Agile vs Waterfall Work

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Agile vs Waterfall Work (hereinafter, the Lectio) is the lesson part of Project Work Essentials lesson that introduces its participants to project management concepts. This lesson belongs to the CNMCT Entrance section of the CNM Cyber Placement.


The predecessor lectio is Stages of Project Work.


Every project can be Agile or Waterfall depending on when the executing starts -- after the scope baseline is approved or earlier.
Delaying the executing until the scope baseline is approved suggests the Waterfall model.
For instance, building of a new house needs the baseline. The humanity has been building houses for thousands of years. The process is well-known -- the builders should lay the foundation first to put the walls second. Cost of labor, cost of material, the timeline can be predicted. At the right time, right workers can be hired and right materials can be ordered to be at the budget and on schedule.
On another side, development of CNM Cyber is run without baselines. No one has created CNM Cyber before -- we cannot predict how it will look like, let say, 2 years from now. Volunteers lead developments in which they are interested in and when their time allows.
Starting the executing without the approved scope constitutes an Agile project.
To choose between Agile and Waterfall, the project customer may take into consideration natures of work products and project environments.
Scripted-work products are those work products that development process is structured and known in details. They would include constructions, non-designer clothing, and foods prepared according to recipes.
Unscripted-work products are those work products that development process is unstructured or unknown. They would include first ever radio, first ever airplane, and first ever computer. If developers have no instructions for developing something, development of this something is unscripted.
A project is predictable when a scripted-work product is developed in a controllable environment. The customer's choice is (a) to get the deliverable faster, but, possibly, spending more money or (b) to spend less money and get the deliverable later. The Waterfall model can be perfectly executed under these circumstances and will save money, but Agile would get results faster.
A project is unpredictable when an unscripted-work product is developed in an uncontrollable environment. If the project staff selects the Waterfall, they will have to guess how the development would look like. Most of the guesses may not survive the reality.
Then, the project manager would have to issue requests for change; if the customer approves, disapproves, or modifies these requests fast, the Waterfall can possibly gain the speed of the Agile.
Generally speaking, the Waterfall model needs data to save money and to shorten the timeline. Without data, the Waterfall advantage is useless. In conditions of complete uncertainty, project work may be the only source of data.
At the same time, many projects don't need to be either Agile or Waterfall. Let's take development of the website as an example. This project can be divided into several sub-projects, among which some like front-end and back-end can be Waterfall and the others like design, content, and SEO can be Agile.
Creative works such as content development and design always include both scripted and unscripted aspects. Extremely-exclusive web-design can take a few years and more than a million dollars to develop. It can also take few hours and peanuts to clone or modify some existing design. Since schedules for creative works cannot be really calculated, the customer usually simply sets up their costs and/or timelines, so developers would manage their effort.

Key terms

Agile project, Waterfall project, scripted-work product, unscripted-work product, predictable project, unpredictable project


Waterfall work may best suit when:
  1. The project is predictable.
  2. Work product is scripted.
  3. Scripted work product is developed in a controllable environment
  4. All of the other substantive answers are correct.

  5. The successor lectio is What Project Work Is.