Agile vs Waterfall: How To Choose The Right Methodology for Your Project
Product Growth at Codegiant
Picking the right method for managing your tasks can either make or break the success of your projects.
Either you’ll produce twice more work, or you will miss your deadlines.
In this article, you’ll find out whether Agile or Waterfall is more suitable for your team.
NOTE: If you are running late, you can check the simple infographic below — “Agile vs Waterfall.” It shows the pros and cons of Agile vs Waterfall.
However, I highly recommend going through the entire article as you’ll be able to understand the process behind each framework. And make an accurate assessment of which methodology is best suitable for your team.
What Is Agile?
Agile is a way of thinking.
The whole point of Agile is to get continuous user feedback while the product is being built. Thus, you’ll be able to experiment more and bring innovations to the table.
Agile is also about human interactions, customer collaboration, adapting to change, and producing working software.
It is built upon an empirical approach, which means that it is constantly observed. You observe how the market reacts to the software you create and then make iterations to improve it.
The Agile methodology definition was introduced by 17 software developers gathered in Utah back in 2001. Since then, most people refer to Agile as the Agile Manifesto
. It consists of 12 major principles:
1. Customer satisfaction is the most important one. You achieve immediate customer satisfaction with the continuous delivery of a useful feature or product.
2. Change is inevitable. That’s why being able to adapt to a changing environment is crucial when using Agile.
3. Delivering software that actually works. And doing it frequently enough in order to show progress.
4. In an Agile development methodology, daily cooperation is an essential factor. There must be communication between both the developers and business people.
5. Your teammates should be motivated. They should be willing to face challenges and adapt to changes.
6. One of the best ways to ensure everybody is on the same page is through face-to-face communication.
7. If a feature or product is working well, you are able to gauge your progress.
8. The workflow should be maintained constant. The pace your team is moving with should always be the same. Thus, you’ll be able to give a precise estimate of the time it will take you to complete a project.
9. Attention to technical details is vital, as well as good design.
10. It’s not about doing more. It’s about getting it done in the fastest way possible.
11. Teams that can manage themselves are the best. They have a sense of responsibility, which is vital for your project’s success.
12. Your team should regularly take and receive feedback. It should always adapt to the changing rules in order to ensure that the best product quality is delivered.
Now that you have a bit of understanding about what Agile methodology stands for, let’s see why it’s so special:
First, the Agile way of thinking (which became quite popular lately) can allow your team to become more productive.
That’s because Agile doesn’t focus on getting big projects done at once. It stresses on small projects.
Agile fosters breaking big projects into small chunks. Thus, you can clearly see what’s ahead of you and work towards completing that task as fast as possible.
Agile teams are also open to constant changes and feedback.
Say, if you forget to mention a feature in your backlog, with Agile, you can include it on a later stage without any hassle.
Also, because Agile encourages working on small projects, your customers will be able to see the value immediately. That’s because you are consistently delivering new code.
Agile tasks usually last somewhere between 2 weeks and 2 months. Whereas bigger projects may take you from several months to a year.
With Agile, you’ll likewise be able to test more frequently. Therefore, you can clearly see what is working and what’s not. Thus, optimize your workflow further for maximum efficiency.
What Are The Pros Of Using Agile?
If you struggle with defining the end goal of your project, then Agile would be the perfect fit for you.
That’s because Agile, as already mentioned, allows continuous iteration throughout the work process. Therefore, you can optimize your product based on the feedback you receive from your end-users.
Because changes are acceptable in Agile, you don’t have to worry about making mistakes. You’ll be able to fix it along the way.
Also, projects are broken down into smaller tasks. Thus, you can prioritize the most important assignments your team needs to work on first. Therefore, you’ll deliver what matters to the customer instead of wasting time on trivial tasks.
By breaking your projects into smaller chunks, you’ll be able to see progress almost instantly. Thus, your team will be motivated to work faster and more efficiently.
Due to Agile’s highly encouraging face-to-face interaction, you can bring everybody on the same page.
And for your information, team communication is the most important factor in achieving product success.
Dimitriy, the co-founder of GitLab
, encourages team collaboration. As a matter of fact, Dimitriy created GitLab because of that single reason — team communication. He needed a tool that would allow him to communicate effectively with his teammates.
