Each approach has relevance in the modern business world, but which one is right for IoT development? Here are several criteria to consider:
Easy to Understand
The linear approach of the Waterfall methodology is easy to wrap your head around. Things happen in a pre-defined sequence, and the project can’t move on to the next step until it has met certain gating criteria. This familiar approach is often used outside of the software development world.
In comparison, adopting an Agile approach has a steep learning curve. There’s new terminology to learn (iterations, standups, retros, etc…), and when you first start, it can feel counter-intuitive. Without experienced Agile practitioners at the helm, it’s easy to botch this approach.
With Waterfall development, work is intentionally broken into silos, with each team focusing on their specific function to carry the project to completion. However, in the IoT world, consumer expectations are fueling the need for more communication between project teams. Hardware and software design and development need to happen simultaneously with a great deal of communication between team members with different skills. The Agile methodology focuses on collaboration between teams, which results in getting products to market faster and making more product updates and releases.
Defines the End Goal Early
One of the cornerstones of Waterfall is committing to an end deliverable. For small projects where goals are clear, this step makes your team aware of the overall goal from the beginning, with less potential for getting stuck in the details. However, most IoT projects are neither small nor simple. In these instances, Agile is a better fit because it allows the project to adapt as you learn more about customer needs.
Winner: Depends on Your Project Scope/Complexity
As an internal process, Waterfall focuses very little on the end user of a product. Its main purpose is to help internal teams move more efficiently through the phases of a project. However, it’s often important to involve clients in a project, adding opinions and clarifying what they want as the project moves forward. In these cases, consider an agile methodology to better anticipate change and keep stakeholders informed through the life of the project. By involving stakeholders throughout the process, you lower the risk of late requests for change throwing off your project deadlines.
Agile encourages or requires frequent communication between developers and those who will ultimately accept and use the product. This pays major dividends when effective. For example, feedback can be incorporated into future iterations as increments are delivered and reviewed by users, a Product Owner, or both. False assumptions made by developers can be recognized early, reducing impact. Agile gives us continual opportunities to learn via this feedback.
Testing Early and Often
Though it’s risky to save the testing phase until the last half of a project, Waterfall requires teams to wait until step four of six to test their products. At this point, you’ve already spent a considerable amount of time on the project, so large revisions could cause significant delays.
In contrast, Agile methodologies and continuous delivery are particularly well suited for dealing with the demands of the connected device. With Agile, testing becomes an essential component of each phase of the development process, with quality being “baked in” at every stage. This is especially crucial for IoT development projects because real-world conditions are unpredictable. Continuous testing saves time, money, and frustration.
Adaptability to Change
Waterfall leaves almost no room for unexpected changes or revisions. If your team faces an unplanned roadblock that necessitates a change in scope or goals, pivoting won’t be easy. After all, you’ve put a lot of work into a project under very specific, rigid assumptions. A sudden change to the project can throw off the entire timeline.
In comparison, Agile is built to account for changing requirements, making it easy to adjust your approach to target high-priority issues. Working iteratively gives you more flexibility for change and evolution during product lifecycles. Sprint projects increase manufacturer productivity by pinpointing low-hanging, solvable problems and directing teams to focus on building the most essential features.
While there are advantages to using Waterfall methodologies in some instances, Agile is the clear choice for companies looking to innovate in the IoT space. By eliminating silos, gathering feedback quickly, testing early and often, and being able to adapt to change, Agile can help you beat your competition to market.