Agile vs Traditional Project Management

Project management is a central pillar of the modern business ecosystem, playing an even bigger role in a software development company where speed and efficiency are not negotiable. Enterprises of all sizes now embrace project management to accomplish their goals. Project success is a constant race that has come to define survival, and the project management approach you deploy will dictate the ultimate results. 

Understandably, the greatest challenge sticks out when it’s time to choose the most suitable method. And one of the puzzles many project managers are currently facing is choosing between agile vs traditional project management. Well,  some find it easy to make a choice because agile is more popular. Others find it complicated because the traditional approach too has some strong pros that cannot be ignored. 

Let’s compare and contrast agile and traditional project management, so you can make an informed decision about which system is right for your project.

What is Agile project management?

Agile project management is a way of organizing and managing projects that's based on the philosophy of «agility». This means that the project is constantly changing and evolving, as new information comes to light.

The agile approach allows a lot of flexibility, which is really important when you're dealing with projects that are in flux. It also helps to keep teams motivated, since they're always seeing tangible progress on the project. The goal is to make sure that the project is always moving forward and that the team is always working on the most important things.

So how does agile project management work in practice? Typically, the project is divided into short «sprints» of 2-4 weeks. At the beginning of each sprint, the team meets to come up with a list of tasks that need to be completed in order to move the project forward. Then they get to work!

Advantages of agile project management

Here are the top advantages of agile project management:

Increased customer engagement

Agile teams are able to respond to feedback and changes much more quickly, which means that they’ll  be able to deliver a product or service that meets and even exceeds customer expectations. And that's something that they'll definitely appreciate.

Increased transparency

Everyone is able to see what's happening at all times, which helps keep everyone on track. This also applies to stakeholders, who can see how their contributions are impacting the project. They no longer have to wait until the end of a project to find out what went wrong and where things went off track.

Improved team morale

Agile project management is all about collaboration and communication. Everyone is constantly working together to keep the project on track, and this cohesive environment leads to a sense of camaraderie among the team.

People feel like they're a part of something that's bigger than themselves, and they're more invested in the success of the project. This type of teamwork also breeds trust, which is essential for any successful business relationship.

Improved project visibility

Imagine being able to see your project as it's being developed, in real time. That's the power of agile project management. With agile, you have constant visibility into the progress of your project, which helps you stay on track and meet deadlines.

You can see how each task is proceeding, what's been completed, and who is working on what. This gives you a clear picture of the entire project and helps you identify potential issues before they become a problem.

Enhanced collaboration

With Agile, there's a lot more communication and cooperation between team members. This is because everyone is constantly kept in the loop, and they're all working towards the common goal of completing the project.

The end result is a team that's more cohesive and effective, and one that's able to churn out high-quality work in a shorter amount of time.

Improved product quality

Agile improves product quality to  a great extent because of the following reasons:

  • Developers are able to get feedback from users earlier in the process.
  • You can adapt to changes more easily.
  • You're able to respond to feedback faster.
  • You limit the number of features in each release.
  • You can test products in each iteration.

Increased productivity

Teams are able to respond quickly to changes and adapt as needed. This means that they're able to get more done in a shorter period of time. And because they're not waiting on approvals or working to a set timeline, they can be even more willing to go the extra mile and do more. .

All of this translates into a more productive team, which means you're able to get your projects completed faster and with less hassle.

Reduced project risks

Imagine a project that's completed on-time and on-budget. That's the dream, right? With agile project management, that's exactly what you can achieve.

How does agile reduce project risks? There are a few ways: first, the short sprints create a sense of urgency and help keep everyone on track. Second, the continuous testing and feedback means that potential problems are caught early and corrected before they become bigger issues.

And third, the focus on customer collaboration means that teams are always building something your customers will actually want to use. When you put all of these things together, it's easy to see why agile project management brings down the level of risks. 

Shorter project cycles

With traditional project management, you can spend months or even years planning and preparing for a project. But with agile, you're constantly moving and iterating, which means your project is always in a state of flux.

This means that projects move along at a much faster pace, which is great for getting things done quickly and efficiently. And since you're not stuck in the same rut for months on end, you're able to adapt to changes much more easily.

Greater flexibility

Teams that use agile have greater flexibility to change plans on the go. This is because agile methodology is all about being adaptable and responsive to change.

If something comes up during the project that needs to be addressed, you can easily make the changes without having to go back and reformulate your entire plan. This makes agile project management a great choice for projects that are prone to change, and most software projects do change a lot.

Further reading: The Agile Roadmap

What is traditional project management?

Also known as the waterfall method, the traditional project management approach refers to the classic way of managing projects through a linear, phased approach. This methodology is heavily reliant on manual processes and paperwork, and is often criticized for its lack of flexibility and reliance on outdated tools.

The traditional approach relies on a set of sequential steps that are designed to keep everything organized and on track. The five phases are initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closure. Each phase has a specific goal that needs to be met in order for the project to be successful. Being a sequential process means that each phase must be completed before moving on to the next. This can often be seen as a bottleneck, as it can slow down the process and cause delays..

With traditional project management, the goal is to have everything planned out in advance. You start with a detailed project plan that outlines what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and who will be responsible for each task. Then you move on to creating a schedule and budget. Once all of that is in place, the project can begin. And during the course of the project, the team follows the plan religiously, making changes only when absolutely necessary.

