Agile vs Traditional Waterfall in Modern Web Design

When most people think of the website development process, the waterfall approach still guides their decisions. But agile web development is proving to be a preferred methodology while revealing the flawed process of the traditional waterfall.

Both the waterfall and agile methods share many of the same characteristics: they’re both process-based, they both require a great deal of planning and testing, and they’re both widely used in developing modern websites.

At Glendale Designs, we approach all of our projects using the agile development method, and this guide makes it easy to see why.

agile vs waterfallWhat Is the Waterfall Approach to Web Design?

The waterfall method has long been the unchallenged way of developing new websites. This process consists of a series of phases, with developers starting with one and completing it before moving on to another. None of the phases are tweaked or revisited until all phases have been completed.

Think of it as though you were building a house: you must pour a foundation before you start framing or roofing. But you wouldn’t decide to adjust the foundation during the framing process. Rather, you’d complete the house before deciding to add to its footprint because otherwise, it would require you to tweak all phases of building, not just the foundation.

In essence, waterfall design works in the same way. You move from one phase to the next, then look at the completed project as a whole before making any adjustments. Just like a waterfall, you can’t go “upstream” to work on previous parts of the project — only by returning to the top can you go through the process again.

The Complications with the Waterfall Method

The advantages of the waterfall methodology make it appealing to developers: clear deadlines are in place, which make it easy to predict costs and development time. It’s a disciplined approach that doesn’t allow dev teams to cut corners or skip steps. It requires thorough documentation that will lay the groundwork for subsequent phases. And, it’s an easy methodology to learn, even if some team members have no experience in following the waterfall pattern.

This method has been in production for decades, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its flaws. And it’s the complications with the waterfall method that have led development teams to experiment with new methodologies like agile development:

Waterfall Design Is Costly

Going back to our home analogy, imagine building an entire house, then deciding you wanted to move the master bedroom to the other side. How much deconstruction do you think would be necessary?

Developers go into waterfall design knowing that change is likely necessary. Still, that doesn’t make it any easier to make the changes clients need, and ultimately you’ll be paying for those changes.

Delivery Times Are Slower

There’s a lot that happens during the waterfall method before any coding can be done. Teams won’t see a working prototype until very late in the project lifecycle.

Also, consider that creating a mockup of a design in the waterfall method doesn’t always translate when looking at the real thing. Once you plug in actual content (e.g. images, text, or pricing) into the pretty block elements with lorem ipsum placeholders, the design ‘breaks’ and fails miserably. This risk is complicated by how it appears on smartphones and tablets, which means complex revisions may be necessary.

Project Requirements Are Needed Up Front

It’s difficult for stakeholders and leaders to know exactly what they want at the beginning of a project, but the waterfall method requires it. This creates a much bigger risk of developers not hitting the target on the first prototype, which means they likely face costly revisions and other problems with redoing the project.

Testing Can Be Overlooked

Testing is always a necessary component, but because it happens so late during the waterfall method it’s really more of an afterthought than an integral part of the development. Teams may be tempted to neglect testing in order to rush the project to completion to meet deadlines.

And as you know, a poorly designed product that hasn’t been properly tested could be a major failure upon launch.

What is the Agile Design Method?

The agile design method has been a long-awaited upgrade that addresses and eliminates some of the core issues with the waterfall method.

This process focuses on adding, testing, and tweaking functionalities to a website and exploring potential changes as development continues. Features go through a testing and revision process in weekly or bi-weekly “sprints” that dial in on specifics, rather than completing the whole project before revisions are discussed. These session-bases sprints are becoming increasingly important when creating responsive designs that will look great and function well across devices.

The agile method allows companies to get real insight as to what they like and don’t like, what works well and what needs to be fixed, so that developers know where to allocate their time and resources for an optimized website.

The Benefits of an Agile Design Process

As you may have guessed, the benefits of an agile process are almost identical to the disadvantages of the waterfall method. Agile combats some of the most costly, time-consuming factors of waterfall process to give companies a more streamlined approach to web development.

Faster Working Prototype

Clients will see a working prototype much sooner with the agile method, which can then move the project forward much faster. By having a working prototype, you can better visualize what changes need to happen and make sure your design looks great with the actual content, not just as a mockup.

Tweak as You Go

We have found that clients very often either changes features or want to add features if they can see a ‘live and functioning’ site during the development phase versus static Photoshop mockups. This gives you a chance to get a better feel for your investment and know where you want to take it.

Less Overall Project Cost

When changes can be made quickly and without completely revamping the project multiple times, clients can enjoy a lower overall project cost. This gives you more flexibility to get the features you want.

Let Glendale Designs Help Your Development Project Succeed

Glendale Designs has been using the agile development process for over three years now because of how effective it’s been in the project outcome. In an agile environment, it is critical for the client to provide input and feedback within every stage of the project.

Glendale Designs provide access to our project management system which simplifies communication on the project and our customers like being able to participate during the process.

Reach out to us today to learn more about our development process and let us collaborate with you on your upcoming website projects.