Anyway, once your first lines of code are completed, you can roll them out and see how the market reacts and optimize further if necessary.
Sounds great, but it also has its downsides…
What Are The Cons Of Using Agile?
With Agile, there is a lack of documentation.
Due to Agile’s methods of continuous iteration and feedback received, documentation isn’t highly encouraged as the team gets information based on how the market reacts to the product.
Team commitment is also absolutely essential. If your team isn’t 100% into the project, you’ll have a hard time utilizing Agile.
Due to the market’s constant changes and iterations, your team needs to always be in a “war mode” in order to adapt to the changing environment.
Also, they have to understand the Agile way of thinking and feel comfortable with it for maximum results. If this is your first time utilizing Agile, give your team a presentation on the Agile Manifesto.
Because Agile teams tend to be quite small (a maximum of 10 people), every member of the team needs to be highly experienced in what they are doing. This will improve your overall results as well as team communication.
Also, determining a solid end date can be tough. Agile project management is used mainly with projects where you aren’t aware of the end result, and you don’t know how much time it would take you to complete a project.
Finally, your end product can be quite different than what was planned initially. But this isn’t a bad thing. If you’ve taken customer feedback constructively and you were able to adapt to the changing environment successfully, you should come up with a great product.
Now, let’s check which Agile development methodology would be most suitable for your team:
Different Agile Methodologies
— it’s the most popular one
. It’s an iterative agile process that typically consists of three Scrum roles and time boxes. Also, in the Scrum project management, you have a Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Scrum Team. A time box, also known as a sprint, is the time in which you need to complete your tasks. Scrum sprints last from two weeks to a month. During the spring period, changes aren’t allowed.
Kanban — The Kanban methodology allows you to make changes in the process whenever you need it. It helps you to visualize your workflow as Kanban mainly consists of boards and cards. Actually, Kanban means “visual sign” in Japanese.
Lean — it strives to optimize your time working on tasks. Lean also empowers the team by encouraging fast delivery through constant iterations.
Crystal Clear — this one is part of the Crystal methodologies for Agile project management. It mainly stresses on frequent product delivery through optimization based on the received feedback from your customers.
Extreme Programming — or also known as XP. It encourages adaptivity to the changing environment. Similar to Crystal clear, it’s based around valuable feedback. XP basically empowers the team to strive for simplicity.
Feature-driven development — aka FDD. Feature-driven development combines the best practices for handling a project: create a draft, build your list of tasks, plan by task, design, and build.
Dynamic Systems Development Method — Since 1994, DSDM has been known as one of the most comprehensive Agile development methodologies. It’s based around the business’ values and needs. It strives for customer satisfaction. Seven principles are at the core of DSDM: Determine the company’s needs; Collaborate effectively with your team; Quality must be top-notch; Build upon solid foundations; Allow continuous improvement; Utilize control and deliver on time.
Adaptive System Development — as the name suggests, it’s about adapting to the existing changes. It mainly consists of speculation, collaboration, and learning. ASD is highly suggested by teams who don’t have a clear picture of the end product and need to adapt constantly.
— TDD encourages you to write automated code first and then develop just-enough code in order to pass the test later. TDD was introduced by Kent Beck
, who is also one of the XP model creators
Rational Unified Process
— Developed by IBM
, RUP consists of iterative processes to ensure you produce great software. It delivers templates and guidelines for software development in order to make the process easier and quicker. It is mainly used to produce a stable architecture design.
Agile Unified Process — AUP is a child of RUP. It combines some of the best agile practices and methods, including the methodologies from TDD, as well as agile change management, and database refactoring. AUP strives to deliver software of the highest quality.
Agile Modeling — As the name suggests, AM is used to model other methodologies and to improve them. However, it can not act on its own. It’s basically a supplement to other popular Agile methodologies like Kanban and Scrum.
Scaled Agile Framework — As Agile is mainly developed for smaller teams of 10 people or less, this new and improved framework allows larger organizations to adapt to Agile too. The Scaled Agile Framework helps big teams solve issues such as architecture, integration, and funding. It’s definitely an excellent approach for your big company if you like the Agile way of handling tasks.
