Agile vs Waterfall: What’s the Difference?

agile vs waterfall

Agile vs Waterfall: What’s the Difference?

Agile vs Waterfall project management methodologies are two popular project management approaches used for software development projects. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Selecting the appropriate one for your project could dramatically affect its success.

Agile and Waterfall methodologies differ significantly in their philosophies, processes, and deliverables. Where Agile emphasizes collaboration and flexibility, Waterfall prioritizes planning and structure.

Both methodologies have become popular among organizations of various sizes and industries across industries — but debate regarding which is superior continues today.

Understanding the fundamental differences between Agile and Waterfall approaches is vital to selecting the optimal approach for your project. Prepare to delve deeply into both environments, exploring their respective benefits and drawbacks.

Agile vs Waterfall: Side-by-Side Comparison

ApproachIterative and team-basedStructured
FlexibilityEncourages quick response and adaptability to changesLess flexible, resistant to change once the scope is defined
DocumentationLess formal documentationMore formal documentation
TimingEvolving scopeFixed schedule
SuitabilityProjects with close stakeholder involvementProjects with well-defined requirements and scope
Cost of ImplementationHigherLower
ScalabilityEasy to scale upDifficult to scale up

Agile vs Waterfall: What’s the Difference?

Discover the differences between Agile and Waterfall methodologies of software development. Agile emphasizes flexibility and collaboration, while Waterfall stresses a more structured and linear approach. Here are their core distinctions.

Approach to Project Management

Agile methodology is an adaptable project management method that emphasizes collaboration, adaptability, and constant feedback. The Agile method prioritizes frequent stakeholder interaction, as well as team initiative with short deadlines.

Agile projects are structured around iterative cycles called “sprints,” in which teams deliver usable components of their project quickly and iteratively for continuous feedback and adaptation throughout development.

The Waterfall method takes a linear approach to project management. This strategy involves breaking a project down into distinct phases that progress into each other, with each stage building on previous ones.

Waterfall development encompasses stages such as conception, design, implementation, testing, and deployment sequentially with little scope for feedback or adaptation during each stage.


Agile methodology puts emphasis on adaptability. It allows for constant feedback and adaptation, allowing projects to adapt as team members learn more about its requirements and expectations.

Agile projects are broken up into small iterative cycles to allow for frequent evaluation and adaptation to project requirements or business environment changes.

agile vs waterfall
Agile methodology means that once the work begins, teams cycle through a process of planning, executing, and evaluating.

©Jesus Sanz/Shutterstock.com

Waterfall prioritizes structure and planning over flexibility by breaking a project down into sequential phases with clearly-outlined goals and deliverables for each stage.

Once a phase is completed, the team moves on to the next stage without much opportunity for backtracking and making changes at earlier stages.

Rigid plans make adapting quickly to project requirements or the business environment changes challenging, since teams remain committed to their established plans.


The Agile testing methodology relies on constant adaptation and improvement. Test plans are reviewed after each cycle or sprint to allow for continuous adaptation and improvement. Concurrent software development allows testing to take place more seamlessly, allowing early identification and resolution of issues.

Waterfall testing, on the other hand, is more stringent, with testing levels not allowed to overlap. Furthermore, since Waterfall tests occur after the ‘Build’ phase completion, any issues found during testing can only be addressed later. Therefore, potentially delaying your project and increasing costs associated with fixing issues found during this type of testing.

As part of Waterfall testing, test plans aren’t discussed during each cycle. This means any necessary modifications can only be implemented at the next cycle — further solidifying its rigid approach.

Requirements Gathering

Under the Agile methodology, requirement collection is an ongoing and iterative process with customer feedback shaping ongoing adjustments. Agile development processes permit changes to requirements at any point during the development process to prioritize customer satisfaction and deliver products that satisfy them.

Waterfall modeling does not allow for flexible requirements gathering. Requirements are set at the outset of each project and cannot be altered later on during development.

Once defined, they remain unalterable and progress is linearly achieved. Lack of flexibility may lead to products not meeting customer needs; however, development teams must adhere to established requirements.

Analysis and Design

The Agile methodology involves performing analysis and design in short iteration cycles, called ‘Sprints,’ that integrate directly with the development process.

This allows customers to provide quick feedback while enabling the development team to make necessary product modifications quickly and efficiently. Agile analysis and design emphasize flexibility and adaptability, intending to deliver products that fulfill customer requirements.

agile vs waterfall
When it comes to the waterfall model, each phase is completely wrapped up before the next one begins.

©Whale Design/Shutterstock.com

Under the Waterfall model, analysis and design occur prior to development beginning. This method leads to more structured and detailed designs; however, any necessary revisions must be implemented prior to starting development.

Longer development times and partially satisfying customer requirements can result from the inability to make changes after production has started.

Development and Implementation

The Agile methodology encourages rapid development and implementation with short sprint cycles. The development team collaborates closely with each customer to ensure the product meets their requirements and arrives as scheduled.

The methodology emphasizes speed, adaptability, and rapidity. Changes can be made at any point throughout development. Waterfall modeling mandates development and implementation following the completion of analysis and design phases, moving linearly through development, with each stage building upon its predecessors.

A structured development process produces more predictable and organized development results. However, it cannot be altered once started. The Waterfall approach emphasizes structure and organization, yet may lead to longer development times and products that only partially satisfy customer requirements.

Testing and Verification

The Agile methodology places great emphasis on testing and verification throughout the development process. Agile testing practices ensure testing is an integral component of each iteration or sprint, allowing for frequent feedback and early identification and resolution of issues. This approach to testing promotes velocity and adaptability while keeping costs to a minimum.

