The Differences Between Agile and Traditional Project Management

Traditional Project Management

Even though agile project management and traditional project management share similar goals, their methods to achieve these goals are different. For example, traditional project management uses structured planning and documentation, while agile project management uses flexible planning and documentation. 

Both methods have their strengths and weaknesses, but which one should you choose? Let’s examine some of the differences between traditional and agile project management to see which method best suits your project needs.

What is Agile Project Management?

According to the experts at Contentful, “Agile works by breaking down the barriers of getting new products to customers quickly.” So agile workflows take an iterative, incremental approach. This is a framework for generating prototypes rapidly, integrating customer feedback, employing efficient techniques like self-organization and cross-functional teams, and increasing automation. 

As a result, agile project management cuts down project timelines and allows organizations to release new products or services more quickly than traditional delivery methods. This means businesses can respond to changes in their business environment faster and have a better chance of remaining competitive.

What is Traditional (Waterfall) Project Management?

Traditional project management, also known as waterfall project management, is a method of creating projects that follow a sequential completion order. Once it begins, team members must complete all tasks before moving on to functions in later phases.

How Are They Different?

  • Project management traditionally encompasses sequential phases; there is no such thing as a phase in agile.
  • In traditional project management, project managers manage all tasks; in agile, team members manage their tasks.
  • In traditional project management, projects have a defined end date.
  • There is no end date; instead, projects are constantly being reviewed and updated; this is why people often call agile an iterative approach to project management.
  • In traditional project management, tasks are typically completed by individuals; however, agile uses a group of people to complete tasks. Teams include team members from different departments who work together to achieve a specific task.

The most significant difference between traditional project management and agile is that agile relies on continuous collaboration between all project stakeholders while traditional focuses on a more hierarchical management style. Communication occurs in a top-down structure in conventional project management: from managers to employees. 

For example, managers assign tasks to employees who then complete them. In contrast, communication happens horizontally across teams or departments in an agile environment. This enables teams to self-organize around specific tasks rather than following a strict hierarchy of roles and managers.

When to Use Each Type of Method

Many organizations use a traditional, Waterfall-style approach to software development—but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. So, for example, if you’re working on a large project with big stakes and many moving parts, you might consider switching to an agile methodology instead.

Here are a few quick questions to ask yourself to help decide whether agile or traditional development is suitable for your project:

How long will your project take? An agile approach might work best if you’re working on something that could take a long time, like creating a software product for an entirely new market. If you plan to spend months or years working on it, it’s worth considering whether an agile methodology will be more effective than a waterfall.

How much will you have to pivot? In an agile methodology, changes are par for the course. For example, if you’re working on a project that will require multiple twists and turns throughout development, it might be worth thinking about how your team will handle those changes.

How familiar is your team with agile development? An agile methodology might be more effective if you hire a new team to work on your project. On the one hand, they won’t have as much experience working with a Waterfall-style methodology. On the other hand, they also won’t be slowed down by previous generations of experience.

There are significant differences between agile and traditional project management. Moreover, there are both pros and cons to these two methods. The key is to know how to employ them wisely in different contexts.

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