Agile Vs. Waterfall: Which Project Management Methodology Is Best For You? (2023)

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Agile and Waterfall are two well-known project management methodologies. Both of them are popular in software development but each is best suited for different types of projects. The main difference is that Waterfall is a linear system of working that requires the team to complete each project phase before moving on to the next one while Agile encourages the team to work simultaneously on different phases of the project.

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Agile vs. Waterfall: At a Glance

Agile Methodology

  • Approach: Frequent stakeholder interaction
  • Flexibility: High
  • Requires: Team initiative and short-term deadlines

Agile methodology was developed as a response to Waterfall’s more rigid structure. As a result, it’s a much more fluid form of project management. A software development project can take years to complete, and technology can change significantly during that time. Agile was developed as a flexible method that welcomes incorporating changes of direction even late in the process, as well as accounting for stakeholders’ feedback throughout the process.

In Agile, the team will work on phases of the project concurrently, often with short-term deadlines. Additionally, the team, rather than a project manager, drives the project’s direction. This can empower the team to be motivated and more productive, but also requires a more self-directed team.

Short-term deadlines encourage productivity and efficiencyBecause team members are working on multiple phases at a time, there is potential for overlap or unnecessary effort spent on later stages if an early phase needs to be modified
There is a lot of flexibility to change project direction and experiment with new directionsDeliverables are not a requirement to progress to the following phase. It can be harder to ensure the entire team is on the same page—especially if it’s a large team with different departments. It also means that work can get lost or miscommunicated between team members, especially when people leave and join the team in the middle of the projects.
The methodology is client-facing, which means that the team shares progress and incorporates feedback into the processThe project timeline is more difficult to determine from the start, and it is also more susceptible to change

Waterfall Methodology

  • Approach: Hands-off; goals and outcome established from the beginning
  • Flexibility: Low
  • Requires: Completing deliverables to progress to the next phase

Waterfall methodology is a linear form of project management ideal for projects where the end result is clearly established from the beginning of the project. The expectations for the project and the deliverables of each stage are clear and are required in order to progress to the next phase.

Provides a concrete plan of the project from start to finishBecause each project phase needs to be completed before progressing to the next stage, the process can take longer
The team establishes project requirements early on, which can save timeYou might not realize an issue with a phase until you have already progressed to the next one. This would mean going back through each phase and checking where the mistake or error occurred, which can be a timely process.
Each phase of the project requires a deliverable to progress to the next phase, making the workflow more structuredThe Waterfall methodology requires that you outline the project from start to finish before you begin. This doesn't allow for a lot of flexibility or change. Additionally, it can become problematic if the stakeholders disagree on the project’s vision and don’t find out until it is executed or in a later phase.

Agile and Waterfall Comparison Chart

TimelineWaterfall has a fixed timeline. The idea is that the start and finish of the project are already mapped out from the beginning.Agile is a lot more flexible and accounts for experimenting with different directions. Rather than a fixed timeline, the schedule adapts as the project progresses. The Agile Manifesto, an online document released in 2001 by a group of software developers, says team members are expected to, “​​Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.”
Client InvolvementOnce the end goal is established, Waterfall does not involve the client or project owner during the process, apart from specific check-ins or for deliverables. The course of the project is outlined from the start, so incorporating client feedback is not an ongoing part of the process.A fundamental part of Agile is including clients in the project development at every step. The Agile Manifesto states, “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” Therefore, business owners are expected to be involved and give feedback to the software development team as they progress through the different phases of the project.
FlexibilityWaterfall is not as flexible as Agile because each phase needs to be fully completed before moving on to the next phase. The project is also planned out ahead of time, making this management system ideal for teams with a clear vision of where they are headed from start to finish.Flexibility is built into the Agile method. Agile values short bursts of work, which are called sprints. The method welcomes adapting to different directions, incorporating new information even at a later stage of the project.
The budget for projects using the Waterfall methodology is generally fixed. Because the project is determined from start to finish, there is less room to change the budget mid-project.
Agile is open to adaptation, encourages experimentation and welcomes changes of direction, even in later phases of the project. Because of this, the budget tends to be more flexible.

