Approaches to Custom Software Development Project Management

Project managers approach custom software development project management in a few different ways.

They have several methodologies at their disposal to tackle the challenges of this field. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses.

Modern software project managers most often use some type of Agile methodology, usually mixing in elements from other methods they find effective.

This article gives you a quick breakdown of the most well-known methodologies used in custom software development projects.


The Waterfall methodology, sometimes called the Waterfall model, is a structured and sequential approach to project management. Although it was once popular, it is now rarely used in software development. However, understanding Waterfall provides a historical context for understanding Agile and other methodologies.

Waterfall got its name because the project stages cascade downward in a single direction, never flowing back up. Projects are divided into distinct phases (typically five to seven) that progress linearly, one after another. Each phase must be completed and approved before moving on to the next, with minimal to no revisiting of previous stages.

Typical Waterfall Phases

The specific phases may vary slightly depending on the implementation, but typical phases include five core stages.

  1. Requirements Gathering: This initial phase involves meticulously defining project goals, functionalities, and user needs.
  2. Design: Here, the team creates a detailed blueprint for the project, outlining system architecture, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) mockups, and technical specifications.
  3. Implementation: In this phase, software engineers develop the code based on the approved design documents.
  4. Verification (Testing): The developed software undergoes rigorous testing to identify and fix bugs and ensure it meets the initial requirements.
  5. Maintenance: Once deployed, a support team monitors the software for issues, receives bug fixes, and updates the product as needed.

Strengths of Waterfall

  • Structure and Clarity: The clear phase structure keeps projects well-organized and easy to track.
  • Upfront Planning: Thorough planning at the beginning minimizes surprises later in development.
  • Predictability: The linear flow allows for more predictable timelines and resource allocation.
  • Documentation-Driven: The emphasis on documentation ensures clear communication and a record of project decisions.

Weaknesses of Waterfall

  • Inflexibility: Adapting to changing requirements or new ideas midway through the project can be difficult and costly.
  • Limited User Feedback: Since user feedback comes late in the process, it may not be effectively incorporated.
  • Risk of Late Defects: Errors identified during testing can be expensive and time-consuming to fix if they require revisiting earlier phases.

When to Use Waterfall

Waterfall offers a structured approach for software development projects that prioritizes planning and documentation. However, its inflexibility makes it less suitable for projects with evolving requirements or a high degree of user input—in other words, most software projects. Because of this limitation, Waterfall is not often used for custom software development project management.


The Agile software development methodology emphasizes adaptability, collaboration, and iterative development. It was created by project managers frustrated by Waterfall’s rigid, linear approach.

Agile Manifesto and Values

The foundation of Agile lies in the Agile Manifesto, a document outlining the values and principles that guide Agile practices. These values prioritize:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

These values emphasize people and flexibility over rigid structures and procedures.

Key Agile Characteristics

  • Iterative Development: Projects get broken down into smaller, time-boxed cycles called sprints (usually 1-4 weeks). Each sprint focuses on delivering a functional chunk of the software, allowing for continuous feedback and adaptation.
  • Continuous Improvement: Agile promotes ongoing evaluation and improvement throughout the course of custom software development projects. Teams reflect on their performance in each sprint and adapt their approach for the next one.
  • Customer Collaboration: Close collaboration with customers is central to Agile. The methodology actively involves the customer in the development process to give feedback and help prioritize features.
  • Empowered Teams: Agile teams are typically self-organizing and cross-functional, with members possessing the skills to complete tasks without strict hierarchies.

Strengths of Agile

  • Flexibility: Adapting to changing requirements or new ideas is easier due to its iterative nature.
  • Faster Time-to-Market: Delivering functional software in short sprints allows for earlier user feedback and quicker product launches.
  • Improved Quality: Focusing on continuous testing and feedback helps ensure a higher quality final product.
  • Increased Customer Satisfaction:  Close collaboration with customers leads to a product that better meets their needs.

