Sometimes it makes sense to combine system development methodologies

Project managers tend to favour either the Waterfall or Agile system development methodologies and certainly both have pros and cons. But Tony McManus, MD of McManus Consulting, cautions that PMs should keep an open mind and ensure that they choose the approach that’s best for a specific project rather than simply blindly follow the methodology with which they are most familiar. And sometimes the best option is to combine two different approaches.

McManus takes issue with organisations that claim to operate “in a completely Agile environment”.

“If you’re using Agile in your solution development it is inevitably surrounded by other typically Waterfall approaches. It is often not possible to apply a 100% Agile approach to all aspects of a project– for instance, how would you manage contract negotiation, staff recruitment or establishing new premises using an Agile approach?” he asks. In essence, project managers need to ensure that they strike the correct balance between traditional executions methodologies for the non systems development components of the project, with the appropriate use of Agile within the system development components.

According to the Ambysoft’s 2013 Project Success Rates Survey, Agile has a 64% success rate, compared to 49% for Waterfall. But even 64% is a long way from 100%, so there may well be merit in looking at taking the appropriate aspects of each and applying them to achieve greater success.

Agile, created in the nineties, essentially breaks a project into sprints – or smaller components within the main project – each of which are designed to deliver a new working feature. Sprints are essentially a technique that shortens the development cycle by embarking on elements that have already been defined without waiting for all the elements to be defined. Proponents of Agile say that this allows developers to uncover and solve problems and obstacles along the way, delivering a more successful project, in a shorter period of time.

A predominantly Agile project environment would undoubtedly suit organisations that have a very lean project mind set – and those that employ a lot of so-called millennials (or generation Ys). The latter were born in the Agile era and it’s no surprise that the fast moving flexibility of Agile appeals to these young, ambitious, easily bored individuals. Similarly, these individuals could find Waterfall, defined by its strict and linear principles, stifling.

However, in an increasingly compliance driven corporate environment there is always the risk of running ahead without considering all aspects of the project. It’s worth considering that projects feature several components – like legal, marketing, human resources and research – that “unveil” themselves along the way and often can’t be pre-empted until the natural course of events has taken place.

So, smart project managers – even the millennials amongst us – would be well advised to recognize the natural constraints and benefits of both Agile and Waterfall.
It’s important to carefully evaluate each project to determine the system development approach that would best suit that specific project and, very often, open minded project managers will find that combining Agile and Waterfall is the ideal solution.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.