Traditional project management methodology is what has been around for centuries. In fact the first recorded instance of this method was back in the days of the Roman Empire, when they used it to plan and execute large construction projects — no wonder the name is traditional! 

Advantages of of traditional project management

Here are the top advantages of using TPM for software development projects.

Familiarity

One of the top advantages of traditional project management is familiarity. With so many years of experience using this framework, most software development firms know what works and what doesn't.

This experience and knowledge is invaluable, and it's something that can't be replicated with new methods. It's been around for decades, so if you're looking for a broadly familiar framework. 

Support from vendors

By this we mean the software development tools providers, the hosting providers, and anyone else who's involved in your project.

If you're using a traditional project management methodology, then these vendors will be familiar with the process and will be able to help you stay on track. They'll also be able to provide you with support when you need it.

But if you're using a newer methodology, such as agile, then some of your vendors might not be as familiar with it. In that case, you'll need to provide them with training and support so that they can understand how it works and how they can help you implement it effectively.

Documentation & templates

When it comes to project management, one of the biggest advantages of using a traditional approach is the level of documentation and templates that's available. With all the templates and tools at your disposal, you can easily create a project plan that's tailored to your specific needs.

This level of customization is something you just can't get with other project management tools. You can customize the templates to match your company's unique workflows and processes. This is a huge advantage, especially when you're dealing with complex projects.

Better control

Each phase contains clear expectations that must be realized before moving onto the next phase. The customer can rest easy knowing there will be no surprises. The project manager is restricted from accommodating changes.

The main difference between agile and traditional project management

The major difference between agile and traditional project management is simply that agile is more flexible. With traditional project management, the process is usually more regimented and there's a lot more paperwork. Things are planned out in advance, and everyone follows the same plan.

Agile, on the other hand, is all about being adaptive and flexible. Changes can be made on the fly, as long as they don't interfere with the overall goal of the project. This makes agile a better choice for projects that are constantly evolving and changing. 

Of course there are many more differences, and here is a summary of the key ones:

ItemAgile project managementTraditional project management

Scale of projects

Suitable for small, medium to large projects

Suitable for extremely large projects

Structure

Iterative

Linear

User expectations

Based on collaborative contributions

Clearly defined and constant

Development techniques

Flexible

Fixed

Customer involvement

Highly involved

Less involved

Testing

At each iteration

At the end of coding

Cost of restarting

Very low

Very high

Rigidity

Not rigid

Very rigid

Collaboration

Emphasizes teamwork and collaboration

Less team-oriented, less collaboration

Delivery

Delivers features in small chunks

Delivers features in one big chunk

The verdict: which to choose between agile and traditional project management? 

So, which is better for software development? Agile project management or traditional project management?

Agile is better for software development when you need to respond to changes quickly and when you have a tight budget. But traditional project management might be a better choice if you need more control over your project and your team is more comfortable working in a more traditional structure.

Having said that, the undeniable fact is that agile is now more popular than traditional project management particularly for software development companies. Here is why 

Less emphasis on documentation

Documentation is essential for traditional project management, but it's not a big focus in agile.

In agile, there's more of an emphasis on working software over comprehensive documentation. This means that you're not wasting time writing hundreds of pages of specs that no one is going to read.

Instead, you're focused on getting things done and constantly moving forward. This makes agile a more efficient way to manage projects.

More time for development

With agile, you have more time for development. That's because agile breaks down the project into short, time-boxed iterations and sprints. During each sprint, the team focuses on a specific set of tasks that can be completed in a short amount of time. This way, you're not always guessing what you need to do next—you have a plan and you're moving forward.

And because the team is always working on something, they never fall too far behind. In fact, they're usually ahead of schedule. This is a huge contrast to traditional project management, where tasks are often vague and undefined, which means that it takes longer to get anything done.

Changes can be made easily

In traditional project management, any changes that need to be made require a lot of paperwork and approvals, which can slow down the process and delay the project.

With agile, changes can be made on the fly, which means teams can react quickly to feedback and keep the project on track. This also helps to ensure that the end product is something that meets the customer's needs and expectations.

Increased customer satisfaction

When it comes to agile project management, customer satisfaction is always a top priority. In fact, agile is designed to ensure that the customer’s needs are always taken into account. This is done by incorporating feedback into the next iteration of the project, which means that customers see results much more quickly.

This also means that there's less waste and rework, since changes can be made easily. And since customers are constantly kept in the loop, they're less likely to feel frustrated or ignored. In short, agile project management results in happier customers—which is definitely a good thing for businesses.

More efficient use of resources

Think about it — in traditional project management, teams spend a lot of time planning and organizing, and then spend even more time trying to stick to that plan. But with agile, the teams are constantly adapting and evolving as they go, which means they are using resources in the most effective way.

Recommended reading: the complete software development outsourcing guide

Conclusion

Agile is the outright winner for one obvious reason: flexibility. Flexibility breeds numerous benefits including  efficiency, scalability, faster time to market and cost savings. But most importantly, agile presents the future of project management and this explains its exploding popularity.  Yet this does not mean that traditional project management is dead. Despite its shortcomings, the traditional approach is still used by many businesses today.

So your choice should lean more towards agile with an open mind to utilize those components of the traditional approach which you might find compelling from project to project. 

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