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November 7, 2022

 mins to read

A Comparative Guide to Lean, Agile, and Waterfal Product Management Methodology (with Examples)

For centuries after the scientific curiosity of humanity began in Ancient times, many scholars were struggling to come up with a reliable scientific method.

Finally thanks to the efforts of Galileo Galilei, Isaak Newton, Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, and their predecessors, the modern scientific method emerged and began the era of breakthrough scientific discoveries known as the Scientific Revolution (1525-1725).

This is a bright example of how methodology is crucial for progress. A methodology is a set of principles that guide how you do something. It’s also the blueprint for how you structure, plan, and control the process of developing your product or project.  

In the modern digital product world, there is a lot of debate on which product management methodology is the best. Over the years Eleken design agency worked with different product clients and learned about different approaches to product management

In this article, we will explain the three most known product methodologies Lean, Agile, and Waterfall. And compare them so you can choose the product management approach that serves your goals.  

Lean product management methodology

Lean Software Development (Lean SD) is an approach that focuses on eliminating waste from product development by delivering value to customers as quickly as possible. It was originally developed by Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan in order to improve productivity across their automobile manufacturing facility.

Lean is a philosophy of reducing waste in a development or product management process while improving the quality and product life cycle. It focuses on customer value by identifying features that customers need and eliminating everything else. The main goal is to maximize customer value per every dollar spent on the product development. What’s also notable is that Lean methodology does not include much planning or design up front.

In his noteworthy book, “The Lean Startup”, Eric Ries develops main Lean methodology ideas and proves them to be most effective for a startup environment. The Lean methodology emphasizes having a minimum viable product (MVP) ready as early as possible in order to get feedback from users and make improvements before investing more time and resources into building the full product. 

Heaven Diagnostics, one of our recent projects, is an example of a Lean approach: fast-built MVP with a focus on customer value and eliminating unnecessary. 

In close collaboration with a client team, we have conducted UX research and defined value proposition. Based on our findings we created user flows and designed a minimalist MVP that contained only the essential features that would bring the core value to the users. 

The sketches made during brainstorming sessions were transformed into elegant screens like this dashboard with a simple user flow.

The rest of the ideas were implemented during the next stages of product growth. When you’re curious to learn more, don’t hesitate to read our case study.
We also wrote about Lean best practices and product design if you are interested to learn more about Lean methodology. 

Now it’s time to look at methodology very close and yet not the same- Agile.

Agile 

Agile product management methodology is known for being the most flexible and fast approach to building digital products. It is a set of principles that originated from software development companies with the main idea that products should be created in a collaboration of cross-functional teams. The development process should be iterative and rely on real customers` feedback. 

Agile approach to product development is based on many of the same principles as Lean SD, but takes it one step further by placing rapid iteration on top instead of feature set completeness, as well as the prioritization of features based on customer needs. The essence of Agile is to be flexible and fast.

Developing fast but also "failing fast" allows teams to quickly identify problems with their product before they invest too much time and effort into building something that might not work out at all.

Most of our clients work with the Agile framework. Eleken designers participate in Agile practices such as daily standups, plannings, retrospectives, and so on.

From our experience, we were a part of Agile team when were working with the California-based startup. Close collaboration with the client team led us to a thorough understanding of the product we were designing and resulted in a beautiful and functional product, which was mentioned by the company CEO in his review.  

We recommend using Agile if you build a digital product that is user-centered and when you want to enter the market fast. Agile really works magic with modern product design process, as both are user-oriented and open to changing requirements. Thanks to its speed and flexible practices Agile methodology is a great strategy choice for MVP product management

And finally, we get to the third methodology that recently lost its popularity a little, but still has something to teach us. 

Waterfall

The Waterfall originated from factories, as it was aimed to optimize the manufacturing process. Ask any product manager and most likely they will say that the Waterfall methodology itself is a bit outdated considering its linearity. 

In Waterfall, you go step by step and can start the next stage only when the previous ones are complete.  For product management, Waterfall methodology is not the best choice, but it doesn’t mean you can not use it.

For instance, if your goal is to bring a strict order to your project or ensure better documentation for your project, you can use some elements of Waterfall methodology. Here’s how.

The Waterfall product development lies on two pillars: requirements and documentation. Both let your team work more independently and onboard new workers easier. Still, it is best to use Waterfall methodology when there are a lot of predictable variables in the process or when the process is well established.  

If you want to hire a design or development agency, well-written requirements can help your contractors understand your goals and deliver the expected result. However, you can start working with a designer without writing a design brief, but that’s another story.

Clearly stated requirements and a well-organized approach to work remind us of our clients: CRM Gridle. The client provided a very detailed brief and clear processes for our collaboration. The result was a beautiful app redesign that met the client’s expectations as well as users' needs.

Gridle CRM redesign

From our perspective, we can describe the work with the client as very well structured and smooth thanks to their product management approach. 

Considering the everchanging product environment you can try applying Waterfall methodology not to the whole product development process, but on a smaller scale. 

For example, during a design sprint, your team came up with a new feature. Here you can start using Waterfall product management techniques, setting specific requirements for how it should look and work, and then proceed with design and implementation, quickly documenting the process. 

The global Project Management survey from Project Management Institute reports that 20% of respondents used the hybrid Agile/Waterfall method.

You can practice such a hybrid approach and benefit from each methodology to create an innovativing and at the same time well-documented process.  

Final thoughts

Today, when the progress moves faster than the Formula One car, modern and effective methodologies become a must to achieve success.  Of course, the choice is yours which methodology to choose, and I hope we made the benefits of Lean, Agile, and Waterfall a little clearer for you. 

At Eleken we enjoy working with the clients no matter which methodology they choose. Our designers can easily work according to stricter requirements delivering the expected results or can become practically your team members and work to innovate and generate UX and UI ideas along with your team. 

If you have thoughts to share or need a skilled product designer to join your project, please contact us.

Maria Kasymova

Author

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