Scrum vs Waterfall: Pick Your Path in Project Management

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StarAgile

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May 03, 2024

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Often people ask me, about the advantages of scrum over waterfall or if the waterfall model is better than scrum. And my answer goes beyond a mere yes or no because it is not that simple. Waterfall and Scrum, both models offer their own set of principles, processes, and advantages helping to shape how the projects are planned, executed, and delivered. In this blog, I will take you through a detailed comparison between the two models and how to make a correct choice. 

 

Scrum vs Waterfall

If I talk about Scrum Methodology, is a more flexible and iterative approach wherein tasks are broken down into smaller pieces. Whereas, the waterfall approach focuses on working in sequential phases. Scrum allows the teams to work in closer collaboration and adaptability and Waterfall talks about upfront planning and defined requirements at the beginning of the project. 

Scrum teams have events that make sure the project is taking place with agility and Waterfall has a lot of documentation to keep track of the events. Let us see the primary differences between agile scrum and waterfall in detail. 

Also Read: Best Agile and Scrum Practices

Difference Between Scrum vs Waterfall 

 

 

ParametersScrumWaterfall
ApproachScrum projects are divided into small doable increments called sprints.Waterfall projects work in sequential phases meaning everything must be completed before moving to the next phase.
Flexibility and adaptabilityThe scrum projects are highly flexible and adaptive.Waterfall projects do not offer any flexibility in the development process.
Team roles and responsibilitiesThe teams are self-organizing, and members have all the necessary skills to deliver the product.There exist siloes teams wherein every individual has his/her own set of responsibilities.
CollaborationThe fundamental difference in the approach is collaboration in scrum teams which is missing in the waterfall methodology.In a waterfall, team members in different phases work in isolation. This means they do not work in collaboration but rather fulfil the responsibilities assigned to them.
Customer InvolvementIn scrum projects, there is a high involvement of customers and stakeholders throughout the project.Customer engagement is minimal as all the requirements are gathered at the start of the project and any corrections are done only after the project is completed.
DocumentationThere is minimal documentation required in scrum projects.Extensive documentation is required in the waterfall model as all the requirements are set at the start.
How quality is ensured?In the scrum model, the quality is built upfront with all the testing done simultaneously.In the waterfall model, the quality is built based on rigorous testing at the end.
Success metricsThe project’s success is based on delivering value to the customer and fulfilling the requirements of the stakeholders efficiently.The waterfall project’s success is based on fulfilling the pre-defined requirements in the defined budget and timelines.

 

 

Approach: Scrum VS Waterfall 

  • In the scrum methodology, the project is divided into small actionable items called sprints. Dividing the tasks into sprints gives scope for changes in the development process. 
  • In the waterfall model, the tasks are divided into phases and all the tasks are completed in phase 1 and then moved ahead. For instance, all the features are planned and then moved to development and then testing. 

Flexibility and Adaptability: Scrum vs Waterfall 

The scrum model is highly flexible and adaptative to the changes any stakeholder imposes. we can make changes to the features at any point in the project and these particular features make Scrum my favourite! 

The waterfall model is rigid as compared to scrum as we can only make any changes at the end of phases. So if there are any changes in the feature, we need to go through all the phases again.

Team roles and responsibilities: Scrum vs Waterfall 

In the scrum model, the team is self-functioning and the roles are adaptive to the project requirements. These are the roles in a typical scrum team: 

In a waterfall model, there exists siloes team wherein every individual has his/her responsibilities. Here are the job roles in a typical waterfall team: 

  • Project Manager 
  • Business Analyst 
  • Developers 
  • Front end developers
  • Backend developers 
  • Database developers
  • Software testers

Collaboration within teams: Scrum vs waterfall

  • In scrum teams, there is high collaboration in cross-functional teams whereas in the waterfall model, there is collaboration within teams in the same phase. 
  • Collaboration is more emphasised in the scrum model as compared to the waterfall method. 

Customer Involvement: Scrum vs waterfall  

  • In the scrum model, customer involvement is pretty high. For every sprint, we are required to communicate with the stakeholders or customers and decide upon the next steps. 
  • Whereas in the waterfall method, the stakeholder involvement is minimal. The stakeholder only communicates his/her requirements in the beginning and checks the implementation of it at the end. 

Documentation:  Scrum vs waterfall  

In scrum, the documentation is any information that supports the development, delivery and maintenance of the product. Documentation in Scrum can take different forms such as user stories, acceptance criteria, technical specifications, design diagrams, test cases, and release notes. 

The waterfall model is known for sequential phases, and each project has 5-7 phases. For each phase, there is a requirement for different types of documentation like requirement documents, system design documents, detailed design documents, test plans, user manuals, technical documentation, change control documentation, deployment guides etc. 

How quality is ensured: Scrum vs waterfall 

  • The quality in scrum is ensured from the beginning of the project. Continuous testing and feedback loops are created to ensure the sprints are going as planned. 
  • The product owner and stakeholders are deeply involved in reviewing and providing feedback on each increment. This helps in keeping the quality standards. 
  • In the waterfall model, the quality is analysed at the end of the cycle. Requirements and designs are decided at the beginning of the waterfall model and all the modifications are made in the testing stage. This is how the quality is ensured in the waterfall model. 