Weaknesses of Agile

  • Potentially Unpredictable Scope:  The focus on flexibility can sometimes lead to scope creep, where additional features get added without proper planning.
  • Heavy Reliance on Communication:  Agile requires a high level of communication and collaboration within the team.
  • May Not Suit All Projects:  Agile might not be ideal for custom software development projects with strict regulatory requirements or complex upfront dependencies.

When to Use Agile

Agile methodologies offer a flexible and adaptable approach to custom software development project management. Agile prioritizes continuous improvement and customer involvement. It’s a good fit for projects with evolving requirements, a need for fast feedback, and a focus on delivering value early and often.

Few software development companies use a pure Agile process. Most use a “flavor” of Agile, such as Scrum, Kanban, and others. Learn more about Agile in our white paper, Agile Project Management: A Complete Guide.


Scrum is arguably the most popular Agile framework for creating a custom software development project plan. It implements the core Agile principles within a defined structure. If you outsource the project to a custom software development company, they’ll likely use Scrum.

Scrum relies on three key elements to facilitate project delivery: Roles, Artifacts, and Events.


  • Product Owner: The voice of the customer, prioritizing the product backlog (a list of features) and ensuring it aligns with customer needs.
  • Scrum Master: The facilitator and coach, ensuring the Scrum process is followed effectively and removing roadblocks for the team.
  • Development Team: A cross-functional group with the skills to complete product increments within a sprint.

Jeff Ferguson, Taazaa’s Senior Agile Practitioner, discusses these roles in this short video:


  • Product Backlog: A prioritized list of features and functionalities for the entire project.
  • Sprint Backlog: A subset of items from the product backlog chosen for a specific sprint.
  • Increment: The working product built during a sprint, representing a potentially shippable piece of functionality.


  • Sprint Planning: The team collaborates to select items from the product backlog for the upcoming sprint and plans how to deliver them.
  • Daily Scrum: A brief daily meeting (often called a stand-up) for the development team to discuss progress, identify impediments, and plan for the next day.
  • Sprint Review: A meeting at the end of the sprint to showcase the completed increment to stakeholders and receive feedback.
  • Sprint Retrospective: An internal team meeting to discuss what went well in the sprint, what could be improved, and how to adapt the process for the next sprint.

The Scrum Workflow

Since it’s an Agile process, Scrum also uses fixed-length iterations called sprints, typically lasting 1-4 weeks. Each sprint focuses on delivering a potentially shippable product increment that adds value to the final product.

The Scrum workflow also includes the concept of backlog refinement, an ongoing part of the custom software development project plan in which the product owner and development team refine and prioritize items in the product backlog.

Scrum emphasizes learning and adaptation for continuous improvement. The sprint retrospective allows the team to constantly advance their process based on their experiences.

Strengths of Scrum

  • Increased Focus and Transparency: The sprint structure promotes focused development and clear visibility into project progress.
  • Improved Team Collaboration: The daily scrums and sprint retrospectives foster communication and collaboration within the team.
  • Rapid Delivery of Value: Working in sprints enables faster delivery of working functionalities and earlier feedback from stakeholders.
  • Reduced Risk: The iterative approach of Scrum allows for course correction and adaptation based on learnings throughout the project.

Weaknesses of Scrum

  • Steep Learning Curve: Understanding and implementing Scrum effectively can have a learning curve, especially for teams new to Agile methodologies.
  • Overreliance on the Scrum Master: An ineffective Scrum Master can hinder the team’s ability to function optimally within the Scrum framework.
  • Difficulty with Unforeseen Changes: While Scrum allows for some adaptation within sprints, accommodating significant changes mid-sprint can be disruptive.

When to Use Scrum

Scrum provides a structured yet flexible framework for Agile development. It’s well-suited for projects that require collaboration, rapid feedback, and the ability to adapt to changing requirements.

To learn more about Agile and Scrum, watch Jeff Ferguson’s webinar.

