It’s the age-old debate in the world of project management: Agile vs. Waterfall.
Agile (renowned for its flexibility and adaptability) operates on iterative progress through small, manageable units of work, while Waterfall (loved for its structured progression) adopts a linear and sequential approach, where each project phase must be completed before the next one begins.
We’re not here to dispute which is the best—instead, we want to help you find the right framework for your projects. Each methodology has advantages and drawbacks, making it a better fit for different teams, workflows, and company cultures.
The right framework helps you navigate each project’s scope, time, and budget constraints. It ultimately influences how your team collaborates, adapts, and delivers.
Below, we walk you through the nitty-gritty details between Agile and Waterfall product management methodologies to help you make the best decision for your business.
Agile methodology is guided by core principles that prioritize adaptability and customer satisfaction. It focuses on the following tenets:
Agile thrives on continuous feedback and regular adaptations. It delivers functional products in short, iterative cycles (known as sprints).
“Agile is an attitude, not a technique with boundaries,” says Alistair Cockburn, signatory of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. “An attitude has no boundaries, so we wouldn’t ask ‘can I use agile here,’ but rather ‘how would I act in the agile way here?’ or ‘how agile can we be, here?’”
Agile project management isn’t all donuts and coffee. It brings a set of advantages and challenges you’ll need to weigh.
Pros of Agile model
Cons of Agile model
“Unfortunately, in their desire to be agile (with a lowercase a), many firms have attempted to do Agile (with an uppercase A). They have traded a goal for an orthodoxy—adopting the methods and certifications but not the theory behind them. And this is fatal.” — Aaron Dignan, angel investor
Agile methodology shines in environments where uncertainty and change are prevalent. Here are a few scenarios where Agile projects might make the most sense:
The following well-known companies use Agile methodology:
Waterfall methodology approaches projects with a sequential workflow, meaning that any phase in the project process begins only after the prior phase is complete.
Waterfall operates on clearly defined stages, including the following:
Each stage is distinct, with specific deliverables and a review process to determine whether the project is ready to advance to the next stage.
“For the waterfall method to work, you must know all your software requirements upfront, and they basically have to be set in stone, in that you can’t change them,” says Simon Swords, Managing Director of Fundipedia.
Waterfall has advantages and disadvantages you’ll need to consider before choosing the right methodology for your projects.
Pros of Waterfall model
Cons of Waterfall model
While the Waterfall methodology originated in the manufacturing and construction sectors, it’s effective in various other use cases. It finds its strength in projects where clarity and predictability are paramount (and changes are minimal):
Looking through these approaches, you’ve likely been drawn to aspects from both methodologies. Adaptability and flexibility are nice, but so are structured workflows and solid expectations. Both Waterfall and Agile methodologies (while rooted in completing successful projects) are tailored to different project environments and requirements.
Let’s take a closer look at the side-by-side comparisons:
Knowing the differences isn’t always enough to come to a conclusion. Below, we walk you through a few factors to help you narrow down your decision.
Check to determine the requirements of your project or the product requirements document for your upcoming build. Will it require a more adaptive approach, or will the workflow follow a predictable, sequential order?
Also, take into account how familiar your current team is with the methodologies. Even if one approach might seem better on paper, it might not be the right fit if your co-workers don’t have the experience to execute it properly.
Agile might be a fitting choice for projects anticipating frequent changes and requiring a high degree of flexibility (especially with a development team that thrives in adaptive environments). However, Waterfall could be the go-to for projects with well-defined requirements and a team that excels in a structured, linear workflow.
The project management triangle of time, budget, and scope significantly influences the choice between Agile and Waterfall.
Agile allows for a more flexible approach towards these constraints, often enabling a quicker time-to-market with a minimum viable product (MVP). Waterfall might be more suitable for projects with a fixed scope and budget, where each phase is meticulously planned and budgeted for from the get-go.
Your chosen methodology needs to be in harmony with your business objectives and customer expectations. If you plan to rely on customer research and feedback for iterative improvements, you’ll want to opt for Agile. Waterfall will likely be the better choice if the project demands a robust, phase-dependent approach.
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