IT Outsourcing

Choosing Between Agile and Waterfall: Factors to Consider for Successful Projects

25 May 202323 min read

Wojciech Frank

Wojciech Frank


Choosing Between Agile and Waterfall: Factors to Consider for Successful Projects

Choosing a suitable project management methodology is crucial for the success of your project. It impacts collaboration, adaptability, and outcomes. Two prominent methodologies that often come into consideration are the agile project management one and the traditional waterfall model. Understanding their structure and the differences between them plays a crucial role in the future success of the initiative.

Factors like project requirements, complexity, and team dynamics should be considered when choosing between traditional project management approaches. Each methodology has its characteristics and lifecycles that suit different project scenarios. By understanding the various methods available, project managers can determine the best course for their goals and lead their idea to success.

Overview of Agile and Waterfall Methodologies

To have a better overview of those two methods, it's best to compare them to each other.

Agile Methodology Recap

It is an iterative and incremental project management approach emphasising flexibility, collaboration and adaptive planning. It promotes continuous improvement, customer satisfaction and the early and continuous delivery of high-quality products or services. Agile methodologies, such as Scrum or Kanban, break the project into smaller intervals called sprints or iterations. These iterations involve cross-functional teams working collaboratively to deliver small portions of the next stage of the project's functionality (increments) within short periods.

Its key characteristics are:

  • Iterative and incremental development
  • Adaptive planning and flexibility to change
  • Continuous customer collaboration and feedback
  • Self-organizing, cross-functional teams
  • Emphasis on delivering working software

The main principles of agile methods are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change by following a plan

A typical agile project lifecycle includes the distinct phases:

  1. Project initiation and team formation
  2. Product backlog creation and prioritization
  3. sprint planning
  4. Iterative development and daily stand-up meetings
  5. Regular sprint reviews and retrospectives
  6. Product release and customer feedback incorporation

Waterfall Methodology Recap

On the other hand, this method is a traditional, sequential project management approach that follows a linear progression of predefined phases. Each phase (requirements gathering, design, development, testing and deployment) is completed sequentially and does not overlap. The waterfall methodology emphasizes upfront planning, documentation, and a structured approach to project execution. Completing one phase is a prerequisite for moving on to the next phase and changes made in earlier phases can be challenging to accommodate. This is one of the main reasons why Agile is a preferred methodology in many cases.

Waterfall key characteristics:

  • Sequential and linear project progression
  • Comprehensive upfront planning and documentation,
  • Emphasis on phase completion before proceeding
  • Specialized roles and responsibilities

Waterfall principles:

  • Structured and planned approach
  • Clear definition of requirements and scope
  • Sequential execution of phases
  • Documentation and sign-offs at each phase

The waterfall project development lifecycle consists of the following steps:

  1. Requirements gathering and analysis
  2. System design and architecture
  3. Development and coding
  4. Testing and quality assurance
  5. Deployment and implementation
  6. Maintenance and support

Agile vs waterfall: comparison

The main differences between those two approaches lay in planning, flexibility, and feedback loops. To visualise it bere here is a side-by-side comparison of those two:


  • Agile: Iterative and incremental development with the ability to adapt to changing requirements and priorities throughout the project.
  • Waterfall: Sequential and linear development with a predefined plan and less flexibility for changes during the project execution.


  • Agile: Adaptive planning focusing on short-term goals, continuous prioritization, and adjusting plans based on feedback and emerging requirements.
  • Waterfall: Comprehensive upfront planning that aims to define the project scope, deliverables, and milestones before project execution begins.


  • Agile: Highly flexible with the ability to accommodate changes in requirements, scope and priorities, promoting adaptability throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Waterfall: Less flexible, as changes made during the project can be challenging to incorporate and may require revisiting earlier phases or impacting project timelines.

