Agile Vs Waterfall

Agile vs Waterfall – How to Select the Right Tool for the Job

Software is fueling business growth and performance across industries. According to McKinsey & Company, spending on software systems rose by almost 30 percent in a few short years.

Software has become an integral foundation for improved performance and efficiency. Businesses rely on software for everything from financials to project management, to quality control and product documentation.

With the right digital services in place, enterprises gain a critical edge over the competition. Staying ahead of the digital transformation race is how enterprise companies stay relevant to their customers. That’s putting pressure on already overworked IT and development teams. To succeed, developers need to refine and improve their project management tools.

Smart developers aren’t working harder, they’re working smarter with the right process.

Achieving Agile

Agile vs Waterfall

Software Delivery Life Cycle (SDLC) is the process of designing, developing, and testing software products and applications. With the right process in place, companies can deploy faster, better react to market pressure, and release higher-quality business applications.

In this blog post, we’ll analyze two different SDLC methodologies for change and development projects – waterfall and agile.

For years, developers have seen these as competing strategies.  Agile vs Waterfall is a common argument in IT departments, with advocates and evangelists debating the merits for each. Companies should see them as different strategic tools, with strengths and weaknesses that can be applied depending on the strategy.

We’ll review how each can be used in business application development. By applying the right SDLC methodology, enterprises can deliver better business outcomes. Let’s start with the more traditional development methodology:

A Closer Look at Waterfall Methodologies

The waterfall methodology was developed in the 1970s to bring discipline to early software development.

Based on manufacturing principles, the waterfall method provides individual steps for each phase of software development – a strictly linear, sequential process.

The method was designed as a logical progression of stages flowing downward like a waterfall. The rigid protocols and processes ensure the final product matches the specifications put in place at the beginning of the project.

What Is the Waterfall Method?

For early developers, the clearly defined steps of the waterfall method provide predictable output. Rigid testing protocols reduce variation. For an industry struggling to find an identity and develop processes, the waterfall method helped shape and focus work effort. It offered the structure developers and early IT departments needed.

For many years, software companies around the world relied on the waterfall method to design, code, and implement software systems. In waterfall, much of the work is done in the requirements and analysis phases. Project teams have a strict role and transparent goals. Once coding begins, there’s no confusion on the work or expected results.

The project team is highly structured with clearly defined roles for members. Each phase includes an output and deliverable, and no phase will begin without the preceding deliverable.

Phases of the Waterfall Method

Typically, the phases of the waterfall method include:

  • Requirements: The specifications and requirements for the project are documented in as much detail as possible. This becomes the product requirements document.
  • Analysis: The requirements are analyzed and used to define the schema, models, and business rules to be used in development.
  • Design: The analysis is used in the design of the software architecture.
  • Coding: The software is developed in small, contained units of work. Functional testing is done on each unit to prove viability before it is integrated into the product.
  • Testing: After integration, the system is tested for faults. Faults are identified and corrected. The system is debugged.
  • Deployment and Operations: After all testing is completed, the product is deployed live in a production environment. Further testing is done. Support and maintenance are performed as needed on the system.

Variations of the Waterfall Method

  • Over the years, variations on the traditional waterfall method have been developed. These refine and extend the original method, modernizing the system for new users.


  • The V-model, a variation on the waterfall method, focuses on the verification and validation of different development phases. It defines the relationship between the phases in the standard waterfall method.
  • Instead of moving downward, the verification and validation process steps move upward after the coding phase. This aligns the testing phase with the corresponding project definition phase. For example, the unit testing phase in the V-model uses the design phase to validate and verify each software unit. The system testing uses the analysis phase to validate the software system.


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Advantages of Waterfall Methodologies

The waterfall method was critical for bringing the rigorous discipline and documentation early software development required.

The waterfall method continues to provide an excellent tool for smaller projects that include specific outputs and clearly defined requirements. Advantages of the waterfall method include:

  1. Project Control

In the past, there were few open source tools or commercial software components to aid in development. Even foundational work on a system required custom coding – work like database connections or multithreading data processing.

This meant projects required massive teams. Pockets of highly specialized expertise were brought onboard for specific tasks.

Large and chaotic teams were required for even relatively simple projects. Project managers needed a simple, easy-to-use tool to help them focus. The waterfall method defined and directed the work of the project team.

  1. Project Visibility

The clearly defined phases of the waterfall method offer rigidly defined deliverables.

Each phase and deliverable include a review process for the team to follow as work is done. There’s no confusion as to the direction or priorities of the project. Everything is defined by the specs and the requirements, which is available to all team members.