Waterfall is a linear project progression, so it’s best suited for projects with a defined end goal. If a project owner has a clear and specific vision of an app, for example, and is confident it will not change throughout the project development, Waterfall methodologies could be a good system to follow.

Meanwhile, Agile leaves a lot of room to adapt and change course as the project develops. It’s better suited for projects where the outcome may be dependent on more research or testing.

The budget for projects using Waterfall methodologies tends to be less flexible because the project is mapped out from the beginning. With Agile, there is more room to change direction as the project develops, so the budget is also subject to change. Similarly, the timeline with Waterfall is set from the start, while it’s more flexible with Agile and dependent on how the project develops.

Waterfall vs. Agile: How To Choose the Right Methodology for Your Project

There are several factors to consider when you are choosing between Waterfall and Agile. Here are a few questions to consider:

Does your project require strict regulations or requirements? Waterfall is better suited for projects with regulations or requirements because each phase’s deliverables and strict procedures ensure that they are met. For instance, the Department of Defense and the aerospace industry are a couple of industries that would more likely use Waterfall over Agile, since the requirements are a safety factor. Dr. Chris Mattmann, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer (CTIO) at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Forbes Advisor that “agile methodology is used more for IT companies, [companies] that fail fast and move fast, types of places where you can proceed in parallel in different phases.”

(Video) Agile vs Waterfall Project Management: Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Methodology

When choosing between Agile and Waterfall, consider how involved the project owners or stakeholders will be in the project. Agile is better suited for projects where stakeholders are closely involved every step of the way. Waterfall is a more structured project management method and does not lend itself to the same type of flexibility.

Bottom Line

To summarize, Agile and Waterfall are two different management methodologies best suited for different types of projects. If you clearly understand the project outcomes from the beginning, Waterfall may be the best fit. Waterfall is a better method when a project must meet strict regulations as it requires deliverables for each phase before proceeding to the next one.

Alternatively, Agile is better suited for teams that plan on moving fast, experimenting with direction and don’t know how the final project will look before they start. Agile is flexible and requires a collaborative and self-motivated team, plus frequent check-ins with business owners and stakeholders about the progress.


Why Agile project management is better than waterfall? ›

More flexible

Once a step has been completed in Waterfall, it's difficult to go back and make changes. In contrast, Agile builds a working version of the whole project (an MVP) so the customer can shape how it's built.

Can you tell me the difference between waterfall and Agile in what kind of project should one be applied and not the other? ›

Agile and Waterfall are two popular methods for organizing projects. Waterfall is a more traditional approach to project management, involving a linear flow. Agile, on the other hand, embraces an iterative process. Waterfall is best for projects with concrete timelines and well-defined deliverables.

Do you feel that Agile or waterfall is more successful when working with software projects? ›

When it comes to technology projects, Agile projects succeed where traditional projects fail. It's really that simple. In fact, the most recent Standish Group Chaos Study from 2020 shows that Agile Projects are 3X more likely to succeed than Waterfall projects. And Waterfall projects are 2X more likely to fail.

Why is Agile methodology the best? ›

Agile methods can help teams manage work more efficiently and do the work more effectively while delivering the highest quality product within the constraints of the budget.

What do you prefer Agile or waterfall? ›

An Agile methodology is a superior choice when the client is uncertain about requirements or wants to be closely involved in the development process, and if timelines are short and they want rapid delivery. Waterfall is superior if there are complex dependencies, but Agile is preferable when dependencies are minimal.

Is Agile more successful than waterfall? ›

Agile projects are 2X more likely to succeed and less than half as likely to fail than Waterfall. This is based on the Standish Group Chaos Studies and their most recent report in 2020 called Beyond Infinity.

What are two reasons Agile development is more beneficial than Waterfall? ›

Improves collaboration among teams- 54% Enhances the quality level of software in organizations- 52% Results in enhanced customer satisfaction- 49% Speeds time to market- 43%

What are 3 main differences between Agile and Waterfall methodologies? ›

Agile Vs Waterfall
This method is flexible and allows changes for the progress of the project soon after the first stage of designing gets completed.Once the project development begins, there is no way to change the specifications if any are required.
12 more rows
Aug 16, 2022

What are key differences between Waterfall and agile project management select two? ›

Agile and waterfall are two distinctive methodologies of processes to complete projects or work items. Agile is an iterative methodology that incorporates a cyclic and collaborative process. Waterfall is a sequential methodology that can also be collaborative, but tasks are generally handled in a more linear process.