Agile testing methodologies offer greater flexibility and permit testing levels to overlap for continuous improvement and the incorporation of customer feedback. The Waterfall methodology employs a strict linear testing strategy. Testing must take place after each stage of the development process and cannot cross testing levels.

Test plans aren’t discussed during cycles, and the approach is more rigid compared to Agile testing. Defining the scope already makes this approach less suitable for unexpected development changes and less flexible and adaptable to changes during development.


The Agile project management philosophy emphasizes flexibility, adaptability, and customer satisfaction. An agile environment encourages teams to divide development projects into manageable chunks and complete each one quickly over time.

This approach works well in fast-paced business environments, as it encourages teams to adapt quickly to changes and quickly adapt their work accordingly.

Agile heavily emphasizes experimentation, welcoming direction changes even at later stages of a project. Agile teams are cross-functional and self-sufficient, working cooperatively towards the completion of complex endeavors.

Waterfall takes a more structured and sequential approach to project management. Each stage of development flows seamlessly into the next, with clear start and finish points for every phase.

The Waterfall methodology limits changes due to its early definition and establishment of project scope, making it less adaptable than Agile approaches. Testing remains an integral component of Waterfall; however, its approach differs significantly from Agile’s.

The Waterfall model works best when projects have clearly defined requirements and an established environment. With such predictability comes an assurance of successful results.

Agile vs Waterfall: 11 Must-Know Facts

  1. The Agile methodology emphasizes rapid iterations, autonomy, and flexibility as a response to perceived shortcomings of the Waterfall.
  2. Waterfall processes must first complete all tasks before any work can begin. Once the project scope has been identified, its adaptability diminishes considerably and effectiveness decreases drastically.
  3. Agile project management takes an iterative approach to project development. Teams divide work into specific features and complete them within an agreed-upon time limit known as a sprint.
  4. The Waterfall approach includes several phases that occur in an orderly fashion: requirements analysis, design/ concept development, implementation testing, and review.
  5. A Waterfall model project typically follows a rigid schedule and budget. By comparison, an Agile project typically has an evolving scope designed to adapt quickly to changing conditions.
  6. Agile works better for projects with close stakeholder involvement, while Waterfall is more structured.
  7. Pioneers in software development began the transition away from sequential Waterfall approaches towards iterative processes with frequent feedback and adjustments throughout its lifespan, coined Agile.
  8. Decision-makers weighing Agile and Waterfall project management must determine their mindset accordingly. Their principles, frameworks, and processes govern any given project.
  9. Agile project management uses an iterative and incremental approach with work completed in short sprints to prioritize a flexible approach and continuous delivery. However, scope creep may become an issue.
  10. Consider the unique characteristics of your project in order to choose between the Waterfall and Agile methodologies. Many industries continue using the Waterfall approach.
  11. Both the Waterfall and Agile models operate under the principle of breaking tasks down into individual steps for efficient completion, to achieve timely success.

Agile vs Waterfall: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?

Decisions between Agile and Waterfall methodologies depend on various considerations such as project type, team composition, and requirements.

Agile is an approach to project management that prioritizes collaboration, adaptive planning, and continuous improvement. Agile project management relies heavily on stakeholder involvement.

This makes it ideal for projects where requirements may shift over the course of development. Agile promotes flexible teamwork that quickly adapts to changes, leading to higher success rates than other approaches. Agile is especially suitable for software development projects.

The Waterfall project management method provides more structure, making it ideal for projects with clearly-outlined requirements and an established plan. Waterfall follows an ordered sequence with several phases taking place one after the other in an ordered way.

Selecting between the Agile and Waterfall methodologies depends upon the characteristics of your project and team. If it requires frequent changes and you prefer an adaptable approach, Agile might be best.

Examine each methodology against its suitability for your unique requirements to decide which approach will best serve your endeavor. If your requirements are clear-cut and prefer a structured approach, Waterfall might be suitable.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is Agile Project Management?

Agile project management is an iterative method for overseeing projects which focuses on continuous releases with customer input included in each iteration for optimal speed and adaptability. The ability to make adjustments as required promotes velocity and adaptability in its delivery.

What is Waterfall project management?

The Waterfall method is a linear sequential lifecycle model in which tasks are completed sequentially before moving on to the next phase. Each project phase must be finished before another is started.

How does Agile differ from Waterfall?

Agile is an iterative model centered on collaboration, while Waterfall follows a predetermined timeline. Agile focuses on flexibility, rapid iteration, and autonomy, while Waterfall emphasizes planning, timelines, and tight control.

Which approach is superior: Agile or Waterfall?

Your decision may depend on your managing style and project requirements. Agile is known for being more adaptable, while Waterfall requires more structure. Which option would best meet your team and project’s individual requirements is up for debate.

What are the benefits of Waterfall technology?

Waterfall methodology is ideal for projects with well-defined requirements and scope, since its early investment can reduce costs at later stages and has extensive documentation.

What are the advantages of Agile?

Agile development relies on collaboration, with enough flexibility to accommodate changes to a project no matter its progress. It is an adaptive software development strategy that prioritizes flexibility and adaptability.

What is the key difference between Agile and Waterfall development approaches?

Waterfall software development approaches focus on scope being the source of cost and time; in contrast to that, Agile relies on time and cost being the cause. Again, Waterfall takes a regimented approach while Agile offers dynamic strategies.

What is the timeline for Waterfall and Agile methods of development?

Waterfall projects follow a predefined timeline with tasks being handled sequentially. While Agile takes an incremental approach based on cyclical processes. Waterfall typically involves eight sequential steps while Agile involves continuous releases with customer feedback built-in.

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