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Picking a Project Management Methodology

~ By Mark Phillips

PDCA methodology infographic

A short study from Vertabase on choosing between an agile or waterfall approach for a software development project.

We were having an internal meeting to pick a project management methodology for a web project we are working on for a new client. As developers of commercial software, our instinct was to lean towards an agile based approach where our process would be:

  • Make an initial feature list
  • Get time estimates on each feature
  • Prioritise the list
  • Time box the development effort
  • Build and test as much as possible in that time
  • Launch
  • Get user feedback

This works great for a tightly defined set of deliverables and a client who has done software before. However, that's not what this project is nor the profile of this client.

More than building features, this client is interested in having us take care of them. They are new to technology. They have a great idea, an understanding of their target users and the enthusiasm to stick with the project.

In their case, we are providing a full service consulting and execution experience. The application we're building is the centre of that experience, it's the basis for the services we're providing. But the scope extends way beyond building the application.

In this scenario, a waterfall approach combined with constant communication and flexibility is the right approach. Namely, the focus will be to:

  • Understand the client's vision
  • Write a detailed, final specification through many iterations
  • Brainstorm with the client
  • Build according to the specification
  • Launch an alpha internally for functionality and scope affirmation
  • Integrate comments and changes
  • Another alpha release iterate
  • Launch a beta for testing and scalability
  • Bug fix and test
  • Bug fix and test
  • Bug fix and test
  • Launch to the public

All the while, we will be educating the client on different facets of development, software, user experience and running a software based business. We'll be having numerous discussions and creative brainstorming sessions. We will be delivering the exact product they want and providing the service level they've requested. The specification and the process itself become the foundation for the conversations and the subject, as it were, around which our conversations, services and deliverables will revolve.

Both agile and waterfall can be powerful approaches. It all depends on the context of the engagement. You have to pick the right methodology for the right engagement and the right client. As the dean of a local incubator said yesterday, it's about finding the right fit.


Mark Phillips is the product manager and principal at Vertabase project management software. He has worked with hundreds of companies to improve their workflow on thousands of projects. A regular speaker at conferences and user groups, Mark's articles have appeared in ComputerWorld Magazine, C|Net and in upcoming issues of Fusion Authority. He writes regularly at the Vertabase blog. Mark has a B.Sc. [Econ] from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a Masters in Applied Economics from the University of Michigan.


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