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Waterfall vs Agile: What are the Major Differences?

19th Feb, 2024
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    Waterfall vs Agile: What are the Major Differences?

    Project Management Methodologies help to keep the work methods well-structured and organized. They help in monitoring the smooth flow of processes alongside minimizing the errors associated. Waterfall and Agile are two such methodologies that play a significant role in the Software Development Life Cycle but are not limited to it. However, their use completely relies on the nature of the project. The waterfall model requires a team to work on stages of a project sequentially, one after the other, while in the Agile model, a team can work on multiple stages simultaneously. 

    Every Project lead, manager or stakeholder has faced the dilemma of choosing between waterfall vs Agile methodology. A project needs a proper protocol in place to get an outcome delivered. The right choice of methodology helps in eradicating a lot of hurdles at the beginning itself. The article below gives a better insight into what to choose between waterfall vs. Agile. As per the current trend, we have witnessed a lot of enterprises shifting to Agile approach due to various benefits that come in handy. One cannot apply Agile as it is; proper Agile Management Training courses should be done in order to implement it correctly in real-time application. 

    According to current statistics, 70% of US companies prefer Agile over the waterfall method because of the high success rate of 64% compared to projects competing under the waterfall method, where the success rate is 49%. Agile has helped enterprises to increase their revenue and profit tremendously. Through this article, we will help you understand the major difference between waterfall and agile to have better understanding of both the methodologies. 

    Agile vs Waterfall Comparison Table

    When comparing Agile vs. Waterfall project management methodologies, there are lots of pros and cons associated with each one of them. The below table clearly carves out some basic differences between the Agile and waterfall project management models.

    DefinitionIt is an approach that allows working on parallel phases of a project. It simply means that a team can accomplish different stages of a workflow irrespective of the past or future stage.Waterfall methodology has been used in the business for a long time. It as the name suggests follows a streamlining of the process which needs to be followed in the proposed sequence.
    Nature of Execution
    Parallel execution of different task modules.Sequential execution of processes
    BudgetVariable budget. May change anytime during the project.Fixed budget, decided during starting of the project.
    Scope for iteration
    Accommodates changes in between the project.Minimum or no changes can be made between the project.
    Team Coordination
    Can cause miscommunication due to undefined roles.Well defined roles eradicate chances of misunderstanding.
    DocumentationDocumentation is less as the processes are not well defined.Detailed and elaborative documentation as all the processes is predefined.
    Team Size
    Agile is not suitable for small team sizes.Suitable for small-size teams, as requirements are easily understandable.

    Waterfall vs Agile: A Detailed Comparison

    1. Agile vs Waterfall: Definition

    A project can be worked on in parallel phases using Agile methodology at the same time. An organization can accomplish different stages of a workflow regardless of past or future stages. Waterfall methodology follows a streamlined process that needs to be followed in the proposed sequence. In waterfall methodology deliverables and deadline for each phase are defined, and the next phase needs to be initialized after completing the previous stage.

    2. Agile vs Waterfall: Nature of Execution

    Agile model requires the team to work parallelly on different modules of the project. The execution of one stage is independent of the other, while in the waterfall model, a sequential workflow is followed, next stage can only proceed after the execution of the previous stage. A team/project depending upon the outcome to be delivered, decides which type of methodology to opt for executing the project.

    3. Waterfall vs Agile: Budget

    The budget estimation for the above methodologies is different., Agile has a flexible budget since a lot of iteration happens while the project is being processed. Hence, making a budget estimation for an Agile methodology is difficult. Unlike the above methodology Waterfall approach has a fixed budget. Right from the start of the project, there is a defined cost for each stage, since minimum to no changes is made during waterfall model execution.

    4. Waterfall vs Agile: Scope for Iteration

    The Agile approach involves taking in feedback from the stakeholders, and improvising whenever required. It can accommodate changes between the projects. In the case of Waterfall method, making changes between the stages is challenging. A plan is carved out before starting a project, and the entire team sticks to the itinerary provided. There is slim or no scope for iterations. Choosing a methodology thus becomes extremely important to decide whether a road map should be designed or not.

