September 25, 2023

Agile vs Waterfall: What’s the Difference in 2024?

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Key takeaways

  • Choosing between Agile and Waterfall is a foundational decision that impacts the entire project lifecycle.
  • Agile excels in adaptability and real-time adjustments, so it is ideal for software development and fast-paced projects.
  • Waterfall’s well-defined structure makes it suitable for large-scale, highly regulated projects.

Sep. 25, 2023: Irene Casucian revised the copy for clarity, accuracy, and depth. She also added examples of software solutions that support your project management goals.

Agile vs. Waterfall: What are the similarities and differences?

The fundamental difference between Agile and Waterfall lies in their approaches to project management. Agile is about adaptability and iterative progress, while Waterfall is a linear, phase-by-phase approach. Agile allows for changes along the way, while Waterfall is largely set in stone once started.

The table below highlights the similarities and differences between Agile and Waterfall in each stage of the project management lifecycle:

BothAgileWaterfall
InitiationProjects start with a requirements-gathering phase to understand what the project aims to achieve.Initial requirements are flexible and open to changes.Initial requirements are rigid and well-defined.
PlanningProjects involve activities like defining tasks and estimating timelines.Planning is iterative and evolves as the project progresses.Planning is done upfront, and changes are not easily accommodated.
ExecutionThe primary focus is on creating a working product.Execution is easily adaptable, with frequent reassessments and changes.Execution follows the initial plan closely and doesn’t entertain modifications easily.
Monitoring & ControlMonitoring and control measures ensure the project is on track.Monitoring is done in real-time and adapts quickly. Monitoring relies on predefined checkpoints and is less flexible in making adjustments.
ClosureProjects are finished when there is a finished output.The criteria for a “finished” project may continue to evolve.Projects have a clearly defined endpoint.

Also read: Top Innovative Project Management Strategies

What is Agile methodology?

Agile is a flexible, collaborative approach to project management that focuses on delivering small, incremental improvements to achieve a larger objective.

It emphasizes a high level of communication among cross-functional teams and stakeholders, and it allows for rapid adjustments based on real-time feedback. This methodology is particularly well-suited for projects where the end goal may not be clearly defined from the outset.

Pros

  • Adaptability: You can pivot easily.
  • Rapid deployment: Minimum viable products (MVPs) can launch quickly.
  • Teamwork: Collaboration and feedback are a priority.

Cons

  • Risk of unstructured complexity: The absence of a well-defined structure may result in operational chaos.
  • Budget constraints: Costs can be unpredictable.
  • Requires expertise: Effectiveness depends on each team member’s thorough understanding of the methodology.

Agile principles

The Agile methodology is anchored by a set of twelve guiding principles designed to optimize project efficiency:

  1. Client satisfaction: Aim for early and ongoing delivery of software that brings value to the client.
  2. Adaptive mindset: Be open to modifications in project requirements, even if they occur late in the development cycle, to give the client a competitive edge.
  3. Swift product releases: Consistently roll out functional software at frequent intervals, ideally with a focus on shorter timelines.
  4. Interdisciplinary cooperation: Ensure that business stakeholders and technical teams engage in daily dialogue throughout the project’s duration.
  5. Team morale: Construct the project framework around motivated team members and provide the necessary resources for success.
  6. Direct conversations: Prioritize in-person interactions as the most efficient means of communication within the team.
  7. Operational software: Use the functionality of the delivered software as the main indicator of project progress.
  8. Enduring momentum: Aim for a steady pace that can be kept up for the long term.
  9. Commitment to quality: Always focus on doing high-quality work to stay agile.
  10. Essentialism: Concentrate on eliminating unnecessary work and zero in on what truly matters.
  11. Autonomous group dynamics: Encourage self-management within teams, as the most effective project structures and designs often emerge from such groups.
  12. Periodic introspection: Regularly take time to check how the team is doing and make any necessary changes.

When to use Agile

Agile offers the adaptability and speed needed to stay ahead of the curve, making it an excellent choice for software developers, marketing teams, and startups.

Agile is often the go-to methodology for software projects because it allows rapid iterations. This is crucial when developing software, as user feedback can significantly change features or design. Agile accommodates this fluidity, making it easier to adapt to market needs.

In the fast-paced world of marketing, being able to adapt to consumer responses or market trends is invaluable. Agile allows marketing teams to test campaigns, measure their effectiveness in real time, and pivot strategies quickly. This ensures that resources are used efficiently and that the campaign is as impactful as possible.

Startups often operate in uncertain environments where business goals can change rapidly. Agile offers the flexibility to adapt to these changes without overhauling the entire project plan. It allows startups to move fast, iterate based on real-world feedback, and pivot as necessary, which is often vital for their survival and growth.

What is Waterfall methodology?

Waterfall methodology is a sequential, phase-based project management and software development approach. In this model, each phase must be fully completed before transitioning to the next one. This structured, linear process often starts with requirements gathering, followed by design, implementation, testing, deployment, and maintenance.

Unlike Agile, changes are not easily accommodated once the project has started. This makes Waterfall best suited for projects with well-defined requirements and low levels of uncertainty.

Pros

  • Clarity: Each phase has clear objectives and deliverables.
  • Budget-friendly: Easier to estimate costs upfront.
  • Documentation: Detailed docs are part and parcel.

