Agile vs Waterfall in Modern Web Design

Agile vs Waterfall

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

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. So what exactly are the differences in agile vs waterfall design?

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. This guide makes it easy to see why.

What Is the Waterfall Approach to Web Design?

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

In comparing agile vs waterfall development, you can 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. 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 an actual 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. In all respects, it’s logical and systematic, but doesn’t lend itself to creative solutions or critical thinking.

This method has been in production for decades, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its flaws. 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 house 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. Ultimately, you’ll be paying for those changes. By having to return to the beginning of the process, the client now has to pay for avoidable repetition. 

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 life cycle. Without that visualization, it’s next to impossible for either the developers or the client to foresee what changes may be needed. This leads to multiple re-works, when the issues could have been addressed early in the process.

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 the design appears on smartphones and tablets. Constantly evolving mobile innovation and expectations means complex revisions may be necessary.

Project Requirements Are Needed Up Front

It’s difficult for the typical small business owner to know exactly what they want or need 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. The client will likely face costly revisions and delays with redoing the project.

It also makes it more difficult for the developers and designers to provide their expert input on the project. Agile problem solving is one of our developers’ greatest assets, and it isn’t always possible to make changes in such a strictly structured method.

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.

By comparing agile vs waterfall development, you can see that this process focuses on adding, testing, and tweaking functionalities of a project.  The team can explore potential changes as development progresses. 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-based sprints are becoming increasingly important when creating responsive designs that look great and function well across all devices.

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

The Benefits of an Agile Design Process

The benefits of an agile process are almost direct counterpoints to the disadvantages of the waterfall method. Agile development combats some of the most costly, time-consuming factors of the waterfall process. In doing so, it give companies a more flexible 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. You can make sure your design looks great with the actual content, not just as a mockup.

It also allows for multiple teams to be working on a project at once. The developers can work on code, while designers work on graphics and layout. All the while, support staff and project managers can be working with the client to add data and address changes. This helps to produce a more cohesive product on a faster timeline when working with agile vs waterfall development styles.

Tweak as You Go

We have found that clients very often either change or add features if they can see a ‘live and functioning’ site during the development phase. It’s much more difficult to gauge a project from a static Photoshop mockup.

Less Overall Project Cost

Clients can enjoy a lower overall project cost when changes are able to be made quickly and as needed. This gives you more flexibility to get the features you want.

Using Agile vs Waterfall Development For Your Project

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

We provide access to our project management system. It simplifies communication on the project and helps to keep our clients involved during the entire build process. By encouraging your participation in the development process, we are able to ensure that the final product exceeds your expectations and solves problems you may not have even considered.

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

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