the previous stage (Coller, Frigotto & Costa 2018). In this regard, managers are expected to ensure the detailed planning and full correctness of the results of all stages step by step. In such rigid constraints of the sequence, transparency and convenience for customers become the main principles for managers. In particular, the role of a manager during planning involves the formalisation of requirements, the selection of automation tools necessary for the project, and the organisation of contractual work with suppliers (Coller, Frigotto & Costa 2018). At the design stage, a manager influences the choice of the optimal combination of users’ needs and the capabilities of the projected information system, the directions of development and application of the information system, as well as the organisation of preparation of project documentation and cost estimates.

The managers learn about such models as Agile and Waterfall from the internal documentation of a company. In many cases, proper documentation is the paramount pledge for success as it clarifies processes, procedures, expected outcomes, the ways to overcome obstacles, and plenty of other critical issues that are necessary to build a strong team and manage it. However, documentation is not the only method to share software development methodology with team members. The maximal visualisation of processes along with direct communication is two more strategies to achieve a greater understanding of what is required from managers (Stoica et al. 2016). In particular, daily meetings, retro-meetings, discussions between teams – all this gives an excellent understanding of the project essence and helps to navigate the goals, the ways to reach them, and any other important information.

As for the guidance the managers receive regarding the implementation of one or another methodology, one may state that they are given special documents that enumerate the principles to be integrated into management. In Agile, managers are guided to introduce the focus on performance, build trustful relationships within the project members, value employees and customers, as well as foster innovation (Stoica et al. 2016). Since Agile implies a flexible system of management, creative thinking becomes the paramount aspect of promoting innovative development (Stare 2013). As opposed to Agile, Waterfall requires a strict sequence and rigidity in projects and communication with customers. The additional support with guidance and interpretation of policies may be received from staffing managers, heads of units, and the HR department. Thus, both Agile and Waterfall methods imply similar guidance sources yet different expectations from managers.

Management Insight

The dominant assumption in the literature is that each of the discussed methods has its own advantages and disadvantages, which implies utilising them on different conditions. Among the greatest advantages of the Waterfall methodology, there is a clear structure of the development process, convenient reporting (one may easily track the resources, risks, time spent and finances, the stability of tasks, and established evaluation of the cost and timing of a project (Stoica et al. 2016). The research shows that the main shortcoming of the Waterfall method can be identified as follows: little flexibility, so if the project requires more time and financial resources, then the testing phase will be rather complicated. According to the research, the cost of fixing bugs after the release of the product is higher than during full-fledged multi-stage testing in the development process.

The Waterfall system seems to be a rigid framework, providing only a finished product that determines the inability to make changes during development. In the first stages of forecasting, critical financial expenditures may change upwards, but it is impossible to change the project in the direction of cost optimisation before the release of the finished product. While the testing system of Agile implies separate testing of each component of the project in cooperation with others, in the Waterfall, the finished product is tested. The main disadvantage of the Waterfall is a significant delay with obtaining the results as they are coordinated with users only at the points planned after the completion of each stage of work (Stoica et al. 2016). Thus, users can make their comments only after the work on the system is fully completed. In case of an inaccurate statement of requirements or their changes during a long period of software creation, users receive a system that does not meet their needs. The models, both functional and informational, of an automated object, can become obsolete simultaneously with their approval.

The research assumptions illustrate that the modern environment sets new opportunities in the field of software development management. In particular, several studies reflect the possibility of integrates both Agile and Waterfall in terms of one project. Such an amalgamation refers to the combination of the advantages of both models. Along with the ones that were mentioned earlier in this paper, the managers should consider such aspects of Agile as understandable iterations, for example, the development cycles lasting from two weeks to two months, at the end of which a customer receives a working version of the product (Azanha et al. 2017). A high degree of involvement of executors, organisators, and customers in the project also seem to bring considerable benefits. Baseer, Rama Mohan Reddy, and Shoba Bindu (2015) claim that the philosophical nature of the Agile methodology is not a clear instruction for action, but a theoretical concept (Stare 2013). The team cannot automatically apply the mechanics of flexible development as it is necessary to adopt the key principles of the system that were mentioned above.

The values of those taking the research are theoretical. Namely, scholars strive to understand the speculative underpinnings of Waterfall and Agile models as the ones that promote innovation development based on their comparison and emphasis on both weak and strong points. The evidence shows that the Waterfall model is best suited for projects with clearly defined boundaries when the content acts as a key element of the project. Among the examples, one may list such processes as team building, conference planning, or implementation of projects. In the context of the methodology, a manager is expected to set the boundaries of the project, and he or she cannot change the venue or topic of the work (Tarhan & Yilmaz 2014). Furthermore, the project time is also a limiting factor. When the content of the project is unchanged, the main task of the project or portfolio manager is to plan how resources will be used and spent, taking into account the time and sequence of this project implementation.

Considering the given topic from the perspective of those putting the research in practice, one may refer to Agile methods that should be used to manage projects in which implementation time is unchanged, resources are the determining factor, and the content is to be planned. For instance, software development (sprints) is organised based on the theoretical assumptions presented in the existing literature. Azanha et al. (2017) state that the managers understand that when deadlines and resources are known, employees with similar functions select priority tasks for the current sprint. As a rule, a Scrum Master uses different wish logs and boards for different types of resources, thus eliminating errors and requests for functions in the development (Rahmanian 2014). In this regard, the so-called iron triangle of project management as a foundation of the operational planning that focuses on different components may be noted.

