Waterfall vs. Agile

One of the bigger debates in the last few years in project management circles is which development process is better, Waterfall or Agile.

First, some definitions are required.  The Waterfall methodology is a stage gate process where a project is broken down and subsequent work packages are performed after the completion of the previous work package.  This can be seen as a linear process, like building a house.  First the foundation is poured, then the walls are erected, then the roof.

The Agile methodology is an iterative process where finished pieces are constructed, with the possibility of refining or completely changing the original product in subsequent iterations.  One of the core concepts of Agile is to make your mistakes early.  An example of this would be like making pasta sauce from scratch.  You might add salt in the beginning but if you find the sauce to be too salty, you could add more tomato paste and water.  You could also add spices later, to taste.

The debate is which process works better.  The answer is both and neither.  Waterfall is a good process for projects where changes are costly, such as in manufacturing.  When designing parts that require tooling, it could be very expensive to try to iterate.  The old adage of “measure twice, cut once” is still a good rule of thumb for most manufacturing type projects.  Tooling can also be a very long lead item, depending on complexity, so even if non-recurring engineering (the one-time cost to research, develop, design and test a new product)  is not a significant factor, the lost revenue of a delayed product launch would definitely have an impact to the business.

Agile is a better process for software development projects, particularly web solutions.  With Agile development, the project can be completed in iterations that can actually go out into the world for both user testing and to drive business value.  Change is far less costly and is really measured in opportunity cost.  Since Agile development is centered around a forced prioritized “product backlog” the higher prioritized features are done first.  If done properly by the product owners, this should mean that the greatest value (i.e., revenue generating) features come first.

The project development methodology should be tailored to the goals and structure of the individual business.  Even a company that produces pure software projects may want to maintain some aspects of waterfall as a way limit the cost of change.  And hardware companies may want to use some aspects of Agile to make course corrections earlier rather than later in development.

What method is used in your company?  Can you see how aspects of the other methodology could be useful at your company?  Has anyone had the experience of transitioning from Waterfall to Agile?

Project Managers and Business Analysts Working Together

PMI has created a new certification for Business Analysts.  I think this reflects a continuing interest and growth in the profession of business analysis – creating the right requirements to maximize value and limit change in new product development.  Of course, this is beneficial to the project manager and the project as a whole.

A few months ago my company hired a business analyst in an existing group.  The addition of this BA to the software team was advocated by the director of software project management and reports directly to that person.  When an organization introduces a new position or function into a team where people know their roles or, at least, know which functions they typically fulfill, there is opportunity for both increased productivity and confusion.  This has prompted me to think about the responsibilities o the project manager (PM) and the business analyst (BA).  Some view the PM and BA as two sides of the same coin–complementary, but mutually exclusive.

According to the Project Manager’s Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) and the Business Analyst Body of Knowledge (BABOK), the roles are defined as follows:

  • The PM manages the project.  “Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to provide activities to meet the project requirements.”
  • The BA identifies the business needs.  “Business analysis is the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.”

In many projects there will be opportunity for overlap that can cause conflict.  Those areas include:

  • Scope Management. A conflict can arise when the project schedule, owned by the PM is impacted by the inclusion of new requirements from the BA who owns the solution scope.
  • Communication Management. Conflicts can arise if either the PM or BA is aware of project needs that the other is not.  The PM should not make unilateral decisions.  Likewise, the BA should not make commitments without consulting with the PM.
  • Risk management. All project and product risks must be appropriately identified, and strategies to avoid those risks developed.
  • Requirements Management. The PMBOK includes collecting requirements.  This is, of course, a BA function and can be a cause for confusion between the PM and BA if not well aligned.

Recommendations to encourage a successful working relationship between the PM and BA (Enfocus Solutions):

  • Clear, documented, and mutually agreed roles and responsibilities activities.
  • Plan of when BA deliverables that will be produced that is incorporated into the overall project management plan.
  • Implement mechanisms to promote open communication.
  • Openly discuss the reporting relationship.
  • Both roles should actively engage the business sponsor.
  • Build a partnership based on mutual trust and respect.
  • Work through conflicts with clear and frequent communications.


What is the relationship like between the PMs and BAs in your companies?

Are the responsibilities of these roles clearly defined in your companies?  Are those role definitions always respected?

Has anyone ever served as both PM and BA?