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Agile Vs Waterfall – 10 Ideas You Need To Know

Agile Vs Waterfall, which is right for you
Agile Vs Waterfall, which is right for you

Decoding the Methodologies! Agile vs Waterfall. Ever wondered about the magic behind these buzzwords – Agile and Waterfall?

Brace yourself for an engaging journey into the heart of project management! Discover the secrets that make organizations swear by “Agile” for flexibility and innovation, while others rely on the structured elegance of “Waterfall” for precision and clarity.

Unveil the real meaning behind these powerful methodologies that shape the world of software development! Ready to unravel the mystery of the Agile approach, or of Waterfall?

Agile To Move You Forward

If you need a methodology to help move forward, Agile is it. The Agile approach is a set of values and principles that help teams organize around software and product development work. Ideas that help teams to work together and collaborate more effectively. Keeping the goals of their work in mind. However, Agile isn’t just a set of values and principles; it’s a dynamic philosophy that fosters collaboration, teamwork, and rapid progress.

Emphasizing the importance of incremental work, Agile empowers teams to learn, adapt, and pivot as they journey towards their goals. Experience the thrill of faster completion and real-time feedback, as the Agile Model prioritizes top tasks first, ensuring maximum impact and efficiency.

Agile emphasizes teamwork over the individual. It also promotes smaller smaller increments of work. These ideas combined allow fast turnaround, so that the team can learn. Then make changes as needed. All so that they can meet the goals of the work.

Agile Project Management emphasizes top priorities first. Keeping priorities focused is important in Agile methodologies. Keeping the list of work smaller, to enable faster movement on those smaller pieces of work. An attitude of focus to finish and to do so quickly.

It Helps The Team Start

Agile Project Management also emphasizes the fact that the team needs to start the work. Agile projects keep work smaller so that they can get started sooner. As development teams won’t know everything about the work before they start. If you require knowing more about it before you start, it will take longer to start. Thus even longer to finish.

This also means that Agile projects, because smaller, offer an iterative approach to the work. Where there are chances to evaluate the work and make changes or improvement

There Must Be A Reason

If you think Agile Project Management is in direct response to something, you are right! Agile came to be, largely, in response to more traditional practices like Waterfall. Where the time to complete work was more extensive. This was because work was not broken into smaller pieces, mainly.

All of the work needed for a feature or project was all-inclusive. It was all worked, in a big bang approach, until completed. Meaning it took longer before it could be implemented. But the main issue with that is not that it took a long time to complete, but more that it took a long time before you learned about the work and if it was successful.

The Agile process vs the Waterfall process
Agile VS Waterfall. An iterative process that can refine and build better. Or an assembly line process that is more defined and structured.

Agile Benefits

Here are some of the most notable benefits you get from using an Agile methodology. They are relative and you may experience them to varying levels of success. Most importantly though is that they can always be improved upon. Keep improving your Agile processes and you can keep seeing gains in these.

  • Shorter software development cycles, enabling continuous delivery
  • Focus on customer feedback and customer needs
  • Agile leverage more of a product development mindset, with focus on the readiness of the product
  • Higher quality and achievement of goals
  • Flexible and responsive to change
  • Flattened management hierarchy via empowering of the team to make work decisions
  • Promotes teamwork and collaboration
  • Better solutions to problems and goals
  • Focus on objectives, goals, and or problems to be solved
  • Requires less management overhead for the team
  • Newer ideas and popular processes for software and product development
  • Productivity is encouraged because of the shorter timelines
  • High performing teams require little oversight, making management easier for some teams
  • Agile requirements are expected to evolve
  • Responsive to change and adaptability
  • Not a linear process

Downsides of Agile

  • The cost to ultimately achieve goals can be very much unknown
  • Estimates, in general, do not have a lot of time or resources spent on them
  • Lack of formal process and responsibilities can hinder less experienced team members
  • Because teams are somewhat autonomous and self-directing, management of teams can be a challenge
  • Requires team initiative to drive the work
  • Because of the above, management across multiple teams is even more challenging
  • Aligning multiple teams on shared goals, objectives, and the work to get there is challenging
  • Work timelines are often difficult to estimate at the start
  • Teams that are not high performing may struggle to stay on task and work the right things
  • Deliverables are not a requirement before the next phase, which can cause confusion
  • Software development lifecycles can be too fast of a pace for some teams
  • Linear progression to goals is not always visible, or just progress in general
  • Project management methodologies can conflict with Agile
  • Full Project Requirements may not be known

Organizational Culture May Not Be Ready For Agile

Organizational culture may not be ready for the Agile Method and still expect a lot of things that Agile does not provide. As an example, organizations may be used to working on large projects. These large projects contain a lot of functionality that will be created or updated with the project.