In fact, in all organisations, there are projects for which both methods are needed since otherwise, the work will be ineffective. It cannot be said that one methodology is better than another as they merely resolve different problems. The success of projects, especially of portfolios based on the Waterfall model, depends on careful planning of resources and timing. Every project is unique, and the approach to its management should be selected specifically (Rahmanian 2014). Due to the peculiarities of a customer’s business, fixed-in-time sprints did not allow working effectively with changing priorities, so the choice may be made in favour of Kanban, not Scrum. In the conditions of the identified project, this seems to be the most suitable methodology, giving more freedom of action. It is worth noting that it is important not to get carried away too much and not to fall into the point where Agile is being introduced on the authority of implementation.

The prioritisation, as a rule, does not cause problems, and all types of instruments may be used to manage one or another project. The complexities arise with the allocation of resources for a specific wish log, where one cannot operate without an exact plan. A developer, for example, can be involved in several projects, eliminating errors and requesting functions. If a manager does not solve the problem of quantitative allocation of resources in the wish logs, he or she will not be able to prioritise the tasks, and the employees will face a discrepancy between expectations and results. In the future, this will lead to a violation of the timing of the release of updates as the tasks such as fixing errors and processing requests for new features take the resources of the strategic development.

Speaking of the recommendations for the managers working with Agile and Waterfall software development management methods, one should emphasise several aspects. Based on the evaluation of these methods, a hybrid system may be recommended as a mixture of Waterfall and Agile to ensure innovative development and careful project planning. My personal view and meta-theoretical understanding coincide with the above assumptions. When the project is not suitable for the uncertainty of the time frame and budget, as well as the lack of planning, the specification of requirements and a product or solution design can be performed in Waterfall (Rahmanian 2014). At the same time, Agile may be used for development and testing. Most of all, the managers utilise the hybrid approach to identify the best processes and tools needed throughout the project. It should begin at the stage of project planning when the whole essence of the project is presented in the form of a timeline, stages, activities, and related results (Rahmanian 2014). In the commercial segment of the economy, this reflects the desire of management to squeeze the time without significantly increasing costs in order to promote the benefits of a successful project.

The individual teams dealing with small parts of large-scale and complex tasks should see and work on the same ranked list of a company’s priorities, while the collective intelligence of the team should be more important than that of individuals. The evaluation and reward systems should be focused on a team’s overall results more than individual efforts. At the same time, the hybrid methodology should operate with roles in the team, where there will be clear rights and team self-government (Stare 2013). As for the increased requirements for the qualifications and experience of the team, the managers should analyse possible ways to improve the efficiency of their work, continuously exchange information about the project, and be motivated and self-organised.

Paying attention to ethical implications, it is essential to state that any method requires changes in the corporate culture, and the managers should take into account that employees need clear and non-discriminatory instructions to their work. The selected hybrid method should provide no deception of any kind. In addition, it should promote mutual respect and understanding between team members and managers as well. By building close and respectful relationships within the project, the managers are likely to meet the ethical requirements at the workplace, thus contributing to successful project production.


In conclusion, one should argue that the results of the research show that today when developing the Corporate Standard for Project Management, the approaches to development depend on a project. This problem is largely associated with project managers. The Waterfall model is chosen for complex projects with clearly defined goals, results, and requirements for them. Agile tends to be preferred for projects with incomprehensible results and expectations. A hybrid version of the methodology implies the integration of the above methods to achieve greater success. It was learned that the recommendations to the hybrid model include such principles as the specification of clear yet changeable tasks, flexible planning and costs, and so on. It is revealed that the shift to a new method requires cultural change. One of the important factors influencing the effectiveness of behavioural changes is associated with the support of management and the overall collaborative approach.

Reference List

Azanha, A, Argoud, ARTT, Camargo Junior, JBD & Antoniolli, PD 2017, ‘Agile project management with Scrum: a case study of a Brazilian pharmaceutical company IT project’, International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 121-142.

Baseer, KK, Rama Mohan Reddy, A & Shoba Bindu, C 2015, ‘A systematic survey on waterfall vs. agile vs. lean process paradigms’, i-Manager’s Journal on Software Engineering, vol.9, no. 3, pp. 34-59.

Chari, K & Agrawal, M 2018, ‘Impact of incorrect and new requirements on waterfall software project outcomes’, Empirical Software Engineering, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 165-185.

Coller, G, Frigotto, ML & Costa, E 2018, ‘Management control system and strategy: the transforming role of implementation’, Journal of Applied Accounting Research, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 141-160.

Rahmanian, M 2014, ‘A comparative study on hybrid IT project management’, International Journal of Computer and Information Technology, vol. 3, no. 5, pp. 1096-1099.

Stare, A 2013, ‘Agile project management–a future approach to the management of projects’, Dynamic Relationships Management Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 43-54.

Stoica, M, Ghilic-Micu, B, Mircea, M & Uscatu, C 2016, ‘Analyzing agile development-from waterfall style to Scrumban’, Informatica Economica, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 5-14.

Tarhan, A & Yilmaz, SG 2014, ‘Systematic analyses and comparison of development performance and product quality of incremental process and agile process’, Information and Software Technology, vol. 56, no. 5, pp. 477-494.

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