Cons

  • Inflexibility: Alterations post-initiation are challenging to implement.
  • Extended duration: The completion of the final product may require a considerable time investment.
  • Critical risks: Early errors can jeopardize the entire project’s success.

Waterfall principles

The Waterfall methodology operates on a smaller, more structured set of principles that guide each phase of software development from conception to maintenance:

  1. Requirements specification: Articulate a comprehensive delineation of the intended software functionality.
  2. Architectural design: Formulate a meticulous blueprint outlining the construction methodology.
  3. Implementation phase: Execute the construction of the software following the predefined architectural guidelines.
  4. Verification procedures: Conduct rigorous testing protocols to ascertain the software’s operational integrity.
  5. Maintenance and sustainment: Implement ongoing measures to ensure the software’s continuous performance and reliability.

When to use Waterfall

The Waterfall approach stands out for its structured and linear nature, making it a preferred choice for infrastructure and government projects as well as those in highly regulated industries.

Waterfall is often the go-to for large-scale infrastructure projects like building bridges, highways, or power plants. These projects usually have well-defined requirements and a clear path to completion.

Waterfall’s structured, linear approach ensures that each phase, from planning to construction, is completed before moving on to the next, minimizing the risk of costly changes or rework. 

When dealing with government projects, there’s often a strict set of rules, guidelines, and bureaucratic processes to follow. Waterfall’s sequential phases align well with the meticulous documentation and approval steps usually required in government contracts. This makes it easier to adhere to regulatory compliance and reporting. 

In sectors like healthcare, finance, and aerospace, there are stringent regulations that must be met. Waterfall’s systematic approach allows for thorough documentation at each stage, making it easier to undergo audits and ensure compliance with industry-specific laws and standards.

Agile and Waterfall software tools

Jira

Jira by Atlassian is a popular project management tool primarily used by agile teams. It’s designed to help teams plan, track, and release world-class software.

Features that make it an effective software for agile project management include:

  • Project decomposition: User stories, issues, and tasks break down big ideas into manageable chunks.
  • Templates: Jira includes ready-made templates for Scrum, Kanban, Bug tracking, and DevOps.
  • Customization: Jira can adapt to your workflow, not the other way around.
  • Integrations: Jira seamlessly integrates with other tools your team uses.

Smartsheet

Smartsheet is a project management platform that focuses on people’s work, regardless of the type, methodology, or process. It aims to improve visibility, collaboration, and resource management.

Here are the features that make it an effective software for waterfall project management:

  • Customization: Smartsheet lets you tailor the platform to fit your specific waterfall methodology.
  • Automation: Smartsheet helps you eliminate repetitive, manual processes.
  • Standardization: Smartsheet helps in scaling work for success.

monday.com

monday.com is an award-winning project management platform designed to empower teams to achieve better results at every project stage.

Some of the features that make it an effective software for hybrid project management are:

  • Planning and initiation: monday.com offers numerous customizable templates, including Gantt charts, for effective planning.
  • Execution: monday.com’s centralized communication channels help streamline task assignments, approvals, and file sharing.
  • Monitoring: The platform’s customizable dashboards help visualize the project’s progress, budget, and deadlines.
  • Closure: monday.com keeps all data in one place for effective evaluation.

Waterfall vs Agile: How to choose the best methodology

Choosing between Agile and Waterfall isn’t a one-size-fits-all decision; it depends on various factors. By carefully considering factors such as project size, team expertise, client involvement, and regulatory requirements, you can make an informed decision.

  • Size of the project: Agile is generally better for smaller, more flexible projects, while Waterfall is often chosen for larger, more structured endeavors.
  • Your team’s expertise: Agile teams usually need to be more skilled and self-motivated, but virtually anyone can work with a Waterfall framework.
  • Client involvement: Agile allows for more client engagement, whereas Waterfall is typically more hands-off.
  • Budget flexibility: Agile allows for adjustments as the project evolves, while Waterfall requires a fixed budget from the get-go. 
  • Timeline flexibility: Agile is your friend if you need a flexible timeline, but if you have a fixed schedule, Waterfall is more suitable.

However, Waterfall and Agile are just the tip of the iceberg regarding project management methodologies. Several other approaches include:

Whether you prioritize flexibility, budget, or another element, understanding the strengths and limitations of each approach is crucial to choosing the right one for your project.


Irene Casucian Avatar

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Featured project management partners

1 monday.com

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monday.com Work OS is the project management software that helps you and your team plan, execute, and track projects and workflows in one collaborative space. Manage everything from simple to complex projects more efficiently with the help of visual boards, 200+ ready-made templates, clever no-code automations, and easy integrations. In addition, custom dashboards simplify reporting, so you can evaluate your progress and make data-driven decisions.

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2 Quickbase

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Big ideas aren’t simple to execute. So we’re here to help you tackle any project, no matter how complex. We’re Quickbase.

Quickbase helps customers see, connect and control complex projects that reshape our world. Whether it’s raising a skyscraper or coordinating vaccine rollouts, the no-code software platform allows business users to custom fit solutions to the way they work – using information from across the systems they already have.

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3 Wrike

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Wrike’s top-notch workflow management software allows you to easily visualize priorities, boost collaboration, and maintain control of your projects. Bonus: you can move seamlessly between apps, without logging in or out. Wrike has more than 400+ integrations with popular platforms such as Google, Dropbox, Microsoft Office, and many more. Automation and AI features strip away time-consuming admin tasks so you can do the best work of your life.

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