Scrum vs. Waterfall: 3 Reasons Scrum Trumps Waterfall
Scrum and waterfall are among today’s most popular development methodologies. We examine the differences between waterfall and scrum, and make an argument for why Scrum is the best choice.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in 2014. It’s been so popular that we updated it in 2020.
When you go to get a haircut, you probably start the appointment by talking to the stylist about your hair goals and vision. The stylist uses this information to make a plan of action before beginning work, and as the hour passes and the stylist cuts and snips, blow drys, then cuts and snips some more, while checking in with you each step along the way and before departing from our plan. This process works well for most people, as they can anticipate the outcome and ensure satisfaction with how it’s going at each step. No one would willingly put on the smock without a word and close their eyes until it was all over – for most, hair is too important to take that kind of risk.
Like a good haircut, a website or application is a reflection of who you and your business are. When you develop with Scrum, you can stay involved in your project’s creation from conception to completion. Of course, scrum isn’t the only development methodology out there, and it’s often considered alongside the more traditional method, waterfall. Below I compare the definition of the Scrum methodology versus waterfall, and share 3 reasons why Scrum is generally the best choice.
Scrum vs Waterfall
What’s the difference between waterfall and scrum? The two methodologies vary a great deal, and understanding the difference helps you choose which is best for your team and company. Here at Praxent, we’re big proponents of Scrum.
How Scrum Works
Scrum is the core process behind agile development, an iterative and inherently-flexible development process. In agile or Scrum, team members work concurrently in short bursts referred to as “sprints.” Changes are anticipated and built into the process, which allows for projects to evolve during the course of development – without causing devastating effects to the overall timeline or project budget. The advantage of Scrum over waterfall is that this agile structure provides some “wiggle room,” so changes can be made to features, functionality or even scope throughout the course of the project.
How Waterfall Works
Waterfall is a “top down” or linear approach to development, wherein each task is completed in sequential order. Each task’s completion is wholly dependent on completion of the task preceding it. In this way, waterfall work is like a moving train – once it starts down its path, it’s hard to stop or massively change course. Making changes under waterfall development is costly and inefficient, as any adjustments come at the end of the process which can severely impact overall timeline and budget.
3 Advantages Of Scrum Over Waterfall
Value Early and Often
When using the Waterfall approach, you won’t see viable software until more than half way through the development process. This means you have to wait until at least 50% of the planned work is done (and budget used up) before you’re able to see, feel, or validate that your product is on the right track. With Scrum, however, you get working software much more quickly, and the completion of each Sprint results in more valuable features. This enables you to create prototypes and do iterative testing to ensure your product is hitting the mark, and enables you to course correct if it’s not. While changing course in a Waterfall project can be devastating to your budget or even impossible, Scrum’s flexibility allows for and even anticipates changes or pivots.
Transparency Instead Of Opacity
With Waterfall, each stage of the process (roughly, Analyze, Design, Develop, Integrate, Test) is handled by a separate team with information flowing only one step in either direction. This creates opportunities for miscommunication and disconnect. Because Scrum is an iterative process handled by the same Development Team each step of the way, there are fewer people to keep in the loop and everyone speaks the same language. Scrum’s daily ritual, “stand up,” further ensures the entire team is on the same page each and every day.
Another key difference between waterfall and Scrum in this arena is that Scrum also creates its own productivity data through User Stories, Points, and Burndown Charts. These data and controls create transparency for the Stakeholders and hold the Development Team accountable to a realistic schedule. Where a Waterfall project might be stuck in a stage with no end in sight, a Scrum Product Owner can always identify project status, accurately extrapolate a completion timeline, and calculate how much money it will take to get there.
Adaptive Planning Leaves Room to Grow
A big advantage of Scrum over waterfall is that Scrum leaves room for the development process to reveal new opportunities. Because everything flows linearly with Waterfall, trying to change course midway through a project is like trying to swim upstream in a flash flood; it’s extremely risky and difficult. Because Scrum begins with the assumptions that the finished product will be different (and better) than the original vision, it builds in opportunities to analyze and adjust the project’s direction. This means it’s possible to end up with a product even better than the original vision, and one that meets a client’s needs exactly – even if those needs have evolved over the course of the project.
>>> For common Scrum vocabulary and definitions, check out our Scrum Glossary
At Praxent, we follow the Scrum methodology on all our development projects, ensuring we are effective and create the best products for our clients’ needs and budgets. Have a project you’d like to discuss and overwhelmed by comparing Scrum and waterfall methodologies? Contact us today!