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Sprint vs. Cascade. Which will work better for project development?

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Sprint derives from the "Agile Manifesto," the idea of Agile business management, which was formally born in 2001 in Snowbird, where 17 representatives of American software companies met.

Together they determined what the description that would make up the Agile methodologies would look like.

A concise list of principles to follow emerged. It showed that the management method that enforces the Cascade model doesn't always work best.

What does the manifesto include? It indicates that people and interactions are valued more than processes and tools. Furthermore, working software is more important than detailed documentation, cooperation with the customer is more important than negotiating contracts, and responding to changes is more important than implementing an established plan.

The universal Agile Manifesto

We should add that the Agile Manifesto is universal – we can apply it to different areas of life, not just creating a digital product.

Although let's keep in mind that its core idea is expressed in the fact that organizations have dysfunctions that hinder work and cause individuals not to realize their full potential.

That's why it shouldn't be surprising that "Agile" is not only used by companies that do programming. An example is the MIXD studio in Wroclaw, which was established in January 2018. The company designs commercial interiors: such as restaurants, hotels, retail chains, and offices, including those for the American IT sector.

Is Agile methodology a guarantee for success?

The company's revenue increased by 230% just a couple of months after launch. MIXD's founder, Piotr Kalinowski, admitted that this success is, among other things, the result of operating in the spirit of Agile methodology.

..."Agile" is not only used by companies that do programming.

In MIXD, a vision and a plan are formed, which are characteristics of the Cascade, but both elements refer only to what is sure not to change.

As a result, the Wroclaw-based company, during the work, creates, among other things, a product roadmap and milestones consisting of periods of one to three months, as well as sprints.

However, the key is continuous cooperation with a customer, which ensures that a product is improved according to the customer's needs.

Unfortunately, Agile management won't work for all companies. It'll especially be a problem in those organizations where people avoid responsibility.

The initial enthusiasm about a new management method will be replaced by sinking back into contracts and documentation.

MIXD employees
MIXD is a Polish company that uses Agile methodology for interior design.

Sprint as a part of Agile

One of the hallmarks of Agile is a Sprint, which is a maximum of four weeks of work on a project during which we plan with a budget in mind.

Our task is to achieve a goal of a given sprint, and the most important thing is customer needs. At the end of a sprint, we need to achieve some concrete results.

A Design Sprint starts with an idea; then, we have a ready-to-use product, customer consultation, review, and retrospective. The concept of a finished product depends on the definition adopted by a team.

Whereas reviewing means deciding what to focus on in the next sprint. A retrospective, on the other hand, is an evaluation of a team in order to improve its work. This pattern repeats until we reach the set goal.

Agile was created 25 years ago in Silicon Valley, although its name only first appeared in the "Agile Manifesto" (2001). Jeff Sutherland (see photo), Jeff McKenna, and John Scumniotales, among others, played a considerable role in creating agile management.

Jeff Sutherland, software developer and creator of the Scrum method of Agile software development

Agile was created 25 years ago in Silicon Valley, although its name only first appeared in the "Agile Manifesto" (2001). Jeff Sutherland (see photo), Jeff McKenna, and John Scumniotales, among others, played a considerable role in creating agile management.

A 5-day Design Sprint

We have a 5-day Design Sprint – an introduction before Scrum or Cascade. Jake Knapp, a designer who first worked at Microsoft and later joined Google, noted that project management leaves much to be desired at both companies. And this is true at the level of communication and moving through the project stages.

In 2012, Knapp joined Google Ventures, where he spearheaded the implementation of the idea of more efficient project management.

Jake Knapp says that releasing a stripped-down version of a product to see if there is potential behind it isn't the best idea. He believes it is better to offer companies data collected from a realistic prototype.

In the case of a website, all we need to do is prepare a series of slides in Keynote to mimic the look of a site. An interesting fact: Design Sprint played an essential role in creating Slack, Zalando, and Medium.

Cascade Model

The opposite of the 4-week maximum sprint is the Cascade model. Winston W. Royce first wrote about it in 1970. In the article "Managing the Development of Large Software Systems."

Born in 1929, the computer scientist described the sequential execution of the basic steps that make up the next stage of a project. Winston W. Royce writes that before moving on to the next phase, it's necessary to document and complete the previous phase thoroughly.

The Cascade model distinguishes several stages (phases) of work:

  • Requirements definition – we define the detailed requirements for the system under development
  • Designing – we create an accurate system design that will meet the predetermined requirements
  • Deployment – we deploy the project into a specific development environment while remembering to test individual modules
  • Testing – we integrate modules, test subsystems, and software
  • Maintenance – we let users use the software, and then we fix bugs, make changes and expand system functions

Winston W. Royce states that such a methodology is "risky and brings trouble" and will only work in software development – and only if a lot of testing is done and with a good knowledge of customer needs.

