Project management methodologies: Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Scrum vs. Kanban

Sunscrapers Team

28 January 2020, 12 min read

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What's inside

  1. What are the different project management methodologies?
  2. Agile Project Management 
  3. Waterfall Project Management
  4. Scrum
  5. Kanban
  6. What is the best project management methodology?

One of the most important decisions you will make when building a digital product is choosing the project management methodology. Today, organizations benefit from a wide range of project management methodologies, frameworks and approaches. Agile vs. Waterfall is still a significant debate topic among software development. Some of them follow rigid and structured methods like Scrum. Others pick ones that are much easier to introduce and implement on top of the existing processes like Kanban.

All of these methodologies have their pros and cons, and telling which one is the right fit for your project isn’t always that easy. Luckily, we’ve done that for you.

Read on to find out the essentials about Agile, Waterfall, Scrum, and Kanban project management methodologies. And approaches.

What are the different project management methodologies?

A project management methodology is a set of guiding principles and processes that help a team to manage a project. A methodology will define how your team collaborates and communicates. The methodology choice depends on many factors: your team, the type of project you’re working on, and its scope. Choosing the project management methodology is the first thing project managers do. And that choice will have a profound impact on how the team works.

Agile Project Management 

What is Agile?

Agile software development a specific approach to building software based on smaller iterations and increments. Instead of dedicating a lot of time to planning at the beginning of your project, Agile methodologies allow changing project requirements during the project. They also encourage constant feedback from the end-users to ensure that the project developed in line with your key business objectives and customer needs.

In Agile methods, cross-functional teams work on product iterations over a given period of time. Their work is organized in a backlog made of tasks that are prioritized based on their business or customer value. The goal of each iteration is producing a working product.

Things that make Agile unique

  • It's based on the Agile Manifesto formulated in 2001.- It supports projects with developed in environments characterized by rapid change,
  • It encourages teamwork, accountability, and face-to-face communication.- Agile ensures a close alignment of the product with customer needs and company goals.- Agile increases the company's agility beyond product development.

Advantages of Agile

  • Shorter planning cycles easily accommodate changes during the project, and teams can refine and reprioritize the backlog easily. Consequently, it helps to reduce software development costs.
  • Agile is great for projects that don't have a clearly defined end goal.- By breaking a project into iterations, the team can focus on high-quality development and testing. Carrying out tests during every iteration means that the team gets to identify and solve bugs quicker. As a result, Agile enables the delivery of high-quality software consistently.- Agile *emphasizes frequent communication and face-to-face interactions ** for boosting collaboration.- Agile * encourages feedback from users and team members throughout the project to help the team implement lessons learned and improve future iterations.
  • Customer feedback is easily incorporated into the development work, and customers have a real impact on the end product.

Disadvantages of Agile

  • Agile teams need to be highly skilled in a variety of areas, including knowledge of the most common Agile methodology frameworks.- Planning and estimation can be problematic in Agile. Since Agile is based on time-boxed delivery, some tasks originally scheduled for delivery may not be completed in time because they get reprioritized.- Some project managers may be forced to add sprints at any time into the project and extend its overall timeline.- Agile requires a full-time commitment from developers who should be part of the entire project duration.- Agile doesn't place so much emphasis on documentation, forcing teams to find the right balance between documentation and discussion.- The final product might turn out to be different than its initial estimations. Since Agile is flexible, the

development cycle will follow the direction based on the evolving customer feedback, bringing about a different final deliverable.

Estimating the budget in Agile

Agile doesn't rely on in-depth upfront planning. That's why many project managers find calculating the cost and budget for Agile projects challenging.

However, estimating project costs is always difficult, regardless of the project methodology used. In Agile, you can relate to the amount of time the project will take as its total cost. Use a burndown chart to estimate the number of sprints in your project, its rough timeline, and date. Calculate how much the team’s work will cost based on the hourly rates of the individual team members. Now multiply each team member’s rate by the number of working hours per week and the number of weeks in the sprint. After estimating the initial budget for the team, add other costs like travel, technology, or equipment.

Another way to go on about this is by breaking down every user story into tasks. And once you know how many hours it will take to complete each task, you can estimate the project’s budget.

Waterfall Project Management

What is Waterfall?

The Waterfall methodology offers a sequential and linear process of software development. It's based on a series of steps where the development team can only move to the next step once it finishes the previous one. It's impossible to go back to the previous stage without starting the entire process from the beginning. Before moving to the next stage of development, the client may need to review and approve the requirements.

Things that make Waterfall unique

  • The Waterfall methodology originated in the manufacturing and construction industries, which are both highly structured environments where applying changes during the project can be very expensive.
  • It’s based on detailed upfront planning, so the project’s scope is fixed, and the required budget is known before the project starts.

Advantages of Waterfall

  • It’s easy to implement. The Waterfall model follows the same sequential pattern in every project. That's why it's easy to use and understand. It doesn't require any prior knowledge or training from the team. At the same time, this model is rigid as each phase comes with specific deliverables, so it's easy to manage the team’s work. It disciplines teams.- Since every project has a start and endpoint, sharing progress with stakeholders and customers is easy.- The team will focus on requirements and design before writing code, so the risk of a missed deadline this reduced.- It requires documentation. In the Waterfall model, the team produces documentation for every phase. As a result, it

easier to understand the logic behind the code and tests. Naturally, documentation also provides a paper trail for future projects.