The resources and time spent in the requirements and analysis phase can reduce project costs later. Any problems are identified and resolved early, reducing the overall cost of the project.

  1. Documentation and Specifications

Technical specifications align the team. They include sign off from the project managers for specific tasks. With a focus on requirements, confusion about the direction and priorities of the team is eliminated.

The emphasis on project documentation, including design documents, source code, and the requirements, provide a valuable record of work. Many projects today suffer from a lack of documentation.


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Disadvantages of Waterfall Methodologies

Disadvantages of the waterfall method include:

  1. Higher Risk

Projects delivered using the waterfall method are more apt to fail, especially if the scope or requirements aren’t clearly defined. Complex projects will increase the risk even further.

Risk can be mitigated with effective change management, but the waterfall method isn’t conducive to ongoing change. This leads many project managers to release projects with flaws, bugs, or suboptimal functionality. If the cost of a change doesn’t deliver enough value, the project may be closed.

  1. Increased Cost

The waterfall method is focused on forward progress for the project, not revision or reflection.

Often, when a project starts, the customer and stakeholders may not fully understand project expectations. Scope and project frustration for both the customer and the team is common, and any change will drastically increase cost.

With testing and validation done later in the project, any problems can be expensive to fix. Projects must be redesigned after constraints are found.

Many projects are released with scope or functionality that was initially planned but didn’t meet user needs. The result is wasted work and unnecessary functionality.

Other time, functionality that wasn’t designed to scale or adapt to changing user needs, require an expensive reengineering project.

  1. Lack of Flexibility

Waterfall projects often take months or even years to produce a workable version of the software. The customer or client can’t test or see any progress until most of the coding and integration are done. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate the initial requirements. Any change will push the project back, requiring redesign, redevelopment and retesting – increasing the project costs.

Simply put, software products are better when the design and scope can evolve and change through continual testing and feedback.

A Closer Look at Agile Software Development

Early software development required large project teams with the discipline and focus that are hallmarks of the waterfall method.

The Agile approach was developed to meet the needs of a changing software industry. The advent of the internet gave rise to small start-up companies. These companies needed to get internet applications written and usable as quickly as possible. Opportunity didn’t wait for an extensive requirements or analysis phase.

Many small start-ups didn’t have the manpower or resources to create individual project teams. Developers filled multiple roles in a project. Organizations were less structured, and they had to manage changing requirements and a shifting scope of work.

Start-up companies needed more flexibility than they had with the waterfall method.

A group of developers came up with a new project management and SDLC method. It was designed to better meet the needs of a changing software industry. They called their new method “agile.”

What Is Agile Software Development?

Agile uses iterative and incremental software development.

It focuses on short cycles of constant improvement. Self-organized teams work and collaborate.  Management removes impediments to not interrupt work cycles. At the end of each cycle, work is evaluated, and a new set of goals are defined.

User stories in agile divide work into increments. Each story defines a unit of value to the finished product. User stories that aren’t included in a work cycle are placed in a backlog.

Daily meetings are used to track progress and promote collaboration on the team. During the meeting, each member will describe completed work and review obstacles.

Incremental development is the goal in agile. Each successive version of the software is usable and builds directly on the previous version. It is also iterative, allowing for repeat work that improves upon previously completed activities.

The short cycles of agile allow developers to better manage change and respond to customer needs. Work and the product can be evaluated at the end of each cycle. Corrections can be made to the project to improve efficiency and deliver a better final product.

The Manifesto for Agile

The original Agile  Manifesto, written in response to the problems many developers had with the waterfall method, includes four core tenants:

  • Individuals over Processes: Agile is focused on people rather than processes.
  • Software over Documentation: Rather than front-loading the project with documentation and requirements, the focus is on writing and testing code.
  • Customer Collaboration over Negotiation: Agile doesn’t rely on clearly defined requirements. It promotes collaboration with the customer and users during development.
  • Change over Planning: Rather than creating a rigid plan for work, agile embraces change and adaptation.

The focus of agile is speed and flexibility. It promotes small, self-starting teams that work fast, rather than rigid processes, planning, and documentation. With agile, the customer becomes a critical part of the project team. Customers collaborate with the developers rather than dictate the requirements and deliverables.

Variations of Agile Software Development

There are many variations on agile.


One of the earliest, and most popular, variations of agile is known as scrum. Scrum utilizes short, timed sprints. Scheduled meetings are used to pace and manage work.