Why companies move from waterfall to Agile? ›

Agile is on the rise because it encourages faster delivery of working software, provides more flexibility to meet changing needs, and allows for early feedback from customers. For many years, the waterfall methodology was the preferred method among businesses for product development.

Why is Agile better for large projects? ›

Agile methodology results in productivity gains by better communication and being responsive to customers' demands and adapting continuously through the project. Many companies have registered an increase of team productivity by 16% or even more.

Why Agile is most preferred in the industry now days? ›

Project managers, teams, and organizations often want to “go Agile” because it: Helps companies to go to market more quickly. Ensures the company is always building something the customer wants. Prevents surprises on “launch day” through continuous releases and continuous testing.

What are 3 benefits of an Agile approach? ›

Today we'll discuss the primary benefits of Agile, including:
  • Increased visibility.
  • Increased adaptability (agility)
  • Increased alignment.
  • Increased product quality.
  • Increased business value.
  • Increased customer satisfaction.
  • Decreased risk.

What are 3 advantages to agile methods? ›

The benefits of Agile
  • Satisfied customers. By involving customers in the development process, Agile teams keep them in the loop and show that they value their opinion. ...
  • Improved quality. ...
  • Adaptability. ...
  • Predictability. ...
  • Reduced risk. ...
  • Better communication.

When Agile works best? ›

Agile works really well when the product vision or features are not well defined. Agile allows product owners to adjust requirements and priorities along the way to take advantage of opportunities and ultimately deliver a better product to all of the project stakeholders.

Why is waterfall methodology the best? ›

The advantages of the waterfall methodology are that: Requirements are completed early in the project, enabling the team to define the entire project scope, create a complete schedule, and design the overall application.

Is Agile actually better? ›

Research by CA Technologies across 160,000 projects and 50,000 agile teams found when team members were 95% dedicated to an agile team, their productivity doubled, compared to teams in which members were only 50% dedicated.

Is Agile more flexible than waterfall? ›

It's clear that agile is more flexible, and waterfall is more rigid. Each methodology has its pros and cons, meaning these methodologies are better suited for different project types.

How successful is the Agile method? ›

At least 71% of U.S. companies are now using Agile.

Agile projects have a 64% success rate, whereas projects under the competing methodology known as waterfall only have a 49% success rate. With that in mind, Agile projects are nearly 1.5X more successful than waterfall projects.

What is best in Agile project management? ›

The 10 best agile project management software for 2023
  • ClickUp. ClickUp.
  • monday work management.
  • VivifyScrum. VivifyScrum.
  • Jira. Jira.
  • Asana. Asana.
  • Show more (5 items) Azure Boards. see details Azure Boards. Axosoft. see details Axosoft. Planview Leankit. see details Planview Leankit. Wrike. see details Wrike. Smartsheet.
Dec 27, 2022

What are the 2 benefits of applying Agile? ›

Here are some top reasons and benefits of Agile and why it is adopted by top companies for managing their projects:
  • Superior quality product. ...
  • Customer satisfaction. ...
  • Better control. ...
  • Improved project predictability. ...
  • Reduced risks. ...
  • Increased flexibility. ...
  • Continuous improvement. ...
  • Improved team morale.
Sep 6, 2021

Is the main advantage of the waterfall methodology over the Agile approach? ›

The main advantage of Waterfall methodology vs. Agile development is that it provides a clear and concise plan for stakeholders, as they can see all the steps involved in the project and when each will be completed.

What are the pros and cons of Agile methodology? ›

Always eager to help, Donny starts explaining the pros and cons of agile methods.
What Is Agile?
More flexibleHard to predict
Product get to market fasterFinal product is not released first
Better communicationDocumentation gets left behind
Dec 20, 2021

What in your opinion is the biggest similarity between Agile and waterfall? ›

Both methodologies require BA work: Both agile and waterfall models require BA work to be performed. Many people consider that agile methodology does not need a BA. However, the basic concepts of planning, estimation, definition of done work, requirement elicitation and documentation, communication, etc.