Rapid Application Development — If you can’t wait to jump into the battlefield, the RAD framework can be a perfect option for you. That’s because it encourages as little planning as possible. Instead, the RAD methodology enables your team to iterate and improve the work process along the way. It consists of six stages: business modeling, data modeling, process modeling, application generation, testing, and turnover.
— Created by Eric Evans
in 2004, the DDD approach focuses on solving complex tasks and issues through iterations.
Empirical Control Method — The ECM method encourages environment adoption. Similar to the RAD approach, you don’t have to do much planning initially. Instead, you should observe the changing environment, collect feedback, and adjust your work accordingly.
What Is Waterfall?
It originated in 1970 when Winston W. Royce
wrote an article
in which the Waterfall model was illustrated by mistake. Contrary to Agile, Waterfall doesn’t encourage continuous iteration.
It’s a linear process that should be strictly followed from the beginning to the end. That’s why there is a lot of planning involved as opposed to Agile, where planning and documentation are lacking.
With Waterfall, you are not allowed to make any changes to the process.
If you happen to miss a feature, the costs of making changes will be enormously high.
On the whole, Waterfall is best suited for large teams with massive projects that can take up to a year.
Think of Windows. They release a new version every few years — they follow the Waterfall methodology.
Here are the stages of Waterfall:
What Are The Pros Of Using Waterfall?
Waterfall is pretty easy to understand how it works. Thus, you can manage your projects effortlessly and move forward without any hurdles.
Each stage of the process has its own detailed instructions that are known before you start working on the project.
Also, because everything is mapped out clearly, deadlines can be easily met. However, this only works when you have a clear image of the end product. While with Agile, you can’t do that due to a lack of specifics.
Everything is documented before giving the green light. Therefore, issues along the way are unlikely to occur. You know every step to go from A to Z quite easily.
When you are using Waterfall, the processes are made to be simple and straightforward.
What Are The Cons Of Using Waterfall?
Waterfall is pretty easy to use, which makes it a highly preferred method of managing your projects but…
It’s also a high risk.
It’s risky because you can’t make any changes. You can’t go back to a previous stage of your workflow. Therefore, if you miss something in the planning stage, chances are you’ll have to start all over again. Or the costs you’ll have to cover in order to make those changes will be enormously high.
Another thing is that the client can’t see results until in the late stages of development, which takes a few months, depending on the project.
For you to use the Waterfall model successfully, you’ll have to know what product your customers desire before developing it.
Researching your customers can be helpful a lot. However, it’s never 100% accurate.
As a marketer and copywriter, I know that being 100% accurate with what your customers want is nearly impossible. But you can get pretty close to it if you do your research properly… meaning, you run surveys, do interviews, mine data from forums, etc.
All in all, you have to be very well prepared when you are utilizing the Waterfall model. Otherwise, the consequences can be catastrophic.
What Are The Key Differences Between Agile And Waterfall?
As you can already tell, Waterfall is the exact opposite of Agile. And here is what makes them different:
1. Waterfall follows a sequential task order while Agile doesn’t. When using Waterfall, you first need to complete your current assignment before moving on to the next one. Whereas with Agile, you don’t adhere to a sequential order. You can start from the end and move towards the beginning if, of course, that is technically possible.
2. With Waterfall, you have to map out every detail of your big project. Whereas with Agile, you don’t need any of that. You can hop right into the battlefield and make adjustments along the way.
3. With Watefall, either you won’t be able to make changes during the work process, or the cost of doing that will be mind-blowing. On the other hand, Agile allows you to move towards the end goal while making changes and adapting to the environment. Yet, Waterfall is simpler to utilize.
All in all, Waterfall is a linear and follow-the-rules process, whereas Agile allows you to be more flexible and creative with your tasks.
Though Agile and Waterfall are both quite different, they have one thing in common — to produce a quality product when the final deadline is met.
When To Use Agile vs Waterfall?
Well, if you are working on smaller projects, I’d recommend going with Agile, particularly Kanban or Scrum. Agile is also preferred when you can’t see the end project clearly.
However, if you are working on a big project and you have thorough documentation as well as accurate time and cost estimates, Waterfall will work better for you as it will simplify the whole process.
So this situation can be tricky. Try to understand the real meaning behind the words of your users in order to ensure you come up with a problem-solving solution.
But, honestly, try them both and see how they work for you.
