Waterfall or Agile project management?

First, your team and business organization will have to define and fully assess the capacities of the personnel you have on hand. The next step is to determine how best to engage these assets to reach your business and software development goals with waterfall or agile.

Your choice between waterfall and agile project management will be influenced by the size and complexity of the project plan; the time required to produce the end result; and the availability of clients and stakeholders to consult daily with the development team. In order to make the most of the talent you have, you’ll be ready to decide which methodology is the best fit — waterfall or agile, or perhaps a hybrid constructed from aspects of both.

Waterfall and agile are two very popular product development methodologies with key differences. Each has a clearly defined software development life cycle (SDLC). And in each, a set of clearly defined processes guides the workflow. Note that the agile method is the best choice for solely digital projects and will include software, like Jira, or Kanban boards, to manage and release software over the SDLC.

Waterfall methodology

Of the two, the waterfall approach is the more traditional method of software development. The organizing principles are linear and sequential, geared to produce a single successful project delivery. The final product emerges out of requirements set out at the start of the project, with little or no change of scope or adaptation allowed in the development process. Throughout, each waterfall project has a single project manager overseeing the development team, playing an essential role at every step. The product is then tested at the end of the build phase of the development process by test teams who have no input into any changes that may be required going forward.

As you can see, the strongpoints of waterfall are its whole-system approach, defined scope, defined team roles, and clearly measurable progress. Significantly, this method is the easier to cost. A drawback lies in its structural rigidity and limited stakeholder engagement during the development process.  Waterfall project management is also difficult for large-scale projects because deliverables are pushed far into the future.

Agile methodology

Agile methodology organizes software development in a much different way. Self-organizing teams and stakeholders collaborate, without a designated project manager, to produce incremental software iterations in sprints. Deliverables from these sprints are tested and evaluated by the entire team. Project requirements are prepared daily to allow for changes at any time, with customer satisfaction remaining a constant goal.

The scrum is where cross-functional teams perform the sprints. Customer involvement in the planning and the testing phases of the scrum ensures final product functionality. Note that an ongoing need for multiple sprints may increase both time and cost.

In contrast to the waterfall method, the agile process demands customer involvement at every stage, including proximity of teams and stakeholders for efficient communication. Most importantly, project team members must be both competent and completely dedicated to fulfill the agile principle of self-management. Product testing is performed concurrently by agile testers, instead of after completion of the development phase in waterfall.


The heart of the agile model is the scrum. Based upon the four core tenets of the Agile Manifesto, the scrum values individuals and communications over processes and tools; working software over documentation; customer and team collaboration over contract negotiation; and response to change over adherence to a plan. Because digital product development evolves quickly, the scrum team is always ready to respond by producing iterations of work from sprints every two weeks.

Unlike a project manager, the scrum master’s purpose is to safeguard the openness and respect that agile team members need to succeed within the lightweight agile  development framework. The process is simple: A product owner enters the work required into a product backlog; the scrum team selects work from that backlog and turns it into an increment of value during a sprint; the team and stakeholders inspect and evaluate the results or prototype of that sprint and make adjustments to take that iteration into the next phase, the next sprint; another selection from the backlog is made and, based upon the previous phase, the process repeats. This transparent process also offers an opportunity to evaluate a business’s management environment and target areas where changes or improvements can be made, as necessary.

Agile Methodology vs. Waterfall

Waterfall vs Agile

Your project requirements will, of course, guide your choice of project management methodology, and the waterfall and agile approaches are designed to meet various business needs. Both waterfall and agile software development methodologies are founded upon teamwork and distinct phases of product development, but with significant differences:

The waterfall model is linear, highly structured, employs a sequential design process, tests only after the build phase, and allows no changes in project development once the process begins. The agile approach, by contrast, is famously flexible, allows changes in scope and direction at every phase of the project, engages an incremental approach to produce continuous iterations of software under development, and then tests that software concurrently with development.

Learn more about agile development, waterfall, Kanban training, Scrum and more with our Agile online courses from Leadership Tribe today.

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