Waterfall vs Kanban – Principles

Waterfall works best for projects that are completed in a linear fashion whereas, Kanban seeks to manage work by balancing demand with available capacity.

8 min
Waterfall vs Kanban – Principles

Choosing an effective project management methodology often relies on knowing your options and project requirements. In this post, we’ll compare and contrast two popular development process models that can help you optimize your approach to planning, creating, and testing software.

Should you choose Waterfall or Kanban? We’ll explain how each methodology works to help you make an informed decision.

What is Waterfall?

Waterfall takes a sequential approach to software development. Managers using the Waterfall model create stages that define how a project proceeds. Team members must complete one phase of the project before moving forward to the next phase.

A typical software development project will have sequential phases that include:

  • Requirements: Establishing requirements throughout the project, such as setting a timeline and defining milestones.
  • Design: Deciding what hardware and programming language to use based on the project’s needs.
  • Implementation: Implementing the plan and writing the software’s code.
  • Verification: Testing the software to find and document flaws.
  • Deployment: Deploying the finalized product to end-users.
  • Maintenance: Performing maintenance that addresses new bugs and updates the software as needed.

waterfall methodology

It’s important to recognize that a work in progress can not move to the next stage until the current stage has been completed. A visualization of the workflow looks like a waterfall, which is where the model gets its name.

What makes Waterfall special?

The Waterfall is special because it encourages groups to find production methods that work well for them. Once they establish a successful template for work, they can apply it to future projects.

Ideally, it leads to the predictability that helps teams understand how much of the new work they can accept and how much they need to charge for projects.

Why managers use the Waterfall methodology?

Managers might choose Waterfall projects when they want to:

  • Create a timeline and set expectations for the product owner.
  • Give clients accurate price quotes.
  • Establish teams with specific roles. For example, one team will specialize in coding while another will specialize in testing.
  • Deliver a completed project to the owner.
  • Predict potential barriers to success before starting to write code.

With Waterfall projects, you rarely intend to complete ongoing iterations of the software. While you might update the code for future versions, you deliver a completed product to the client.

Are you interested in learning about other approaches to project management? Get started by reading our post about DevOps vs. agile methods.

What does Kanban mean?

Kanban is a lean project management method that breaks milestones into small tasks. As the team completes tasks, it moves closer to project completion.

Unlike the Waterfall process, the Kanban methodology does not force team members to complete entire stages before moving forward with deliverables.

Instead, individuals and teams complete small tasks rapidly while others work on different aspects of the project.

We tend to think of Kanban boards when describing the method. Kanban boards have columns that show a task’s progress. For example, a Kanban board might have columns labeled:

  • Backlog
  • Assigned
  • In progress
  • Testing
  • Finished

You always can start with a simpler board with less columns such as in the ilustration below.

Kanban methodology

The Kanban method often works best when it:

  • Establishes work-in-progress (WIP) limits for each project
  • Follows an ongoing process that emphasizes continuous improvement
  • Encourages team collaboration by improving transparency
  • Sets specific metrics for each task

Unlike scrum boards, Kanban boards do not set strict deadlines for sprint backlog tasks. Instead, people have more flexibility regarding task prioritization, self-organizing, and sprint planning.

Why do development teams use Kanban?

Development teams often like the Kanban system because it relies on small, achievable tasks. The method’s flexibility can also help them avoid bottlenecks because they don’t have to wait for others to complete their jobs before moving forward.

From a psychological perspective, seeing a project move toward the final product can also create a sense of accomplishment that keeps team members motivated without much oversight from managers.

Types of projects that fit Kanban methodology

It often makes sense for project leaders to follow the Kanban method when their projects could benefit from:

  • Streamlining workflows
  • Focusing on rapid iterations instead of trying to build a completed product the first time
  • The transparency that shows who is responsible for a task and the progress they’ve made
  • Prioritizing critical tasks and ensuring they progress accordingly
  • Adapting quickly to unforeseen challenges
  • Tackling challenges as they arise instead of spending time trying to guess how projects will progress
  • Using digital boards to unify teams in virtual spaces

Anyone working with distributed teams will want to use digital Kanban tools that improve communications. Some of the most popular digital tools include:

You can often access basic Kanban board features for free, but you will need a paid membership to unlock the most useful features.

Waterfall vs. Kanban – pros and cons

Waterfall and Kanban have pros and cons that will influence which options stakeholders choose. We’ve put together this list to help you compare and contrast the methods easily.

Waterfall’s advantages

  • Provides a concrete sequence of steps that teams must follow
  • It gives teams predictable frameworks they can apply to future projects
  • Establishes an end goal with defined fundamentals at the beginning of every project

Waterfall’s disadvantages

  • Doesn’t adapt easily to changes that can occur mid-project
  • Developers don’t get ongoing feedback from clients and end-users, which can lead to a larger amount of work
  • Developers don’t learn about bugs until after they finish their work and pass it to testers

Kanban’s benefits

  • Offers an agile approach that can adapt quickly to project changes
  • Adaptable framework adjusts to the requirements of each project instead of trying to apply the same framework to all jobs
  • Encourages continuous improvements and maintains a realistic perspective that anticipates challenges
  • Assigns tasks to individuals or encourages teamwork depending on which approach works better for the job

Kanban’s disadvantages

  • More stand-up meetings can annoy some developers who want to get to work immediately
  • Requires a team of professionals who understand their roles and know how to achieve their assigned tasks
  • Ongoing iterations can become tiresome as stakeholder opinions and requests change throughout a project
  • Development projects can take longer when they don’t have established timelines
How Adservio can help

Still not sure which project development method will serve your needs better? We can help you compare Waterfall, Kanban, and other options, such as agile software development and adding a scrum master to your team.

We want to make sure you have the support you need to make all of your projects successful. Feel free to reach out if interested in learning which method suits your project the most.

Published on
July 13, 2022

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