Yet, keep in mind that you can try the two hybrid models if you have a hard time making a decision — Agifall and Wagile.
Wagile is short Waterfalls. In Wagile, you are doing daily stand-up Scrum meetings and short iterations without really changing the traditional Waterfall model. It’s a great model to stick with if you are used to Waterfall, but you want to try the Agile method of thinking
With Agifall, you are adhering to the traditional Agile frameworks. However, you are doing more research upfront so you can see clearly what’s ahead of you. You would then break out the research, strategy, and planning stages into small chunks to make the work process easier. With Agifall, you don’t have to wait for a particular task to be completed to start the next one. You can work on a few assignments simultaneously.
What About Agile vs Scrum?
Now, there is also a lot of talk about Agile vs Scrum, no doubt about it.
Just look at the stats:
Almost 4,000 people search monthly for “Agile vs Scrum.” And, honestly, I’m a bit irritated.
I’m not annoyed by the people who are searching for “Agile vs Scrum” but by the articles on the topic of “Agile vs Scrum.”
You see, comparing Scrum vs Agile is like comparing “color” vs “green.”
Scrum is a subset of Agile. Scrum is an Agile methodology as Kanban is, and XP too. Therefore, you can’t use Scrum without using Agile.
But it’s worth comparing Scrum to Kanban as these are the most popular Agile frameworks today.
What Is Scrum?
The Scrum project management, as you already know, is an iterative process of managing your projects. Scrum focuses on delivering the maximum amount of value in the shortest time.
It comes with sprints, short periods of time (usually 2–4 weeks), in which a particular task must be completed. During that period of time, changes on the Scrum boards aren’t allowed — iterations can be done only when the Scrum sprint is finished.
In the Scrum development methodology, we have three main Scrum roles — the Product Owner, the Scrum Master, and the Scrum Team.
The role of the Product Owner is to create the product backlog and share his plans and ideas with the Scrum team.
He is also responsible for the ROI of the product that is being developed.
The Product Owner prioritizes the features by importance and can accept or reject the work that is being produced.
The product backlog illustrates all the features that need to be developed throughout the Scrum sprint.
It also includes user stories.
A user story shows the product you are trying to develop through the eyes of your user. It basically illustrates the steps the user needs to take to finish a task within your software successfully. And then, based on the user’s journey (story), you work on improving that Scrum software.
The Scrum master takes a look at the product backlog and then creates the Scrum backlog. The Scrum backlog features all the tasks that must be completed throughout the sprint.
The Scrum master also encourages and helps the team throughout the work process, but he is not acting as manager. The Scrum Master’s task is to keep the team focused on the project and away from external distractions.
The Scrum team should be self-organized, and everyone should know exactly what must be done without having someone to guide them 24/7. Also, the collaboration between the team members should be flawless.
Each day, the Scrum team is doing a daily stand-up Scrum meeting that lasts between 5 to 15 minutes. Everyone tells what they did yesterday, what they are going to do today, and what challenges they are facing. That’s also the time when you should ask for help if it’s needed.
And the Scrum team also uses burndown charts to track its progress.
What Are The Pros Of Using The Scrum Methodology?
When issues occur, they can be easily fixed in a short period of time. Once the Scrum sprint is over, your team can work on all the issues that happened previously and fix them.
Also, due to the daily Scrum meetings, the team is usually on the same page, and it clearly knows what to do next. If someone is falling behind, the others can bring him back on track.
Accountability is on a very high level when you are using Scrum project management. That’s because there’s no manager to micromanage the team. The team members should be responsible for their tasks and ensure they meet the requirements of the customers.
What Are The Cons Of Using The Scrum Methodology?
Your team must be all in when using the Scrum framework.
That’s usually because there’s a lack of a manager and constant iterations are always needed. When there is no one to manage your team, the people in that team must be experienced enough to handle the situation professionally and ensure that the end results are met.
Using the Scrum framework means using Agile. You don’t have a clear picture of the end product, therefore determining a final deadline and cost estimate might turn out to be troublesome.
But if you calculate thoroughly how many weeks and hours will be required to complete the project, you can come up with a well-informed guess on the estimates.
Now that you know Scrum, let’s take a look at the Kanban project management.
What Is Kanban?
Kanban is perhaps the most flexible Agile framework.