A sprint begins with planning, where priorities are identified. Team members make commitments to complete work, and the group holds each other accountable for the work. A product owner manages the work and sets the priorities. Priorities ensure the team delivers the highest value possible. A scrum master is assigned to protect the scrum process and eliminate distractions for the team.


DevOps, another agile methodology, combines software development and operations into a single, seamless process. The collaboration between development and operations (DevOps) represents a cultural shift in software engineering.

DevOps enables seamless work between integration, testing, and release. This shortens the development cycle and increases the pace of deployment.

DevOps goals are:

  • Deliver a better customer experience
  • Increase flexibility
  • Empower innovation
  • Strengthen security
  • Raise operational awareness


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Continuous Delivery

Similar to DevOps, continuous delivery methodology uses continuous integration to drive rapid deployment of code and product to the market. Companies using continuous delivery can update code for release multiple times a day. A continuous delivery pipeline uses automation and incorporates infrastructure to build, test, and deploy software.

Advantages of Agile Software Development

Many companies today are exploring agile methodologies for software development, if they haven’t already implemented them. Advantages of agile include:

  1. Flexible and Adaptable

Using shorter work cycles enables the project team to continually refine the work. The backlog can be reprioritized as customer or products need change. Items can be added, and work can be adapted with a new iteration.

When problems occur, or market pressure demands a new priority, agile can easily manage the change. This allows for a more responsive customer experience and eliminates the frustration and high cost of many software projects.

  1. Increased Collaboration

A core value of agile is collaboration with the client. Frequent builds are ready for review after each work cycle. This means the client can review the work and provide immediate feedback on the product.

Customer feedback can be used in prioritizing the backlog. It increases trust between the customer and the project team and promotes engagement for everyone involved.

Transparency is an additional benefit of increased collaboration and frequent product reviews. When problems or miscommunication are identified, a quick meeting and an efficient solution can eliminate the problem.

  1. Focus on Value

By prioritizing work in the backlog and enabling change on-the-go, agile frequently delivers higher-value projects for clients. Work focuses on features that deliver the highest business value, even when priorities shift.

Agile also incorporates acceptance criteria based on user needs in the stories and product features. With frequent reviews and feedback through the project, agile can deliver a better software product.

Disadvantages of Agile Software Development

While agile is a powerful tool for software development, it is not perfect. There are challenges to implementing and using agile in project management. These include:

  1. Inaccurate Work Assessments

The repetitive and iterative nature of agile makes it difficult to accurately forecast the work effort necessary to complete a project.

Agile projects are difficult to accurately schedule. Setting a deadline can often lead to incomplete projects or work effort that isn’t finished. It can also lead to overworked team members struggling to meet a deadline.

Planning a single work cycle can be done accurately. Planning further ahead or forecasting an end date is difficult, especially when a forecast must accommodate changes.

  1. Lack of Documentation

Agile deliberately forgoes documentation at the beginning of the project. The focus in agile is coding and getting a workable product in place for review. This can lead to a lack of records and documentation when the project is complete.

Some development teams believe the backlog and completed user stories provide all the necessary documentation. While this may be enough, the shifting priorities and frequent changes to the work can lead to gaps in the documentation. Decisions are made without the supporting material. This can lead to questions and confusion after the project is complete.

  1. Customer Collaboration Requirements

Not every customer is ready or willing to work closely with the project team. They simply don’t have time to sit through product demos. They can’t review each build and provide feedback.

The iterative process in agile requires frequent customer feedback, especially when there aren’t clearly defined requirements. Without feedback and collaboration, prioritizing the backlog and designing user stories become guesswork.

Agile projects will struggle if the customer isn’t clear on the expected outcomes. Also, project team must have access to a user base for feedback.

Achieving Agile

Agile vs Waterfall – Choosing the Right Methodology for Your Project

As enterprises embrace software solutions, there is greater demand for timely and effective product releases.

Competition between enterprises is fiercer than ever. Developers have a part to play in staying ahead of the competition. This means rapid and customer responsive releases, a quicker pace for new features and functionality. Developers need better testing protocols. They must have an eye on the future by integrating market needs and new technology.

Agile and the waterfall methods are both viable methodologies for managing a project. Selecting a management tool that supports the right methodology can boost the efficiency of the project team and lower costs. The right tool provides a critical edge to development and IT efforts.

Use the questions below to evaluate your project and determine if one methodology will provide an advantage for your project:

  1. Is the customer willing and able to provide frequent feedback?

Agile is designed to promote collaboration between the customer and project team. The short work cycles and frequent build iterations require feedback and assessment from the client.