Can you use both Agile and waterfall? ›

The Agile-Waterfall hybrid incorporates the best of both methods. For purists, it's a problematic methodology, but the Agile-Waterfall method can be applied for developing software or for developing a product that has both hardware and software.

What is the difference between Waterfall and Agile Scrum? ›

Waterfall works best for projects completed in a linear fashion and does not allow going back to a prior phase. Agile focuses on adaptive, simultaneous workflows. Agile methods break projects into smaller, iterative periods.

What are the similarities and differences between Agile and Waterfall methodologies? ›

Waterfall is a Linear Sequential Life Cycle Model, whereas Agile is a continuous iteration of development and testing in the software development process. In Agile vs Waterfall difference, the Agile methodology is known for its flexibility, whereas Waterfall is a structured software development methodology.

What are the differences between Waterfall and Agile select all that apply? ›

Select all that apply. Ans: Agile is a less linear approach than Waterfall. Waterfall aims for predictability and tries to avoid change, while Agile embraces the reality that the world is uncertain and unpredictable.

Does Amazon use Agile or waterfall? ›

Amazon has long been using Scrum in its work practices. Since 1999, the company has been using agile practices for managing its employees.

What are the challenges of moving from waterfall to Agile? ›

Waterfall to Agile Migration Challenges:
  • Agile as a process or method, and not a guiding principle. ...
  • Project managers vs Product Owner. ...
  • External suppliers and offshore workers. ...
  • Lack of trust or communication between the business and development communities. ...
  • Partial adoption, or Water-Scrum-Fall.
Jun 22, 2017

How do you take a team from waterfall to Agile? ›

8 ways to ease the transition from waterfall to agile
  1. Train staff. Springing new ideas and practices on staff members is a recipe for disaster. ...
  2. Emphasize change of thinking. ...
  3. Communicate regularly. ...
  4. Foster collaboration. ...
  5. Integrate tools. ...
  6. Stay Flexible. ...
  7. Concentrate on the End-Product.

What is the most important in Agile? ›

According to the Agile Manifesto, the more important values are individuals and interactions, working software, customer collaboration, and responding to change. Agile organizations use processes and tools, appropriate documentation, contracts, and plans to support the more important values.

What are the 3 C's in Agile? ›

In this talk we'll introduce DevOps and discuss the three C's of DevOps: Character, Collaboration, and Community.

What are the pros and cons of Agile vs Waterfall? ›

Agile projects are typically cheaper and can be delivered quickly. They offer greater flexibility, but also produce less predictable results due to the uncertainty and unclear nature of many of the project characteristics. Waterfall projects are typically more expensive and take longer to deliver.

What is Agile in simple words? ›

At its simplest, Agile simply means continuous incremental improvement through small and frequent releases. The term Agile is most commonly associated with software development as a project management methodology.

What are two reasons agile development is more beneficial than waterfall? ›

Improves collaboration among teams- 54% Enhances the quality level of software in organizations- 52% Results in enhanced customer satisfaction- 49% Speeds time to market- 43%

What are the benefits of agile projects? ›

Today we'll discuss the primary benefits of Agile, including:
  • Increased visibility.
  • Increased adaptability (agility)
  • Increased alignment.
  • Increased product quality.
  • Increased business value.
  • Increased customer satisfaction.
  • Decreased risk.

What are 3 main differences between Agile and waterfall methodologies? ›

Agile Vs Waterfall
This method is flexible and allows changes for the progress of the project soon after the first stage of designing gets completed.Once the project development begins, there is no way to change the specifications if any are required.
12 more rows
Aug 16, 2022

What is the most important thing in Agile? ›

An Agile focus should be on improving the product and advancing consistently. Simplicity — the art of maximizing the amount of work not done — is essential. The goal is to get just enough done to complete the requested project.

Why is waterfall model the best? ›

The advantages of the waterfall methodology are that: Requirements are completed early in the project, enabling the team to define the entire project scope, create a complete schedule, and design the overall application.


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