    5. Waterfall vs Agile: Team Coordination

    To successfully deliver a project, there must be crystal clear communication between the team members. It is often observed that a team following an Agile pipeline often faces miscommunication as the role and tasks keep on changing during the project. On the other hand, the Waterfall model has pre-defined roles for each member of the team. Everyone in the team is aware of each other’s responsibilities and thus works accordingly.

    6. Agile vs Waterfall: Documentation

    Documentation is crucial to each organization. It is used as a reference by the team for looking up project intricates. Since Agile model involves making changes now and then, it becomes difficult to record everything in the form of documentation. In the case of waterfall model, all the changes and processes are well documented that give a detailed description of each task.

    Agile and Waterfall methodology both have their pros and cons. Their adoption completely depends on the attributes of the project. Agile was mainly introduced to combat challenges encountered during the use of Waterfall in the development of a software-related project. Since then, Agile has gained a lot of popularity not just in the software industry but in various other fields such as business development, finance, and many more.

    The development of an app is a real-time example where Agile model can be used. Here a number of iterations are done in relation to functionality and designs, the team prepares a prototype, and depending on the feedback changes are made and different versions are released. Projects which involve researching or relying on a trial and error-based approaches for achieving different tasks also have Agile methodology in place for them.

    What is Agile Methodology?

    A project can be worked on in parallel phases using Agile methodology at the same time. It simply means that a team can accomplish different stages of a workflow irrespective of the past or future stages. This method of achieving a goal benefits in different ways, unlike the Waterfall methodology, which strictly follows a flow of events to attain the end goal. In Agile, every team player is a stakeholder instead of the project manager. Since the entire team is in charge of the project it helps to keep the team members motivated. The count of companies using the Agile model has increased to 88% since 2002 due to various advantages that come in handy such as accountability and productivity.

    Agile model came into play to overcome challenges associated with Waterfall model. It was put into place to accommodate changes at different points in the project which was rather tedious in the latter one.

    Scrum is one framework of Agile methodology used by the software development team to achieve a task. Each project is divided into temporary stages called sprints. After each sprint feedback is taken from the clients/stakeholders to make variations according to their needs. Agile has various other frameworks which can be used depending on the need of the project.

    Iterations can be done smoothly at each stage of the cycle based on the feedback provided.Agile model doesn’t have a well-defined timeline or roadmap hence it is difficult to predict the delivery of the likely outcome. Every iteration increases the estimated timeline.
    It is Cost Effective. Changes made later on at any point of the project can be accommodated easily with less hassleEach team member works on different modules of the project simultaneously, hence sometimes it becomes difficult to maintain alignment among all the team members which can also result in miscommunication.
    Helps to keep the team motivated and productive by defining short-term goals.Reiterations can impact the productivity of the team members by making them work again on the same module.
    Requires working directly with the client thus providing ease of collaboration and in turn increasing transparency.Teams working on Agile methodology face difficulty in preparing detailed documentation of every change made during the entire cycle of the project.

    What is Waterfall Methodology?

    Waterfall methodology has been used in the business for a long time. It, as the name suggests, follows a streamlining of the process which needs to be followed in the proposed sequence. From the beginning, the deliverables and deadline for each phase are well defined, the next phase can only be initialized after completing the previous stage. Waterfall model poses some serious challenges when it comes to making or adding changes in the later stage of the project, it can affect the budget of the project because of the dependency between stages. Waterfall is used in projects for which the guidelines are predefined.

    For example, organizations such as NASA use the waterfall method, they need a proper structure to be well drawn before any activity is carried out, as one minor change or error can cost them billions of dollars.

    Waterfall model has a well-carved-out process for executing each stage of a project.Resolving errors and making changes in between the project is challenging as it is a serial workflow.
    The chances of miscommunication reduce as the roles of each member are predefined.Modifications in between or after the completion of a project can have adverse effects on the budget.
    Well-defined requirements and designs help creation of in-depth documentation.Less interaction with the client and restrict the team from incorporating valuable feedback, which may lead to making changes in the later part of the project which in turn can be a tedious activity.