Feedback Loops:

  • Agile: Emphasizes continuous customer collaboration and feedback loops through regular interactions, reviews and demos, enabling early corrections and alignment with customer expectations.
  • Waterfall: Customer involvement and feedback typically occur later in the project lifecycle, often during the testing or deployment phases, limiting opportunities for early input and potential adjustments.

Project Control:

  • Agile: Agile methodologies offer a higher degree of project control through frequent inspections, regular adaptation and the ability to address risks and issues quickly. The iterative nature of agile allows for better visibility into project progress and the ability to make adjustments as needed.
  • Waterfall: Waterfall methodologies provide a more rigid structure with limited opportunities for course correction once a phase is completed. This can make it challenging to address issues or changes that arise during project execution, potentially impacting the overall project's success.

Quality Assurance:

  • Agile: Agile methodologies prioritize quality throughout the development process. Regular testing, continuous integration and feedback loops can identify and resolve issues early, resulting in higher-quality deliverables (testing happens continuously).
  • Waterfall: Waterfall methodologies typically have dedicated testing phases toward the end of the project lifecycle. While comprehensive testing is performed, any issues or defects discovered later in the process may require revisiting earlier phases for modifications, impacting the overall project timeline.

Time and Cost Management:

  • Agile: Agile methodologies focus on delivering incremental value faster, enabling organizations to respond quickly to market demands and changes in customer requirements. The iterative nature of agile allows for a better time and cost management as the project progresses (smaller project “partitions” are easier for control and tracking).
  • Waterfall: Waterfall methodologies often require more time for upfront planning and any changes made later in the project can lead to schedule delays and additional costs. The linear progression of the waterfall is better suited for projects with tight time constraints or evolving requirements.

Making an Informed Choice: Factors to Evaluate When Choosing Your Software Development Methodology

Selecting a suitable software development methodology is a crucial decision that can significantly impact the success of a project. Whether to opt for an agile or waterfall approach requires careful consideration of various factors. These factors encompass the unique characteristics and requirements of the project, the team's expertise and experience, the level of flexibility desired, and the project's timeline and scope.

Project Requirements and Scope Clarity

The clarity of project requirements and scope is crucial in determining the appropriate methodology. Waterfall methodologies are well-suited for projects with well-defined conditions and a stable scope. Agile allows for flexibility and iterative development, enabling the project team to respond to changing needs and adjust the scope as necessary. The waterfall's sequential nature provides a structured approach, where each phase builds upon the previous one based on a predetermined plan. In contrast, agile methodologies are more adaptable to projects with evolving or uncertain requirements. Agile is often the preferred approach as needs constantly evolve and change in a dynamic business environment.

Well-defined and stable requirements are suited for waterfall methodologies because their characteristics rely on upfront planning and linear progression. The project team can create a comprehensive plan that outlines each phase and its deliverables. In contrast, evolving or uncertain requirements are better addressed by agile methodologies. Agile allows for flexibility and encourages collaboration with stakeholders throughout the project. It accommodates changing requirements by breaking the project into sprints, focusing on delivering incremental value. This iterative approach enables the project team to gather feedback, incorporate changes and adjust the project's scope and budget to meet evolving requirements and mutual success.

Waterfall methodologies face challenges when it comes to scope changes. Once a phase is completed and the project progresses to the next step, it becomes difficult and costly to incorporate significant scope changes. Any alterations to the initial plan require revisiting previous phases, leading to delays and increased costs. Therefore, waterfall projects typically require a robust change management process to handle scope changes effectively.

Agile methodologies, on the other hand, embrace scope changes and offer greater adaptability. Agile teams expect requirements to evolve throughout the project and are prepared to accommodate these changes. With shorter development cycles, frequent feedback loops and close collaboration with stakeholders, agile methodologies allow for ongoing adjustments to the project's scope. This adaptability enables agile teams to respond quickly to changing business needs, market conditions, or user feedback, resulting in a more customer-centric and responsive project outcome.

