In recent years, Agile methodology has become popular with many software development teams owing to the increased efficiency it brings about. Quite a few companies were unable to design and create desired products within optimum time and cost due to their use of traditional project management methodology. By going agile they were able to completely transform their processes and change the way teams view project management.
Project management is the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria. (Source: Wikipedia)
Traditional (or waterfall) project management, majority of the times, follows a fixed sequence:
When one process is complete, only then can the next one begin. Typically this method is more suited for projects that anticipate very few changes from the start to finish. Like manufacturing a billion dollar helicarrier. Here requirements are fixed, only cost and time vary. Since there are minimal changes, chances of the budget or time estimation going haywire are comparatively less.
However, not every project can be planned in the same manner. For software development projects, frequent iterations are required, a flexibility which Agile methodology provides. Instead of planning the entire project beforehand, teams focus on quicker iterations and increase efficiency. Although most of the steps involved remain same, it is not necessary that they are carried out in a sequential manner. These steps are broken down into smaller segments known as sprints.
Both Traditional and Agile Project Management have their merits and demerits. It depends on the nature of the product and the circumstances around it which determine the type of method to be used. It is wise to first understand the difference between the two before you consider adopting either one.
Difference between Traditional and Agile Project Management
Traditional project management provides little to no scope for making changes to the product. It’s a rigid process that only follows a top-down approach. Once the plan is finalised, managers communicate it to their teams and make sure that everyone sticks to it in the best possible manner. There is a lot of resistance to any change that is proposed as it can disrupt the project schedule.
Agile methodology is more adaptable and offers a lot of flexibility in terms of making changes to the product. It allows team members to experiment and find out some of the best alternatives. They are free to communicate any idea they believe will help to enhance the product further. Being a feature-based approach, Agile focuses more on getting the right product than follow rigid structures.
Ownership and Transparency:
In traditional management, ownership belongs to the Project Manager. It is the manager’s responsibility to plan and document the entire journey of the product. Apart from managers, only customers are involved in the planning stage but once implementation begins their involvement is zero. Since managers hold all the reins of the project, team members usually do not have a say in the result of their efforts or how the project is progressing.
Whereas in Agile methodology, the team members share ownership of the project. Everyone puts their heads together to come up with a plan designed to finish the work within the estimated time and cost. They are able to view the progress of the product right from the start to its end. Such transparency plays an important role in maintaining a productive and highly engaged work environment.
In case of unexpected obstacles, individuals need to escalate the issue to their managers. However approaching your manager every single time is not a feasible option. It can cause undue delays and exceed the estimated time limit, apart from increasing the overall cost as well.
Agile teams have the authority to take decisions on their own. They try to internally solve all issues to avoid wasting time. Being closely involved in the process, their knowledge helps them to tackle most of the problems that hinder their progress. Unless there is a need to take extreme decisions, team members rarely need to escalate trivial matters to their manager.
Checkpoints and Monitoring progress:
Traditional method advocates heavy planning at the analysis and design stage of the project. Their focus is more on streamlining the processes than on the product itself. Once the process is finalised, it is expected that the team will follow it step by step with minimal guidance. Progress is determined after the project is completed. There are no frequent check-ins unless the manager receives any escalations.
Since there are shorter and quicker iterations, Agile methodology encourages team members to have checkpoints at regular intervals. It is easy to determine the progress as well as helps individuals maintain accountability in their work. In Scrum – one of the most popular agile methodologies, teams hold daily stand-ups to catch up on what was the work done yesterday, agenda for the day and if there are any obstacles.
In the dynamic environment that we now live in, there are very few situations where change doesn’t occur. In such times, sticking to Agile methodology will serve companies much better.