    How Are They Similar?

    Though there is a difference between agile and waterfall, the end goal of both methodologies is the same i.e., to deliver high-end solutions and meet the client's needs. The stages involved in completing a project are similar in both approaches, though the nature of execution varies. They perform similar activities of collecting requirements, planning, execution, and deployment for each project. Both approaches involve working with the stakeholders; Agile takes in feedback in between the tasks while waterfall takes the suggestions into consideration once the entire is completed. Both approaches ensure the smooth execution of a project through the pathway may vary. 

    Waterfall vs Agile Methodology: How to Choose the Right Methodology for Your Project?

    There are several parameters to consider when choosing the right methodology for your project. No methodology can be considered better than the other; it all depends on the factors which are responsible for driving the project. The following mentioned aspects can help a team make a trade-off between the two methodologies. 

    • For project size and complexity, for small projects, Agile seems a desirable choice over Waterfall as it will be less chaotic while handling changes in the project. 
    • Requirements, if a project requires a strict protocol to be followed to generate a desirable outcome, the Waterfall model serves well in such situations, unlike Agile, which is suitable for handling constant changes in a project. 
    • Client involvement, if timely feedback is required from the client at different ends of the project, Agile would make a better choice in this situation in comparison to the Waterfall model. 
    • Pattern of delivery, Agile is involved in projects which deliver results in parts, whereas Waterfall model delivers the outcome all at once. 

    Agile has emerged in the market, overcoming all the challenges faced during the implementation of waterfall method. Although, there are some organizations that prefer sticking to the waterfall due to the stringency required during the execution and maintenance of the project. Recently, I came across this KnowledgeHut Agile Management Training Courses, which were very interesting to me as they have a well-designed syllabus and give a lot of insights on how to apply Agile in an industrial setup.

    Ace project management with our course for online project management prep. Reach your goals effortlessly and become a pro.


    To conclude, a project can only give a desirable outcome if there is a suitable methodology to drive the entire project. It totally depends on what type of regularization is required to monitor the entire process. Agile and Waterfall approaches have a lot of differences which, in a way, are metrics to pick up the suitable model for different businesses. 

    Agile has penetrated a lot of domains; it is very well popular in software-building technology. Going ahead, we can expect Agile to be used more and more widely due to its customer-centric approach. Agile is flexible and requires constant collaboration with the stakeholders to get feedback and make timely changes now and then.

    Waterfall, on the other hand, remains limited to process flows that require a roadmap before the initialization of the process to reduce chances of error and where strict monitoring is a necessity. It requires an outcome after every stage in order to proceed to the next phase of the project.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1Who uses waterfall methodology?

    Waterfall methodology is used in projects where the end result is clear from the start of the project. Projects which have minimum scope for iterations and a fixed budget use this methodology. 

    2Where is waterfall model not suited?

    The waterfall model cannot be used in projects which have the bandwidth for accommodating changes/ feedback during the execution. They are not well-fitted for projects which require experimenting 

    3What are the five stages of waterfall model?

    The five stages of the waterfall model include: 

    • Requirements gathering from the stakeholders 
    • Planning 
    • Implementation 
    • Testing 
    • Maintenance

    Lindy Quick

    Blog Author

    Lindy Quick, SPCT, is a dynamic Transformation Architect and Senior Business Agility Consultant with a proven track record of success in driving agile transformations. With expertise in multiple agile frameworks, including SAFe, Scrum, and Kanban, Lindy has led impactful transformations across diverse industries such as manufacturing, defense, insurance/financial, and federal government. Lindy's exceptional communication, leadership, and problem-solving skills have earned her a reputation as a trusted advisor. Currently associated with KnowledgeHut and upGrad, Lindy fosters Lean-Agile principles and mindset through coaching, training, and successful execution of transformations. With a passion for effective value delivery, Lindy is a sought-after expert in the field.

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