It was inspired back in 1940. A Toyota engineer Taiichi Ohno
was the man who first thought of Kanban.
Taiichi noticed the way marketplaces are being restocked.
They have just enough supply to meet the demand. If there are empty shelves in the shop, then more inventory is ordered to meet the demand again.
Taiichi brought this JIT (just-in-time) principle to the Toyota facilities in order to ramp up the car development process.
Since then, the Kanban methodology has gained quite a noticeable popularity, and Toyota has definitely increased its production.
With the Kanban project management, you can insert changes frequently in your workflow regardless of the stage you are currently at.
The Kanban methodology also utilizes the WIP (work-in-progress) principle. Here’s what it actually means:
On every Kanban board, which is the place where your tasks are located, you have a WIP limit. Therefore, you can’t keep, say, more than three tasks in progress at the same time.
That’s done in order to increase the team’s effectiveness and ramp up productivity.
All in all, we can conclude that the Kanban project management is perfect for teams that adhere to constant iterations and need flexibility in their schedule.
What Are The Pros Of Using The Kanban Model?
Kanban is straightforward to understand due to its flexibility.
There is no set of rules, and you can prioritize your tasks as you gather continuous feedback.
Close to zero planning and documentation are required to get you started with the Kanban framework. Because of Kanban’s iterative nature, you can adjust it to your workflow quite effortlessly.
Kanban strives to optimize the team’s productivity by reducing the time they spend on trivial tasks. Tasks of secondary importance can slow down your work progress and actually leave your customers unsatisfied for not producing the #1 features they want.
Since, with Kanban, you can insert changes regularly, you can also deliver new features frequently. Thus, your clients can see the work you’ve done so far and put their minds at peace.
If we can give Kanban a one-word description, that would be speed. The whole purpose of Kanban is to optimize your cycle times (the period in which you work on a task) and ramp up the delivery time.
What Are The Cons Of Using The Kanban Model?
The Kanban boards might get overcomplicated if you start putting a lot of cards in the columns of your boards. This might leave your team mind-boggled and cause you to lose track of the work progress, which will lead to missed deadlines and unhappy customers.
Therefore, you should adhere to the WIP limit and not allow yourself to include any new “innovative” tasks to your Kanban board.
Typically, with Kanban, you have three available columns — “to do,” “work in progress,” and “done.” Therefore, you can hardly determine an accurate deadline.
Overall, Kanban is perfect for flexible teams, but you should try not to overwhelm your Kanban board with unnecessary tasks.
Similarities Between Kanban And Scrum
Both Kanban and Scrum are Agile methodologies that adhere to flexible ways of work.
They allow constant iteration, which enables you to ramp up the software delivery so that you can delight your customers throughout your journey together.
Kanban and Scrum also enable your team to work on a few tasks at once compared to Waterfall, where you have to work on one task at a time.
Scrum and Kanban also have WIP limits. However, the ways those WIP limits are integrated into the process differ.
They both use pull systems.
And their main focus is to deliver great software early in order to leave the customers satisfied.
Differences Between Kanban And Scrum
There are also a couple of significant differences between Kanban and Scrum.
Scrum relies on a set of roles such as Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Scrum Team. Whereas, with Kanban, there are no specific roles in your team.
Also, Kanban enables you to make constant iterations pretty much whenever you want. Whereas with Scrum, you can add stories and make changes only when the sprint is over. During the sprint, you aren’t allowed to add new stories or make changes.
In Kanban, products and features are continuously delivered, whereas, in Scrum, they are delivered at the end of the sprint.
When the sprint is over, the Scrum board is reset. With Kanban, you are continuously working on the Kanban board until the whole project has ended.
Also, in Kanban, a task is pulled when the previous one is completed. With Scrum, a whole batch of assignments is pulled at once.
Scrum requires you to make rough time and cost estimates for the sprints while Kanban does not.
And finally, both Agile frameworks have WIP limits. However, Scrum’s WIP limit is inserted into each iteration, whereas Kanban’s WIP limit is located in each workflow.
All in all, if you are looking for a more rigid model where you have rough estimates of time and cost, go with Scrum. Otherwise, pick Kanban. And by the way, nothing is stopping you from using Scrum and Kanban at the same time. Though, you might find it a bit overwhelming.
