Waterfall, Agile or Critical Chain - which methodology is right for you?

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While today, the world of Project Portfolio Management consists of software, spreadsheets and S.W.O.T, once upon a time projects in the business world were managed in a more ad hoc, unofficial way. The manager cut a solitary figure trying to figure out a way to manage the project scope, hoping that the desired outcome was met.

In the 1950s, more defined project management techniques started to arise as a way to make managing large engineering and construction projects more streamlined. Originally, these methods only applied to said engineering projects, but slowly made their way into the mainstream, to be used across a wide range of industries and teams.

Here, I take a look at three major project management methodologies - and what sets them apart:


Waterfall, the most common project management methodology

Image representing the waterfall methodology

Waterfall was one of the first project management methodologies to come into being. While more “traditional” approaches to projects, defined each stage of the sequence as the project went ahead, Waterfall aims to eliminate risk by outlining all the steps of the project right from the beginning. In waterfall methodologies all the requirements gathering and design work is done before any action takes place and each project phase is 100% completed before moving on to the next.

The Waterfall model is one in which each phase of a product’s life cycle takes place in sequence, so that progress flows steadily downwards through these phases like a waterfall.

If your project is mission-critical or highly complex, then Waterfall is for you. The development process tends to be better documented since this methodology places greater emphasis on documentation and many organisations find this reassuring.

Because this system can be quite rigid and can lack the flexibility to deal with faced-paced and changeable projects, it’s great for large construction projects.

Challenges with Waterfall:

Often the client doesn’t know exactly what they need up front and don’t know what’s possible with the technology available - and PPM teams often aren’t able to foresee problems that will arise out of the implementation of their designs.

Thus, changes to requirements can’t easily be incorporated with the Waterfall method and there are often laborious control procedures to go through when this happens.


Agile, an iterative and flexible project management methodology

Image representing the agile methodology

An Agile PM methodology eschews a linear, sequential approach in favor of an incremental, iterative one. Instead of extensive planning and design up front, the Agile methodology allows for changing requirements over time by using cross-functional teams to work on successive iterations over fixed time periods. The emphasis is on efficient face-to-face communication and short feedback loops. The goal of each iteration is to produce a working product, which can be demonstrated to stakeholders, with feedback incorporated into the next or future iterations.

Many teams find Agile helps them to improve productivity while also allowing them to boost creativity and create unique solutions. Flexible and modifiable goals mean that Agile is a great methodology for creative and software projects, where new ideas and innovations can be quickly adapted into the existing framework. This is a very hands-on approach, especially for stakeholders and project managers.

Challenges with Agile:

If you prefer to step back and let the process work for itself, this might not be the methodology for you. Agile methodologies are often more difficult to understand than linear, sequential ones – at least initially.

Because of the emphasis on working software there can be a perception that documentation can sometimes be neglected. When implemented badly Agile can introduce extra inefficiencies in large organisations or can be working against long standing organizational processes. Also if an organisation and the people involved in the project are not in a mature enough state for Agile it may be more appropriate to use traditional project management methods.

See Sciforma 7.1's latest release update about the Agile Support.


Critical Chain, a methodology focused on resource management

Image representing the critical chain methodology

In Critical Chain project management, your main focus is to make sure that every activity and task is getting enough resources to end it on time. This is probably the least well known of the techniques in project management and takes the route of giving you an idea of the constraints in your project.

When you have a clear understanding of the biggest limiting factor on a task, you then can extrapolate how to capitalise on determined constraints.

According to studies, up to a 50% expenditure could be saved in a project by using this technique as compared to other techniques. It’s therefore no surprise that Critical Chain has also been known to produce results for projects far better than other techniques have produced in the past. You don’t want to have too few resources to manage a task that has many other tasks dependent on it: this will definitely make your project delayed.

While Waterfall and Agile focus more on schedules and tasks, Critical Chain is designed for teams where people have flexible skillsets with a fair amount of crossover. Each project begins by setting out a chain of core elements necessary to complete the project, and then estimates milestones and completion dates based on those elements, giving a min-max time frame, and then building in buffers appropriately (drum-buffer-rope).

Challenges with Critical Chain:

Because additional time buffers are built into each stage of the plan, Critical Path doesn’t work very well for small-scale projects with a quick-turnaround.

Read also our blog post about Better Resource Management.


How Sciforma can support your methodology choice

By choosing an established project methodology, you don’t have to reinvent the process every time you start a new project. Soft plug for Sciforma here: What’s great about Sciforma is you are able to choose any of the above methodologies for your projects, all in the one system, thus allowing for your Execs to have a handle on all projects within the company. None get lost. Software like Sciforma gives you the resources to adapt your methods and style as needed.

You want to know more about Project Management methodology ? Download our White Paper about Waterfall and Agile.

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