Continuous integration deployment delivery infographic


Kanban is another Agile methodology that focuses on visualizing and optimizing the workflow throughout the development process. It heavily relies on a Kanban board, a visual tool that displays work items (often represented by cards) moving through different stages of development (e.g., To Do, In Progress, Done). This transparency allows everyone to see the project’s progress at a glance.

Kanban emphasizes limiting the number of tasks actively being worked on (the Work In Progress, or WIP) to prevent bottlenecks and improve efficiency. Similar to other Agile methodologies, Kanban promotes ongoing process improvement. Teams continuously monitor their workflow and make adjustments to optimize flow.

Kanban Board

The Kanban board is the heart of Kanban. It’s typically a physical information radiator with columns representing stages in the development process. Each work item (user story, bug fix) is represented by a card that moves across the columns as it progresses through the workflow. The Kanban board is usually mounted in a highly visible place near the development team, allowing everyone to keep abreast of the project’s status.

Key Practices in Kanban

  • Kanban Cadence: Kanban doesn’t have fixed-length iterations like Scrum. Instead, it uses a continuous flow model where work items are pulled from a backlog when capacity allows.
  • Explicit Policies: Kanban teams define clear policies around WIP limits, workflow stages, and how work is prioritized and pulled into the development cycle.
  • Metrics and Measurement: Kanban focuses on measuring lead time (time taken to complete a work item) and cycle time (average time spent on work in progress) to identify bottlenecks and improve efficiency.

Strengths of Kanban

  • Flexibility and Adaptability: Kanban is well-suited for projects with evolving requirements as it allows for continuous adjustments to the workflow.
  • Improved Efficiency: WIP limits prevent overloading team members and ensure a smooth flow of work.
  • Focus on Continuous Improvement: The emphasis on metrics and measurement helps teams identify areas for improvement and adapt their process.
  • Simplicity and Ease of Implementation: Compared to Scrum, Kanban has a less rigid structure, making it easier to adopt, especially for existing workflows.

Weaknesses of Kanban

  • Less Structure Than Scrum: The lack of a defined sprint cycle can be less suitable for projects that require strict planning and predictability.
  • Reliance on Self-Discipline: Kanban requires a high degree of self-discipline from team members to manage their workloads effectively within the WIP limits.
  • Limited Visibility into Long-Term Planning: While Kanban focuses on the immediate workflow, it might offer less visibility into long-term project planning compared to methodologies with defined roadmaps.

When to Use Kanban

Kanban is a flexible and visual Agile methodology that prioritizes continuous flow and efficiency. It’s a good fit for teams that value adaptability, want to improve workflow, and don’t require a highly structured development process.


In custom software development solutions, a hybrid project management approach combines elements from different methodologies (typically Waterfall and Agile) to create a more flexible and adaptable process.

The core idea behind hybrid methodologies is to leverage the strengths of different approaches while mitigating their weaknesses. For instance, a project might utilize Waterfall’s upfront planning for a solid foundation and then switch to Agile for iterative development with continuous feedback.

Hybrid methodologies offer a way to tailor the development process to a project’s needs. By combining the strengths of different approaches, hybrid methods can deliver the flexibility of Agile with the structure and control of Waterfall.

Strengths of Hybrid Methodologies

  • Increased Flexibility and Adaptability: Hybrid approaches allow for course correction and adaptation to changing requirements during development.
  • Improved Project Control: By incorporating elements of Waterfall, hybrid methodologies can maintain control and predictability.
  • Enhanced Team Productivity: By combining structured planning with iterative development, hybrid approaches can optimize workflow and team productivity.

Weaknesses of Hybrid Methodologies

  • Increased Complexity: Managing the transition between different methodologies and ensuring a smooth workflow can be complex.
  • Potential for Conflict: Combining methodologies can lead to confusion or conflict within the development team if a hybrid is not carefully implemented.
  • Need for Experienced Project Managers: Successful hybrid projects require experienced project managers who understand Waterfall and Agile principles.