Success Metrics: Scrum vs waterfall 

To ensure that we made the correct choice, it is important to select the success metrics appropriately for any model we’re choosing. Let me give a brief what are the success parameters we can keep while judging our project management model: 

For scrum:

  • On-time delivery 
  • Team collaboration and communication 
  • Business value delivered or not 
  • Quality of product achieved 
  • Deliverable as compared to sprint goals 

For waterfall: 

  • If the requirements are getting fulfilled 
  • On-time delivering 
  • Adherence to the budget 
  • Scope assurance 
  • Complete documentation 
  • The overall success of the project 

Similarities between Scrum and Waterfall

While comparing both the models, I have talked about the difference between scrum and waterfall but there are many similarities too between them. Let us discover: 

Project Management Approach: Both models provide a framework for project management and are focused on delivering the project efficiently and timely. 

Phase approach: Both of the models include breaking down the project into smaller pieces like phases or sprints. 

Documentation: Both of the models promote documentation but the timing and frequency are different. For instance, in a waterfall model, the documentation is done in the initial stages at a huge scale but in the scrum, there is very light-weight documentation which happens as per the requirements of the project. 

Project control: Both of the models have mechanisms to monitor and control the projects. The waterfall method utilises formal reviews and approval before phases. On the other hand, scrum focuses on keeping track of the project via sprint reviews, sprint retrospectives and daily standups. 

Team Collaboration: Both models promote team collaboration but on different levels. In waterfall, teams in the same phases are expected to collaborate whereas in scrum, the team members are expected to coordinate and collaborate throughout the project. 

Quality Assurance: Both models emphasise the importance of quality assurance and testing to ensure the product is of good quality and delivers value. 

Stakeholder Engagement: Both models give value to stakeholder engagement. In the waterfall approach, the stakeholder clears the requirements in the beginning. However, in the case of the scrum approach, there is constant contact with the stakeholders regarding the requirements and expectations. 

When to use Scrum over Waterfall 

After working with both models, I have discovered that not one shoe fits all, meaning a single  model doesn’t solve all problems. Therefore, I have made this segregation below to help you understand why shoud you choose scrum or waterfall. Let’s analyse in detail: 

When should we opt for Scrum? 

Scrum is a time-consuming process wherein it takes a lot longer for the team to align their story points, estimations and base velocity. There are frequent backlog refinements and sprint planning meetings that also exhaust time. Companies that use Scrum and Agile are Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Spotfiy, Adobe and AirBnB. Scrum works wonders for projects with: 

  • Stakeholder change their minds often regarding the requirements 
  • The requirement to establish a quick feedback loop 
  • Need stakeholder approval and feedback to prioritise the tasks 
  • The requirement of a cross-functional team 

But we must realize that if a project doesn’t have the requirements listed above then things can become uneconomical for us. Therefore, we must see our project requirements first and then choose any framework for project management. 

When should we opt for Waterfall? 

I will completely disagree if we say Waterfall is outdated now! Many organizations are still working with the Waterfall framework like Toyota, Nasa and Cisco. Now these big names will not risk their projects by choosing something outdated right? 

So if our project fulfils the requirements of a waterfall approach, then we can go for it without thinking. Here are the factors we should consider: 

  • Choose waterfall when all the requirements are fixed and need changes 
  • No existence of ambiguous requirements 
  • The project is simple and of a short duration 
  • The development environment is highly stable 
  • The tools and techniques are stable and require no changes. 
  • The team working on the project is highly trained

Conclusion

Before choosing any of the models, it is quintessential that we know the requirements of our project. Scrum or waterfall have their own set of advantages and disadvantages, it depends upon us how we employ it to get the best outcome. 

In my experience of handling teams following scrum and waterfall, here is what we should keep in mind while selecting a framework: 

  • Organisational strategic goals and core values 
  • Internal and external change
  • Key business drivers 
  • Team capabilities and knowledge 
  • Risk 
  • Stakeholder requirements 
  • Project complexity 

When we have answers for all these parameters, we should start choosing our project management model. If you want to make an informed choice about which model to choose, I recommend to do the Certified Scrum Master Certification to learn about the scrum methodology in detail. Or if you’re someone who wants to transition from waterfall to agile methodology, then the CSM Certification will be the right fit for you. 

FAQ

1. is the role of the scrum master in the waterfall model?

The waterfall model doesn’t have a scrum master typically. In place of the scrum master, there is a business strategy in the waterfall model that analyses and documents the requirements of the project. 

2. Does Waterfall have sprints?

No, the waterfall model doesn’t have sprints rather it has phases. 

3. Does scrum support Waterfall?

No, scrum and Waterfall are a completely different entity that cannot be applied to the same project. 

4. Can Agile be used in Waterfall?

No, we cannot use Agile in Waterfall. Though many companies combine these two methodologies and call it a hybrid as per Agile, there is nothing a hybrid model. 

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