Agile Vs Waterfall: Which Methodology Does Your Project Require?

By: Segiy Sergienko, 20 Apr 2018
7   min read
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Merely having a desire to create the next Facebook or some equally groundbreaking application is far from enough to assure your success in this kind of endeavor. You need to make hundreds of thousands of decisions to ensure the project’s success. Without a doubt, one of the core decisions that will determine the outcome is which methodology you choose. As the Agile vs Waterfall standoff continues, these methodologies have both proven to be efficient and trustworthy. However, each has its advantages and disadvantages, and, consequently, each of them should be used under certain circumstances for certain projects and teams. As is often the case, the project that is managed well using the Agile methodology may turn out to be a disaster if managed with the Waterfall methodology, and vice versa.

As this decision is crucial for the future success of the project, we invite you to take a closer look at Agile and Waterfall methodologies, their benefits and downsides and determine which is the best fit. (Read more: Agile Software Development Guide: What It Is, Its Core Values And The 7 Best Agile Tools In 2019)

Waterfall: Pros & Cons

Let’s start with the basics and take a look at what these project management methodologies are in their essence before jumping into their pros and cons.

Waterfall methodology is considered to be the traditional approach to software development. According to this methodology, the project is divided into several consecutive stages that cannot be fulfilled simultaneously. At the end of every stage you are supposed to conduct a review of requirements, and only then move on to the next stage. What needs to be taken into account is that having finished one stage, you cannot return to it until the whole development cycle is completed. Therefore, this methodology describes development as a linear and sequential process that typically consists of seven stages:


  • easy to start using: due to its inherent simplicity, this methodology is easy for newcomers and/or junior developers to adopt;
  • detailed documentation focus: creating documentation for every stage is necessary, which makes the objectives more clear for the development team, the project itself clearer for the client  and easier to be taken on by a new person on the team;
  • easy-in-use: as Waterfall is rigid, there are always certain requirements, expected outcomes and reviews at every stage, which makes supervising a project a piece of cake.


  • identifying requirements is not as easy as it seems: clear requirements are important, but it is often the case that the client is not able to identify all the key “wants and needs” in the very beginning of the project;
  • making changes is costly and inefficient: if a team identifies a problem during the coding itself, they can’t simply return to a previous stage and make adjustments to solve it;
  • clients may be impatient to see at least some piece of operating software, however, the development stage itself starts quite late;
  • testing late is way too risky as there may be not enough time left for it before the deadline; in this case, certain bugs and errors may not be identified in time.

Agile: Pros & Cons

Let’s move on to our competing contender in the Agile vs Waterfall standoff. First of all, we need to point out that Agile represents general guidelines that are reflected in the Agile Manifesto (2001). This framework for software development has been implemented in various Agile methodologies, such as Scrum, Kanban, etc.

Long story short, the Agile methodology neglects the linear Waterfall approach in favor of an iterative one. According to Agile, project implementation starts with creating a product backlog that is basically the list of all the tasks that should be fulfilled over the course of the development. The tasks should be prioritized, and a certain number of the tasks with the highest priority comprises the sprint backlog. Sprints represent the iterations of project implementation. Each sprint can last from a week to a month, and must include reviewing project priorities, planning, designing, coding, and testing (unit and acceptance tests). The aim of each sprint is to present the product owner with a ready-to-use product at the end of it, even if it has a limited set of features.

According to Agile, the focus also lies on the team’s self-organization, with little supervision and control. Agile puts face-to-face interaction, collaboration and adapting to changes at the top of the priority list.

Agile suggests involving a client representative into a cross-functional team that will be working on the project implementation. Besides developers who write the code itself and the client representative, such a team should includes planners, designers, and testers.

Scrum is, perhaps, the most widely known project management framework that embodies Agile principles. Scrum determines a specific set of roles that should be fulfilled, the responsibilities for each role, and daily stand-up meetings meant for adjusting the plans.  Sprints are faster and last from one to two weeks. The roles include the product owner (the customer representative), the developers, and the scrum master who facilitates the work and serves as a “buffer” between the team and possible distractions.

Kanban, another Agile methodology, got its name from the Japanese word for “card” or “visual sign.” It is heavily focused on visualizing the workflow, minimizing work in progress within the flows, and continuously making small adjustments to an existing system.


