Posted By
Lisa Richter Industry Director Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) Oakbrook Terrace, IL
Blog Categories

Agile vs. Waterfall: Which Way Is the Most Successful?

PostedFriday, September 20,2019 at 11:28 AM

Agile vs. Waterfall: Which Way Is the Most Successful?
Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Historically a software development/IT concept, agile project management methodology is creeping into other areas of the enterprise – from marketing to human relations and, yes, even manufacturing. But what about system integration? Is there a place for it?

According to Tom Sulda, director and lead trainer for Latsa, the answer is a resounding yes … maybe.

What Is Waterfall Methodology?

A waterfall approach attempts to gather all the project requirements from the customer, then define a solution, estimate the cost and profit percentage of that solution, and then proposes both a solution and a cost.

Sounds logical and simple enough. But as Sulda points out, there are some downsides.

For starters, clients are all over the map in terms of being technically savvy – and that means they don’t always know what they don’t know.

Therefore, there are some “clients who are very easy because they can be very clear about what they want and why they want it,” explains Sulda. On the other hand, they can be “very challenging because they are not sure about what they want and when it comes to delivery, they can challenge what they received and that’s when you get disputes.”

Another downside: Scope creep.

“With the waterfall methodology, time and costs are invariably fixed,” says Sulda. “So, when the client wants to change or challenge the scope, you get into the question of, who pays for added time and cost?”

 What Is Agile Methodology?

The agile methodology is a more iterative approach to project management. In system integration, that means using techniques such as requirements prioritization. Each requirement is estimated for time and cost to complete and the project cost reflects delivery of everything in the prioritized requirements list (PRL), according to Sulda.

He explains it this way: “There are four prioritization categories: must have, should have, could have, and won’t have for now.

“So how does this work? Well the time and cost are fixed around delivering each all requirements, but there is a pragmatism that everything will not be delivered. This is because getting the job done and extracting value (like getting a plant up and running ASAP) is of greater value than arguing about the color and format of HMI for instance,” says Sulda.

In these projects, says Sulda, both the SI and the client expect that all the musts will be delivered, which translates into delivering the minimum viable product (MVP).

“We normally see the musts, shoulds and some of the coulds delivered,” says Sulda. “But it also means that we are not arguing about scope so much but rather getting the MVP in place so that the customer can begin to generate revenue or ROI quickly.”

What Are the Cons to Agile?

Agile is not a silver bullet, Sulda is quick to point out. Both the SI and the client need to give up something in return for mutual benefit. The SI sticks to the quote, while the client is satisfied and understands that the SI will not deliver everything in the PRL.

“The ultimate success in these relationships is fixed profit from the supplier’s side,” says Sulda, “On the client side, it’s a product that realizes financial and non-financial benefits from day 1 and a project delivered on time.”

And, finally, agile is not for everyone. According to Sulda, “It requires a mature and collaborative culture – if you don’t have these already it will be risky as is any process change within your business."

If you do decide to give agile a try, start small, Sulda advises.

“Be patient – don’t use the “big bang” approach – it will most likely fail,” he says. “Start slow and work on the techniques that will give the greatest benefit and ROI first.”

To hear more from Sulda about project management, listen to Episode 30 of Talking Industrial Automation podcast.