However, the Cascade model will prove to be useful when the scope of work and requirements are stable and known at the beginning of a project. If we plan to use a proven, familiar and stable technology, we gain an additional argument for using the Cascade model.

Jake Knapp - the author of the book Sprint during a speech
Jake Knapp is the author of the book "Sprint."

Its primary advantage is based on reducing the risk of failure, but only if we have limitations in the contract (such as execution time, budget, etc.). What's more, Cascade allows us to identify the fundamental phases of software development and organize the development process. That translates into easier planning and management.

The most significant disadvantage of the Cascade is that the subsequent phases are strictly defined, which is a major limitation and sometimes hinders project implementation.

We should remember that the project assumptions can change dynamically, so it's better to bet on flexibility.

Because detecting errors made during the testing or use phase will result in high costs.

In addition, we deliver a working product only at the very end, so the result obtained may differ from what the customer expected.

Do you want to create or improve your product?

Sprint vs. Cascade model

Now, let's take a look at the performance of Sprint and Cascade.

Team engagement

Those who have encountered Agile management say it engages more than the Cascade model, those involved in a project influence its design in technical and organizational aspects.

Regular business meetings with management provide an opportunity to understand better the product vision, user needs, and why we made a given business decision.

Although, it's important to remember that we need employees who are not only competent and motivated but also not afraid of working independently.

Our team members are further motivated because Sprint makes them feel responsible for the success of a project.


A sprint is a stage of work that lasts up to four weeks. During this time, we achieve the goal of a particular sprint, where the customer's needs are the most important. A five-day Design Sprint is also possible, during which we define an idea and prepare a simple prototype – an excellent introduction to Scrum or Cascade.

The Cascade model involves creating a detailed description of what a system should look like. That is strenuous work for the contractor since such a document can consist of dozens of pages; in turn, the client is responsible for familiarizing themselves with its contents.

It's not easy to understand because it is usually a complex analysis. The constant debating and the fact that it's challenging to take a step back during the work further slow down the whole process.


Sprint offers much more flexibility than the Cascade model. That's because, during a Sprint, the team works with the client all the time, and the work is divided into single short phases.

Making corrections is not as problematic as in the Cascade model, where going back to a previous phase to make changes can be a massive headache, not to mention making modifications to the final product.


The idea of a sprint is to operate as effectively as possible and adapt to changes. Jake Knapp mentions a couple of ideas that were born in Google Ventures during one of his speeches.

It turned out that often an idea was implemented only after a few years, or sometimes it was never implemented because the idea lost its relevance over time. That is a common characteristic of Cascade, where we have a predetermined range of operations.


Sprint is much more flexible than the Cascade model; through it, we can make changes on the fly, while Cascade is less susceptible to modification.

It'll be much more costly to make changes at the final stage. In addition, it may turn out that over time, our idea is no longer relevant.

Although the cost of implementing an agile method, which includes sprints, isn't much higher than other software methodologies.


Unlike the Cascade model, Sprint avoids constant debate at all costs, relying instead on fast and effective communication. It's not about constantly ongoing conversations but quickly finding solutions.

A man overcoming a precipice by cooperating with other people
Sprints make the team more engaged in a project.

Pros and cons of Sprint and Cascade

Finally, we present the advantages and disadvantages of Sprint and Cascade.

Advantages of Cascade:

  • It'll work well for small projects with easy-to-understand requirements.
  • The simplicity of management – all phases have their own character, defined results, and review process.
  • The method is easy to adapt, even if teams change.
  • Process and results are well documented.
  • It makes it easy to manage dependencies.

Disadvantages of the Cascade:

  • The method will be less effective if we don't have strictly determined requirements from the beginning.
  • It won't work very well for large projects.
  • Going back to a previous phase to make changes is very difficult.
  • The testing process doesn't begin until after programming is complete, resulting in bugs that are costly to fix.

Advantages of Sprint:

  • Teams are perfectly motivated and self-organized, resulting in better project results.
  • A customer is constantly involved in the product development process.
  • The Agile method of software creation maintains the quality of development.
  • There is very efficient communication within a team.
  • Ultimately, Sprint will save time and money.
  • The process is entirely based on continuous progress. A client and a team know well what is finished and what is not. As a result, we reduce the risk.

Disadvantages of Sprint:

  • The cost of implementing an agile method, which includes sprints, isn't much higher than other software methodologies.
  • Important decisions need to be made during a meeting.
  • It won't work well for small development projects.
  • If a project manager isn't sure what result they want to achieve, the venture can quickly go bankrupt.

Title image: Francisco Goya, "Duel with clubs."

How you like that:
Journal / JPG / Burakowski - avatar
Author: Piotr Burakowski
Business and technology journalist, publishing since 2006.
Reviewer: Dymitr Romanowski

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