Disadvantages of Waterfall 

  • It doesn't accommodate changes easily. Once a phase is completed, the team can't go back and change anything. For example, if the team reaches the testing phase and realizes that a certain feature was missing from the requirements phase, going back and fixing, it will be difficult and very expensive.- The software is delivered late. Since a software development project needs to complete from 2 to 4 phases before the coding actually begins, delivering working software takes a lot of time. Stakeholders aren't going to see working software until the late in the life cycle.- Gathering requirements is challenging. One of the initial phases in the Waterfall is talking to customers and stakeholders to identify the business requirements. However, establishing them accurately may be difficult. Sometimes customers may not know what they want early on and instead might identify the right requirements once the project progresses.

Estimating the budget in Waterfall

Making estimations in this model is inherently easier because it assumes that all the project requirements are known from the beginning and aren’t going to change throughout the project’s duration. That’s why Waterfall method comes in handy for projects that have a fixed scope.


What is Scrum?

Scrum is one of the most popular Agile frameworks. It’s a software development model based on an iterative approach, which is great for managing complex software development projects.

Things that make Scrum unique

  • In Scrum, fixed-length iterations are called sprints, and they last from 1 to 2 weeks, allowing the team to ship software on a regular basis.- At the end of every sprint, team members and stakeholders meet to plan the next steps and analyze what went wrong and what went well during the previous sprints.- Scrum offers a set of roles, responsibilities, and meetings. For example, Scrum ceremonies provide structure for every sprint, which is made of sprint planning, daily standup meeting, sprint demo, and sprint retrospective. A role such as Scrum Master doesn't correspond to the role of a project manager.
  • Scrum also comes with artifacts such as burndown charts or task boards that show progress and allow receiving incremental feedback.

Advantages of Scrum

  • Greater transparency during the project. Thanks to the daily standup meetings, the entire team has full clarity on who is doing what. This eliminates a lot of confusion and misunderstandings.- Scrum easily accommodates changes thanks to short sprints and constant feedback. For example, if the team discovers a new user story during the sprint, that feature can be added to the next sprint during the backlog refinement meeting.- Cost savings. Constant communication required by Scrum ensures that the team is fully aware of all the issues and changes as soon as they emerge, as a result lowering expenses and increasing the quality of the delivered product.
  • Higher team accountability. Since there’s no project manager telling the team to do what and when the team needs to collectively decide what work they will commit to completing during every sprint. As a result, team members are empowered to be independent, help each other, and improve collaboration.

Disadvantages of Scrum

  • Scope creep. Some Scrum projects experience scope creep because of the lack of a specific end date. When working with no completion date, stakeholders might be keeping on requesting additional functionalities.- It requires experience and commitment. Scrum comes with a number of defined roles and responsibilities, so it's essential that people are familiar with the Scrum principles. Also, team members need to commit to the daily Scrum meetings and stay on the team throughout the entire project duration.


What is Kanban?

Kanban stands for a signboard in Japanese. It's a visual framework used by teams to implement Agile principles. A Kanban board shows teams what tasks they need to complete when to complete them, and who is responsible for other tasks in the project.

Things that make Kanban unique

  • Kanban encourages incremental changes to the current projects and doesn't require any setups or procedures. It means that it easy to place it on top of your existing workflow.- Kanban allows managing a software development process efficiently by placing a limit on the current work in progress and ensuring full transparency across the team.- Kanban is based on the tool called a Kanban board. A board can be a physical or digital. The board is made up of

different swim lanes and columns. The simplest board has three columns: to do, in progress, and done. Boards for software development may be more complex and consist of stages such as backlog, ready, coding, testing, approval, and done.- A Kanban card represents a task, and every card is placed on the board in the lane that represents the status of this work. The placement of these cards communicates their status at a glance.

Advantages of Kanban

  • It increases team flexibility. Kanban is a fluid model where there are no set phase durations, and it's easy to reevaluate priorities once new information becomes available.- It reduces waste. Kanban is geared to reducing waste; it also ensures that teams never spend time doing work, which isn’t necessary.- It's easy to understand. Kanban is very visual and intuitive. As a result, teams don't need to spend any time learning a completely new methodology.- * *It's easy to implement. ** You can easily place Kanban on top of other systems in place.- It improves the delivery flow. Kanban helps to optimize the flow of work - like continuous delivery; it focuses on

just-in-time delivery of value and delivering work on a regular basis.- It minimizes cycle time. Cycle time refers to the amount of time it takes for work to move through the team’s workflow. Kanban helps to ensure that the work is moving quickly through this process.

Disadvantages of Kanban

  • A Kanban board can become over-complex. It's important that the board remains clear and easy-to-read. It's easy for team members to go overboard when adding features on the board and, as a result, bury important information and lose the transparency.- Outdated boards can be problematic. It's important that the team is committed to keeping the company board up to date. Otherwise, the team will be working with inaccurate information at hand.- No timing. One of the most serious disadvantages of Kanban is that it doesn't indicate when things will be done. There are no time frames associated with each phase. As a result, project managers may not be sure how long a phase will last.

What is the best project management methodology?

Ultimately, the choice of the project management methodology depends on the unique requirements of your project.

Learn more: 3 software development models of collaboration you need to know

Use Kanban if your project doesn't require fixed iterations, your team likes incremental change; you want to improve the delivery flow with the ability to release at any time and want your system to be understandable.

Agile and Scrum work best for projects where the final product isn’t clearly defined, and changes will be implemented during the process. It's also the best methodology for development teams that are adaptable and can think independently.

Waterfall is an excellent approach for smaller development projects where the scope and budgets are fixed.

We hope this guide helps you choose the right project management methodology. If you’re looking for more expert advice on software development processes, get in touch with us. We help companies optimize their workflows and build outstanding digital products.

Sunscrapers Team

Sunscrapers empowers visionary leaders to ride the wave of the digital transformation with solutions that generate tangible business results. Thanks to agile and lean startup methods, we deliver high-quality software at top speed and efficiency.


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