Here’s What Experts In The Field Have To Say About Agile vs Waterfall
“I think both have their place and one is not better than the other. I found that Agile works well for flexible projects that have minimal dependencies like web applications. But for projects that have strict deadlines and dependencies like hardware vendors, the Waterfall approach is better suited.
Agile only works when the entire organization shifts to that way of thinking. Just having the development team follow Agile does not work. It’s a mindset shift that is hard and not suited for all organizations. The Waterfall approach is easy to implement and can be adapted to most organizations. However, Agile can give much better predictability than the Waterfall approach.
” — Kevin Rodrigues is a software developer with more than 15 years of experience. He is also the founder of Gardening Mentor
“Agile’s embrace of change and early failure enables it to see disruption as a positive trend, while traditional management techniques, like Waterfall, tend to see disruption as a problem to be managed. Thousands of years of human history have shown that powerful and permanent disruptions can be only a day away. Businesses that adopt an Agile mindset can see these big disruptions as opportunities to gain a competitive advantage.
” — Travis James Fell is the Product Manager at Hypori
“Waterfall project management manages a predictive model of project risk control whereas the agile approach uses an empirical model of risk control. Basically, the idea of the waterfall method only works if you can predict all the requirements and resources accurately only then it will result in a low-risk project. On the contrary, agile methodology is a better framework because it relies on iterations and frequent inspect-and-adapt points to address those risks. Neither waterfall nor agile method is “bad”, it’s simply a matter of choosing the right tool as per the job and requirements.
” — Rameez Ghayas Usmani is a Digital Marketing Executive at PUREVPN
“The most important question the firm needs to answer is what are its goals, deadlines and budget. AGILE or Waterfall are simply methodologies for achieving the goals. AGILE is useless for any product with electronics. Rapid prototyping/3D printing of mechanical parts can be treated as AGILE product development.
” — Doug Ringer
, an advisor helping senior leaders exploit growth opportunities and stanch any bleeding in small and mid-sized firms.
“Agile as a more continuous iteration allows for more structure to the development as you can work of parts at similar times. Waterfall development is one thing after another, and while this can work, people need to know what’s coming next for development to run more smoothly. The parts are interconnected and should be treated as such.
” — Ethan Taub is a 2x CEO at Goalry
“Smaller projects with clearly defined deliverables are better suited to the waterfall methodology, while larger projects with not as clearly defined requirements or having the possibility for changing project scope are better suited to an agile methodology.
” — Bryan Osima is the CEO at Uvietech Software Solutions Inc
“Waterfall development equals stability and clarity, whereas Agile implies changeability and fluidity. Agile is more favored in Software Development due to the creativity and flexibility it encourages and enables.
” — Nevena Sofranic is the Founder of Omnes Group
“Agile is a big buzzword these days. It’s a great methodology, and it works very well with larger budgets and projects that are evolving. It’s a perfect solution for startups and SaaS products. However, it doesn’t mean that we should stop using Waterfall. Even if it’s a less “popular” methodology, it can be a perfect solution for simple, well-documented projects, with clear instructions.
” — Viktoriia Pavlova is the CEO at Starlight
“Waterfall makes perfect sense when the cost of change is high — you don’t want to shuffle scope rapidly when planning a large architectural change of existing service. Agile delivery processes (Scrum, Kanban) work best for creative tasks, from idea, via design, all the way to deployment and support. Regardless of which works for you the best, you may want to consider using Agile workflow optimization and risk management techniques — visualization of work, clear and transparent priorities, limiting work in progress.” — Lukasz Olczyk is an Agile coach and strategic consultant.
“A waterfall approach is best suited to environments such as internal processes that value consistency over the ability to react to a changing market. On the other hand, our standalone products exist in a far more volatile market where competition is greater and the end-user values enhanced features and functionality over consistent user experience. In product development, we apply agile methods to be able to accommodate user feedback and quickly react to the market. ”
— Morgan Kissel is a Director of Product Management at SCScloud
Hope this article helped you out.
By the way, if you are searching for an Agile project management tool, feel free to try out my company, Codegiant. We feature both Scrum sprints and Kanban boards so that your team can easily adapt to the changing environment and produce a quality product on time.
Subscribe to get your daily round-up of top tech stories!