  • adaptability to changes: prior plans may get outdated quickly in the ever-changing world of technology, and Agile has proven to be better at adapting to changes, both due to new technologies and to the client’s requirements;
  • communication is a priority: face-to-face interaction and feedback are the core Agile principles that encourage constant improvement of the team’s competences;
  • close collaboration with the client: clients have more opportunities to have a say in what the end product should be by closely collaborating with team members;
  • there is no need for defining all the requirements in the very beginning: they can be adjusted over the course of the project’s implementation;
  • thorough testing: unit and acceptance tests during each sprint significantly decrease the possibility of unrevealed exploits and bugs present in the end product.


  • delivery date ambiguity: due to iterative changes in the priorities of the project, delivery dates cannot be planned 100% accurately beforehand; besides, adding sprints may become necessary, which also postpones the final product launch;
  • highly-developed skill-sets required of team members: as the team is supposed to be cross-functional and small at the same time, every team member often has to fulfill a particular role (e.g., the designer); therefore, every developer should be highly proficient in his or her line of work;
  • less attention to creating documentation: Agile puts coding itself above creating detailed documentation; documentation should serve a singular purpose: allowing a newcomer to understand how and why the code was written.

Agile vs Waterfall: What Are The Costs?

Money matters. We all know this. This is why budget restraints are inevitable, and you have to take into consideration what you can or cannot afford. So, let’s compare how much Agile and Waterfall development would cost you to help you make a wise financial decision that will impact the future of your project.

We need to be clear about one thing. Every project is unique due to the technical specifications, requirements, etc. Thus, it is impossible to tell you: “Agile development of your project will cost you X US dollars, or you will have to spend Y US dollars on Waterfall development of the same project.” The development cost depends on a number of factors which include the hourly rates of developers you hire, the functionality you want to implement, the type of development (building a web application or an Android one are different projects), etc.

However, as the research conducted by the Standish group revealed, there is one thing we can tell you for sure: Agile development methodology has proven to be more economical than Waterfall methodology. The research showed that Agile projects are 4 times cheaper than Waterfall ones on average, and they break even 10 times faster than Waterfall projects. Thus, we have clear empirical evidence that Agile methodology is more cost-efficient than Waterfall. Perhaps, this is one of the main reasons why Agile is gaining popularity among IT companies regardless of their scale so quickly.  (Read more: insights of great outsources selection: “Guide to outsourcing software development“)

Agile Vs Waterfall: How To Choose

Crucial decisions such as the choice of project management methodology will not be an easy one under any circumstances. However, we would like to make this decision at least a little easier for you.

There are five key indicators that you should analyze and take into consideration before making this choice:

  • the scale of the project;
  • project duration;
  • its complexity;
  • various organizational factors;
  • stakeholders and clients.

Waterfall fits those simple, small-scale projects that are not expected to require many changes. These projects can be called unchangeable. Besides, Waterfall methodology allows you to create detailed in-depth documentation and, due to its inherent simplicity, is easy for newcomers and/or junior developers to adopt.

As it is strict and encourages discipline, Waterfall is a good option for projects that involve other organizations or remote employees. Besides, unlike the Agile methodology, this methodology fits the situation where the client cannot be heavily involved in project implementation. If your project has fixed time and budget constraints, as well as a fixed scope, Waterfall may be just what you need.

Agile methodology is suitable for those large-scale projects that have flexible time frames and budget restrictions. If the scope of a project is bit hard to define clearly at the very beginning, but it is going to be complex. If you are certain there will be some adjustments that will need to be made on the behalf of the client or stakeholders, Agile is surely your option. As the client is supposed to be engaged in the whole development process, you need to be sure that he or she is willing to do this before making the final decision on the methodology to be used for the project.

Besides that, you need to be sure that the team members are ready to be fully dedicated to the project as it is quite time-consuming and needs their 24/7 attention. Your team should also be proficient in their line of work to be able to work according to this methodology.

The Bottom Line

No methodology is flawless. It is up to you to weigh the pros and cons of each methodology, assess your project, and see for yourself which methodology would fit your project the best.

If you are hesitating about which methodology would suit your project’s needs the best, feel free to reach out to our specialists. Whatever questions you may have, we will always have an answer.

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