Project management — Agile vs. Waterfall

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While Waterfall is one of the most widely used project management methodologies today, Agile seems to be trending with its skyrocketing popularity as a more iterative or change-driven approach. When choosing Agile vs Waterfall, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each, and the benefits of a hybrid approach.

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Differences between Agile and Waterfall

The success and nimble nature of Agile project management in the software development realm has led to a rapid rise in Agile marketing groups and other departments to also adapt Agile over Waterfall and other traditional project management methodologies.

Agile might be right for your team, but an unsuccessful implementation may have you reverting back to Waterfall. When deciding Agile vs Waterfall for your next project, review the pros and cons of each methodology before beginning to ensure your decision is right for the project and your team. Here are the differences between the Agile and Waterfall methodologies:


The Waterfall methodology is the most common project management approach in today’s workplace. This top-down, classic approach works well in a number of areas: construction, manufacturing, repeatable services, and any process that produces a tangible product. These projects thrive with a methodology that sees progress flowing downward, just like a waterfall.

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Pros and cons of Waterfall

Detail: Waterfall’s meticulous upfront planning results in detailed project plans.
Rigid: With a strict blueprint, departure from the original plan is difficult.
Expectations: The project scope, cost, and timeline are clearly outlined, so clients know exactly what will be delivered.
Testing: Testing is done at the end of the Waterfall project, and the final QA phase takes significant time.
Onboarding: With a clear outline, even if a team experiences turnover, a new member can step in and contribute without derailing the timeline.
No evolution: With a Waterfall project in motion, if a client’s needs change they can’t be addressed.

When to use Waterfall

The Waterfall methodology is best suited for projects that have a clear picture of the final product. It only works if clients don’t expect to make changes to the scope of the project after it has commenced. Code is delivered to the client when it’s complete, not as it’s generated. The strict, deadline-driven methodology plays well for projects that are dependent on completion of specific tasks before the next tasks can begin.


Agile methodology encourages flexible, rapid progress using iterative development, delivering pieces of the project along the way to ensure customer needs are met. Frequent delivery allows the customer to provide constant feedback, resulting in a higher-quality product. The methodology breaks down large tasks to be completed in specific time frames.

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Pros and cons of Agile

Revisit: Revisits and rewrites of steps are encouraged to achieve the desired results.
Starting: Agile doesn’t set a strict schedule, which, if not managed, can be difficult under a tight deadline.
Testing: Agile projects tasks are tested in flight, allowing for faster delivery and a better project.
Finish line: Changing project requirements may cause problems in other areas of the organization.
Customer: Frequent delivery allows for quick changes in project direction while maintaining project scope.
Reliance: Agile requires a consistent team. A weak link in the Agile team or management could result in wasted time and money.

When to use Agile

Agile methodology is best suited for projects where teams can work in a timebox and value speed over comprehensive details. Agile requires skill, independent workers, and the opportunity for clients to change project requirements along the way.

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Mixing Agile and Waterfall

Most organizations find that it’s not a question of one methodology being better than the other—Agile and Waterfall need to co-exist since both offer great benefits. Some projects need the rigidity of a Waterfall model and the responsiveness of an Agile approach. When mixing the two, communication and expectations allow for positive outcomes.

Benefits of mixing methodologies

Mixing methodologies isn’t about pigeonholing one methodology into another or forcing one group to adopt a solution that won’t work for them. Mixing Agile and Waterfall should benefit all groups and the business as a whole by increasing visibility and productivity by using a tool that allows for mixed methodologies.

Increased visibility with proper planning, training, and benchmarks, mixing methodologies will provide complete visibility into what work is in the queue, what work is in progress, and what work will be completed in the future.

Software teams may choose an Agile methodology to increase code production while project managers may choose Waterfall for projects with strict deadlines and a list of dependencies. Allowing teams to choose their work methodology increases productivity.

Choosing Agile vs Waterfall

Project management is shifting. Teams that were once siloed are now asked to work together to ease reporting pains and increase visibility across all types of work. Choosing Agile vs Waterfall is less of a choice as more organizations require a mix of the two.

Click below to download the complete guide to mixing Agile and Waterfall and see why 44% of project leaders support a mix of Agile and Waterfall methodologies to make teams more efficient, get more work done, deliver better metrics to project stakeholders, and create the right environment for all types of work.

Read the guide: The Manager's Guide to Mixing Agile and Waterfall