web developer at work

In researching outsourced web development, you may have come across a few different ways to get your project built and have some questions as a result. How well defined do the project requirements need to be prior to starting development? Will Waterfall or Agile methods deliver the best results? Should you look for a consultancy offering team augmentation or in-house Agile-based work? What are the ramifications for your project of picking one or the other?

Let’s take a look at each of these questions, and what we recommend for different projects.

Project definition

Moving forward with a project happens when three key pieces of information are known, including:

  • Budget: How much are you willing and able to spend?
  • Timeline: How quickly do you need the final deliverable?
  • Project requirements, e.g. a product roadmap, release plan, and/or defined MVP: Do you have a clear idea of what you want to build?

With this knowledge, a project can be estimated, giving you a better idea of how much can be built for your budget, whether there are time- or cost-saving alternatives, and whether additional or different work could add value to the project.

If you don’t have a timeline or budget, but do know what you want to build and can provide requirements and documentation, a team can evaluate the project and provide a cost and projected timeline.

Or, perhaps you know your timeline and budget but are still working on the third piece: clearly defining what exactly you are trying to build. Even if you think this part is figured out, it often happens that stakeholders have different visions for the project and lack a shared understanding, which can be time-consuming and costly to address later.

How do you check that everyone involved in the project really does have the same understanding of what will be delivered? A discovery phase is an excellent first step.

The discovery phase of a project consists of steps aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the product, including its contexts, its users, and the business goals it is meant to support. One approach employed during the discovery phase is a discovery workshop, which may include a number of activities aimed at determining what should be developed and what the priorities are.

In the discovery workshop, the process of product discovery aids in framing the problem the product should solve; identifying user roles; mapping out user actions, tasks, and workflows; and finally sketching out ideas for a product that addresses each of those steps based on the unified vision gained from the workshop. Furthermore, techniques like user story mapping contribute greatly to building a high-level release plan that clearly prioritizes the most valuable features for development and gets the project off to a strong start.

Waterfall or Agile?

Once you know what you want to build, how quickly you need it, and how much you can spend, it’s time to look at the different ways of developing the application or website.

Waterfall and Agile are both methodologies, or processes, to guide software design and development. The principles of each methodology inform how the project is managed in terms of how it moves through each phase of development, how and when feedback is received and implemented, and when testing is carried out.

One of the main differences between the two methodologies is that Waterfall follows a linear model, where each succeeding phase is started only after the previous has been completely finished. In this model, the client doesn’t see any of the work until the project nears completion. The different team roles (designers, developers, quality assurance, and so on) don’t collaborate throughout the project, only seeing what the other team has built when it’s their turn to begin, and testing is carried out at the end.

Agile follows an iterative model. In iterative software development, work is broken into chunks that can be completed in a short time frame, with testing ongoing throughout. At the end of each iteration, the goal is to have a potentially complete product increment which can then be built on as needed.

Another difference between the two methodologies is that Agile development considers change to be part of the process. With Waterfall, it can be increasingly difficult to make changes or implement feedback as the project approaches completion. By the time the project is shared for review, it may be too late to make adjustments. In contrast, Agile teams produce usable software to give feedback on throughout the process and are able to implement that feedback more easily.

At Caktus, we use Agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban to develop projects because it enables us to act on feedback and ensure we’re delivering the most valuable features first, a tenet of the Caktus Success Model. It also ensures that we’re focusing on those features which have been prioritized as most important by the client, even when priorities change.

What does this mean for our clients? In short, rather than asking a client to pay for work and then wait until the end of a project to see the results, we present production-ready features on a regular basis. That work can then be evaluated by client stakeholders, and feedback can be prioritized and implemented throughout the project in a continuous loop.

It’s worth mentioning that some level of flexibility in at least one of the three elements of a project as defined in the first section - scope, time, or budget - is necessary to work on Agile development. It is this flexibility that enables a team to accommodate any changes that may arise and to respond to client feedback as the project progresses.

Client-managed project, or vendor-managed project?

In addition to the methodologies themselves, there are a few different ways to manage the projects. If you have an internal development team and project manager (PM), client-managed team augmentation may be an option. This is most feasible when the need for staff is temporary and one or a few roles are needed for a set number of hours per week to support the on-time completion of a project.

Team augmentation is most effective when a clear product roadmap is in place and you have an internal PM. If you lack a project manager or aren’t entirely sure what tasks need to be carried out and when, it’s common for a contractor to lack clarity on what tasks take priority and how they should be spending their hours. In that case, a more effective option may be an Agile-based project entirely contracted out to a custom development firm.

In this scenario, the external team is responsible for maintaining the backlog of tasks and features (with your input and feedback on priorities), determining what is worked on in each development period, and building and testing the work. All tasks, including project management, development, and quality assurance testing, are carried out by the external team.

That doesn’t mean the project is out of your hands. While working with the external team, you still play a key role as a stakeholder. The stakeholder stays in touch with the team, giving feedback and communicating priorities, and maintains the overall vision of what should be produced. There are regular opportunities to see progress as well as to communicate what is going well, what can be improved, and how well expectations are being met. This enables the team working on the project to deliver a product aligned to your specifications and objectives.

Get started

Ready to move forward with development? Caktus offers discovery workshops, team augmentation, and Agile-based development services. Even if you’re still unsure what will work best for your project, our experienced team can help determine which solutions will be most effective. Contact us to get started.

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