In Waterfall, the work would be more/less defined, estimated, resourced, and planned upfront. Before ever starting the work. You have your linear phases, with deliverables to move to each subsequent phase. Things like requirements gathering, analysis and design, software development, testing, and stakeholder sign-off.

However, in Agile, most of those steps don’t really occur. Or at least occur on a smaller more incremental process. Because the whole intent is to break apart that large project into smaller pieces of work. Find the most important piece and go work on that.

Culture Still Expects Project Activities

Yet, organizational culture may still try to plan around the idea of the project. They want to sell to customers. They want to train on the systems. They want to understand the cost to forecast and budget. There are many things done off the larger Waterfall plan for a project.

But, Agile does not do most of those items. Agile often is estimating in smaller pieces of work and largely just before the work is to be done. Agile often doesn’t plan out an entire system. This also means that in an Agile process you are not planning the resources or time frame for a large system project.

This requires an organizational cost to adapt Agile. Teams must understand what they will get and maybe more importantly, what they will not get from Agile. It is not a rigid structure or process with clear linear progress towards deliverables. Deliverables are instead handed over more incrementally and iteratively.

Especially the teams outside of software and product development. The teams not directly involved in the process, but need or use the end results. They may not see as much visibility into the work progress. They may also feel like there is not as much long term planning of work to be done.

These are side effects of teams working in an Agile development methodology. This is a main difference in Agile and Waterfall.

What Is Waterfall

Waterfall is one of the first software development methodologies. The entire purpose of Waterfall is that you cascade through a process, step by step, until ultimate completion. Each phase of the software development lifecycle is worked separately in the Waterfall methodology. Providing it’s deliverables and proceeding to the next. Until completion.

It is a phased approach to building. The Waterfall Model is an assembly line for software development. Where you complete a given step, in its entirety, and that allows you to move to the next step. The work moves a step at a time and always in that direction. There is no room for changes to the work or adjustments to the process. Waterfall moves in one direction and does so very deliberately and sequentially. It is a rigid structure and process, but that can mean it is more predictable.

Typically the steps follow something like project initiation, requirement gathering, analysis and design, coding, testing, and implementation. Each step along the way completes information and further understanding of the work that enables the next step. There is little blurring between the steps. The steps also require full completion in order to proceed.

The Waterfall Model is a linear progression of the work. With a fixed starting point and well-defined steps for the work along the way to project completion. There is no room to change the work along the way, at least not substantially.

This leaves little flexibility for the Waterfall project to adjust to previously unknown information or changes. The same for changing goals or the fluid nature of the business that could cause changes to the project work to be required.

Waterfall Benefits

  • Plans for all of the work in very good detail
  • Defines needed work to achieve goals
  • Step by step process thru the full software development lifecycle
  • Fixed timeline for the work can be defined, as the work is defined up-front
  • Formalized process that controls the work
  • There can be better whole system designs as the goal upfront is to understand everything
  • Defined team roles
  • The defined nature of the work does allow for fixed project costs
  • Well-defined requirements
  • Time and cost can often be estimated after the requirements are understood
  • Documentation can be part of the phases and deliverables of the work, thus built in and completed effectively
  • Well-defined projects
  • Can handle complex projects

Downsides of Waterfall

  • Requires extensive planning in order to begin the work
  • Mistakes are often found later in the process
  • Takes longer
  • Not flexible to change
  • Often there is little customer involvement or stakeholder involvement
  • Little user collaboration
  • Lack of concurrent work
  • Self-directed teams are less of an option
  • Project outcomes over product needs
  • Project managers are required to resource and manage the effort
  • The self-organizing team is not allowed or doesn’t exist

Agile Vs Waterfall and why to care about it

The question lingers for most software and product development organizations. Which methodology should they use? In my opinion, there is a surprising reason that this matters to you. It’s not what you think either. It is not about a higher quality of the software product. Or being more flexible to change. It’s not about any of the benefits of Agile, over some of the downsides of Waterfall software development.