Project Complexity and Predictability

The complexity and predictability of a project are vital factors in choosing the methodology because they significantly impact the project's scope, timeline, and resource allocation. Therefore, before selecting a particular method for a project, it's worth considering if they match your and your’s team preferences.

Waterfall methodologies are suitable for projects with high predictability, where requirements are precise and the workflow is linear. On the other hand, agile methods excel in complex projects with evolving needs, as they allow for iterative development, frequent feedback, and the ability to adjust the project direction based on emerging complexities. It is important to remember that there is often no way to predict changes within a project.

On the other hand, Agile methodologies provide a better approach to managing uncertainty, accommodating changing requirements, and addressing intricate project dynamics through adaptive planning and continuous improvement.

Time-to-Market and Speed of Delivery

Time-to-Market and Speed of Delivery are crucial when selecting a methodology, as they directly influence a project's competitiveness and profitability. A procedure that enables faster delivery can provide a project develops a competitive edge, allow quicker realization of benefits, and potentially lead to higher customer satisfaction.

Agile methodologies promote faster delivery by utilizing shorter development cycles and iterative development practices, allowing for early releases of working software or product increments. This iterative approach enables teams to respond to customer feedback and market demands more rapidly. It is easier to build an appropriate roadmap and adjust it as the project goes on based on team performance.

Waterfall methodologies may have longer lead times due to their sequential nature, comprehensive planning and extensive documentation requirements. The rigidity of the waterfall approach may lead to delayed delivery compared to the agile counterparts. Especially as tests happen at the end of the waterfall project, differences between expectations and software status and issues may result in time and cost risks.

Customer Collaboration and Feedback

A significant challenge when managing a project is to set a smooth and effective collaboration between the customer and the team. This way, you can maintain good communication and generate helpful feedback.

Agile methodologies prioritize close collaboration with customers and stakeholders, enabling ongoing feedback and involvement throughout the project lifecycle. This fosters a higher degree of customer satisfaction and ensures alignment with their evolving needs. Increments are discussed in short intervals during the refinement sessions and demos.

In contrast, waterfall methodologies typically rely on upfront requirements gathering. They may have limited customer involvement until later stages, potentially reducing opportunities for customer collaboration and feedback, which often is not desired by clients, as we mentioned before.

Therefore it's worth considering which approach will better suit the client whose project is being developed.

Team Dynamics and Skill Sets

The method we choose has to match the client that requests the software development process and the initiative. Some argue that even more important is how the style will work with the team-based approach and the team dynamics that will execute the project itself.

In this category,Agile methodologies emphasize cross-functional and self-organizing teams. These teams consist of individuals with diverse skill sets and expertise relevant to the project. Collaboration and communication within the group are vital, as team members work together closely, share knowledge and collectively make decisions. This enables better collaboration, problem-solving, and adaptability, as team members can collectively tackle challenges and contribute their expertise where needed. Self-organizing teams have the autonomy to make decisions and manage their work processes, promoting a sense of ownership and accountability among team members.

Opposed that Waterfall methodologies may require specialized roles and a more hierarchical team structure. Each phase of the waterfall model, agile or project management, typically involves specific functions responsible for their respective tasks, such as project managers, business analysts, developers, technical leads, testers, etc. The roles are often more defined and specialized, with team members focusing on their designated areas of expertise. This hierarchical structure may involve a top-down approach to decision-making and task assignment, where team members have less autonomy and are expected to follow predefined processes and instructions.

Risk Management and Flexibility

Each project carries risks in it. Since developing software is quite expensive, the stakes become even more frighting. Therefore, when choosing between the methods of management is essential to consider their risk management.

Waterfall methodologies prioritize upfront planning and risk mitigation. The emphasis is placed on conducting a thorough analysis, defining requirements and creating a detailed plan before the development phase begins. By investing more time and effort in the planning stage, waterfall projects aim to identify and mitigate potential risks early on. This approach allows waterfall teams to establish a clear roadmap, set milestones and allocate resources effectively before the start of the project. By considering potential risks and developing risk mitigation strategies during the planning phase, both agile and waterfall, methodologies aim to minimize the impact of uncertainties throughout the project's execution, but on the other hand, are less effective in change management.