If the client is ready and willing to provide feedback, then agile is the right tool. With agile, the team can use the feedback to provide better project results.

As the client refines their work priorities, the backlog can be adjusted to reflect the new priorities. User feedback identifies problems or challenges. Then, new user stories can be added to solve the problem before the final product is released.

A strength of the waterfall method is setting the work requirements at the beginning of the project, before any work begins. The specifications and requirements shape the project. Once they are in place, there is little need for frequent client or customer collaboration – even during testing.

The waterfall method is a better choice when the project team does not have access to the customer. Also, if the customer isn’t willing to provide feedback.

  1. Are there clearly defined requirements and specifications for the project?

For some projects, the scope and requirements of the project may not be clearly defined. Requirements may address only part of the problem or the project may impact multiple areas of the business. In projects like these, the scope and requirements may change before the final product is released.

Waterfall methodologies can eliminate the need for unnecessary work or iterations when requirements are clearly defined. It reduces expense for developers.

Agile can better accommodate ongoing changes when requirements aren’t clear. Agile will reduce costs when change occurs, or when work priorities must be reevaluated. Use agile for projects that don’t have clear requirements or you expect change to impact the project.

  1. Is there a strict deadline for the project?

Accommodating change is a strength of agile. Incorporating new work efforts and reprioritizing work is an important part of the agile toolset.

Change can also mean a shifting schedule for the project. Predicting change and evaluating the work effort and resources required for completing a project can be difficult, if not impossible.

There are steps that can be taken to hit a deadline using agile. Setting priorities and focusing on only critical items will help ensure the completed project is released on time. However, the project release may not be optimized. It may lack the optimization and user functionality typical in an agile project.

Most companies will initially implement agile. They continue to shorten development cycle as they move toward DevOps and a continuous delivery methodology. This provides a steady stream of updates and value for the customer and works to the strength of agile.

If you have a strict schedule with clearly defined deliverables, then the waterfall method is a better option for the project.

  1. Will the project require documentation and a record of the work?

The waterfall method includes a long and detailed process for documenting a project. Many projects managed by the waterfall method include massive technical specifications in volumes with more than 800 pages.

This provides a valuable record of work. It gives the project team transparency not only throughout the project, but after as well.

Agile removes the documentation requirements to complete work as quickly as possible. Coding and development starts as early as possible to get a working prototype to the customer for review. There is no time for documentation. Agile doesn’t make a record of work a priority.

If project documentation is a priority, then the waterfall method is a better option.

  1. Is the project large or complex?

The waterfall method provides for extensive and detailed project planning. It utilizes requirements, analysis, and a system design phase to map out the project before work begins.

This planning provides a detailed roadmap for the project team and keeps work effort focused on the project requirements. For smaller, limited projects, waterfall methodology is an excellent tool for delivering specific requirements.

For more complex projects, however, extensive and detailed project planning can be flawed. Complexity can make it difficult to clearly define project requirements. The initial planning may not identify all the challenges in the scope of the project. This can leave the project team struggling during later phases of the project.

Larger projects, with more requirements or a longer schedule, will also struggle to efficiently use the waterfall method. Over time, project or customer priorities may change or additional needs may be identified. Larger and more complex projects have a higher risk and significantly increased cost when using the waterfall method.

Because it uses short work cycles with constant evaluation and feedback, agile can better accommodate change. As a complex project develops and requirements shift and change, agile can help manage the work for the project team. Agile minimizes the cost and lost project velocity if the team needs to reprioritize work. This reduces the risk for large and complex projects, while increasing the control project managers have at each phase.

A Final Thought on Agile versus Waterfall for Project Management

The age of the customer is driving enterprises to accelerate digital services innovation. Customers expect rapid deployment of high-quality, customer-focused software updates.

To meet these demands, companies and IT professionals need to embrace new tools. They must seize every opportunity to improve efficiency and deliver better outcomes. IT leaders are exploring project management tools and solutions to support their SDLC strategies. They are looking for any advantage that will improve efficiency and lower costs.

Depending on the project, you may find that some of the answers to the questions above will point to one method. In that case, consider the priorities for the project. Some projects will lend themselves to one SDLC methodology.

If Enterprise Agile is on your agenda, Panaya Release Dynamix (RDx) can support your SDLC strategy. With RDx, you can see everything, sync everyone, and be proactive. It allows you to factor in real-time insights. RDx offers multidimensional views into impact and risk for data-based decision-making to know you are ready for go-live.

Achieving Agile