It is about the happiness and sustainability of the team. Agile allows for a better and more sustainable work environment for those doing the work. If you work within the ideas of Agile.

When you work in Waterfall, you have large projects with big risks. That can be very stressful. In Agile, if you do it right, the risk is spread amongst smaller work items and less of a mental drain on the team.

That said, you do need to work in Agile. If you work in somewhat of an Agile process, but large parts of the organization still have a lot of Waterfall habits and tendencies, that is a stressful beast on its own.

So in the question of Agile Vs Waterfall, Agile again wins out.

Agile Vs Waterfall and the time to deliver

A major reason Agile is so much more powerful is by allowing teams to deliver in smaller increments of work. Which allows things like quick delivery of value, and learning to adjust the course of the work. Check out the below illustrating the difference in time to deliver of Agile Vs Waterfall.

agile vs waterfall and the time to deliver
Agile vs Waterfall and the time to deliver

Agile Vs Waterfall – how to pick the methodology to use

The type of systems or type of work can be a driving factor. Work that is less critical in nature, if something were to go wrong or have issues, can benefit from the Agile approach. IE, web software development for non-mission-critical systems. Because these systems have the ability to handle problems without catastrophe. Which, in Agile, you can quickly learn from the problems and course correct to do even better.

Another way to help pick is if projects require very specific and formalized processes to define the work and approve the changes. Sometimes based on the company environment or typical practices of a company, every piece of work may need to be well defined and approved before it can be worked on. Whether necessary or not for the work, that can be the habits of some companies.

Working in Agile in this type of environment is very difficult. You will continually be working against the process, trying to figure things out before the work that Agile does as part of the work process itself. This is where Agile vs Waterfall ideas come into play. Agile largely exists to help mitigate or resolve multiple issues from Waterfall development.

Agile Vs Waterfall – My Clear Winner

It’s not even a question for me. Agile is the winning methodology. Because of its flexibility. Also because of its built-in problem-solving and team solution-building tendencies. All of that is great. To me though, the real reason is the time to deliver, and because of that the opportunity to learn.

With Waterfall, as discussed already, you take on a large project and work it through to completion. There is little chance to learn about gaps, mistakes, or anything like that until the end of the project.

Agile, however, promotes building in smaller pieces. And working by priority. So that you can do some work, implement it, and then learn about it. Allowing you to correct or change course as needed. That is immensely valuable and is a primary reason for the creation of Agile in the first place.

It’s in the name! In the question of Agile Vs Waterfall, I don’t hesitate on a pick. Agile is the clear winner to me.

Additional reading that helps with understanding Agile vs Waterfall

To really help understand Agile vs Waterfall, dive into the varying processes that can help with Agile software delivery. These are things like Just in Time Requirements, or Vertical Slicing of user stories. There are also concepts with flattened management hierarchies and team empowerment. Going a step further, there are practices with good user interaction and collaboration via strong feedback loops. Because teams can learn faster with feedback than just about any other process. Do, then earn from it, then do even better!

Don’t forget some of the frameworks that help with user stories, like INVEST. That is a practice that will help to write better user stories in Agile development. In Agile vs Waterfall, a framework like INVEST helps greatly to get work ready for the team.

Continuing the practices that help understand Agile, there is the idea of focus to finish. This spans 2 basic concepts. The first is prioritization. To work on the right things and deliver value to your organization you have to have correct priorities to work from. The 2 second is to limit work to acceptable amounts, to enable the work that you do have in progress. This is a big part of Agile processes and helps to understand Agile vs Waterfall.

A great article from Forbes on Agile Vs Waterfall. Or, check out Another great article discussing the Agile and Waterfall methodologies can be found here. Or of course, the Agile Manifesto.

Complex project structures:For projects characterized by intricate interdependencies, multifaceted components, or multifunctional teams, a hybrid method can cater to the nuanced demands, balancing rigorous planning with nimble execution.


The Waterfall approach: Communication follows a hierarchical structure, with formalized channels of communication primarily directed through project managers or designated team leads.