Agile methodologies offer flexibility and adaptability as key advantages. Agile teams embrace change as a natural part of the development process and are prepared to respond to evolving circumstances. When unexpected challenges or opportunities arise, agile development teams can adjust their plans, re-prioritize work and adapt their approach to address the changing needs of the project and customer. The iterative and incremental nature of the agile development model allows teams to learn from each iteration and make necessary adjustments. This flexibility enables agile projects to better respond to market dynamics, customer requirements or internal changes. By embracing change and focusing on delivering incremental value, agile methodologies provide the ability to adapt and optimize the project outcome based on real-time insights.

Project Documentation and Formality

Project Documentation and Formality are critical factors in methodology selection because they ensure consistent communication, clear expectations, and compliance with regulations or standards. A methodology that emphasizes these aspects can mitigate risks, reduce misunderstandings, and provide a clear roadmap for project completion.

Waterfall methodologies traditionally prioritize comprehensive documentation, including detailed plans, specifications and formal documentation deliverables. This documentation serves as a reference point throughout the previous phase of the waterfall project management. It ensures a sequential design process and a clear understanding of project requirements and progress.

Agile methodologies, on the other hand, often prioritize working software or product over extensive documentation. While some level of documentation is still necessary, agile approaches focus more on lightweight documentation, emphasising collaboration, communication and delivering results and working software that has been tested. Agile software projects often rely on visual artifacts such as user stories, product backlogs and Kanban boards to capture and communicate project requirements and progress. These visual representations provide a shared understanding among team members and stakeholders, promoting collaboration and transparency.

Why not both? Customizing Your Approach: The Benefits of Adopting a Hybrid Methodology

If you still find benefits in both methodologies after reading the text above, picking one is not for you. Organizations may choose to adopt a hybrid approach when certain aspects of their project benefit from a more sequential and structured methodology like a waterfall, while other factors require the flexibility and iterative nature of agile methods.

For example, they may opt for a waterfall approach during the initial planning and design phase to establish a solid foundation and ensure comprehensive documentation. Then, they can transition to an agile system for development and testing phases to allow for increased collaboration, faster feedback cycles and adaptive adjustments based on evolving requirements. The tailored approach will enable organizations to leverage the strengths of each methodology while mitigating potential drawbacks. It provides the opportunity to address project-specific challenges and take advantage of different methods' best practices and principles.

Flexibility allows organizations to respond to changing requirements, unforeseen challenges, and shifting priorities. It enables them to make informed decisions on when to apply more structured and sequential approaches and when to embrace iterative and collaborative practices.

Adaptability is essential in hybrid methodologies as it allows organizations to continually assess the effectiveness of the chosen approach and make adjustments as needed. It involves monitoring the project's progress, gathering feedback from stakeholders, and being willing to refine and optimize the methodology to ensure project success.


Selecting the appropriate project management methodology holds immense importance in ensuring the success of your project. It significantly influences collaboration, adaptability, and overall outcomes. Several factors, such as project requirements, complexity, and team dynamics, should be considered when making this decision.

Each methodology possesses its unique characteristics and lifecycles, which are suitable for different project scenarios. By acquiring valuable software and a thorough understanding of various software design methods, project managers can determine the most appropriate approach for their objectives and effectively guide their idea towards success.

We understand that you may feel overwhelmed after reading the article above and are still trying to decide which methodology to choose. Luckily, SolveQ has years of experience executing projects with high success. Our team of Consultants consists of great experts in this field and is ready to help you! Contact us if you need help with your project; we will be lucky to help.

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Wojciech Frank

Wojciech Frank


A true people person who combines his technical knowledge with strong management and personal relationship skills. In his free time, he is a great enthusiast of playing video games.