When to Use a Hybrid

The decision to use a hybrid approach and how to combine methodologies depends on a few factors.

  • Project Size and Complexity: Larger or more complex projects might benefit from a structured Waterfall foundation followed by Agile flexibility.
  • Requirement Clarity: If requirements are well-defined, Waterfall can be suitable initially, with Agile for later stages where user feedback is crucial.
  • Team Culture and Preferences: Some teams might thrive in a more structured Waterfall environment, while others might prefer the flexibility of Agile. Finding a balance that suits the team’s strengths is essential.


The Lean software development methodology borrows its philosophy from the Lean manufacturing movement pioneered by Toyota. It emphasizes waste elimination, continuous improvement, and delivering maximum value to the customer.

Core Concepts of Lean

  • Identifying Waste: Lean focuses on identifying and eliminating all activities that don’t add value to the final product from the development process. This waste can take many forms, such as rework due to errors, excessive documentation, or features that are not valuable to users.
  • Building Quality In: Lean promotes practices that ensure high quality from the beginning of development, reducing the need for rework and delays. Techniques like test-driven development and continuous integration help achieve this goal.
  • Respect for People: Lean values knowledge workers and their expertise. It fosters a collaborative environment where team members are empowered to make decisions and continuously improve the process.
  • Focus on Value: At the heart of Lean lies the concept of maximizing value delivered to the customer. This means prioritizing features that provide the most benefit to users and eliminating those that don’t.

Lean Practices

  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP): A core tenet of Lean is first developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This is a basic version of the product with just enough features to be usable by early customers and gather valuable feedback.
  • Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop: Lean emphasizes a rapid feedback loop where features are quickly built, measured for user impact, and then learned from for iteration and improvement.
  • Kanban Boards: Lean borrows these information radiators from the Kanban methodology. Lean teams use them to track workflow, identify bottlenecks, and optimize the development process.
  • Test-Driven Development (TDD): Writing unit tests before coding ensures features function as intended from the start, reducing rework and improving code quality.

Strengths of Lean Software Development

  • Reduced Waste and Improved Efficiency: By eliminating non-value-added activities, Lean development promotes a more efficient use of resources and time.
  • Faster Time to Market: The focus on building MVPs and rapid iteration allows for quicker product launches and time to gather user feedback.
  • Higher Quality Software: The emphasis on building in quality from the beginning and continuous testing leads to a more robust and reliable final product.
  • Increased Customer Satisfaction: By focusing on delivering value to the customer, Lean development results in software that better meets user needs.

Weaknesses of Lean Software Development

  • Can Be Challenging for Complex Projects: The focus on rapid iteration might not be suitable for highly complex projects with intricate dependencies.
  • Requires Discipline and Cultural Shift: Successfully implementing Lean requires a cultural shift within the development team to embrace continuous improvement and waste elimination.
  • Potential for Scope Creep: The emphasis on delivering value can sometimes lead to scope creep, where additional features get added without proper planning or prioritization.

When to Use Lean

Lean software development offers a philosophy and set of practices to optimize the development process by minimizing waste and maximizing value delivered to the customer. It’s a valuable approach for teams seeking to be more efficient and adaptable and deliver high-quality software that meets user needs.

Which Approach Is Best?

There’s no single “best” approach to creating a custom software development project plan.  The optimal choice depends on the specifics of your project.

Weigh factors like project size, complexity, requirement clarity, and team dynamics against the strengths and weaknesses of each methodology before settling on one.

Alternatively, reach out to a custom software development company like Taazaa! We’re happy to chat with you about your needs and how we’d tackle the planning and development of your software product.

David Borcherding

David is a Senior Content Writer at Taazaa. He has 15+ years of B2B software marketing experience, and is an ardent champion of quality content. He enjoys finding fresh, new ways to relay helpful information to our customers.