Comparison between Waterfall and Agile project management

Waterfall and Agile are simply names of two different approaches to the organization of a project, the approaches, and the stages of its implementation.

Waterfall project management

Waterfall is the more traditional approach practiced most often in Western societies. It involves a strict organization based on precise planning and clearly defined process stages.

In essence, the Waterfall approach relies on a linear methodology, i.e. each team member works in a strictly defined sequence toward the achievement of a finite set of goals.

Each participant in the project has clearly defined roles and they are not expected to change during the implementation of the project. The same applies to the defined phases of the project as well as to its objectives.

It is for this reason, due to the need for strict planning, control, and management of processes, that Waterfall defines as the main role of the project manager – a worker or employee directly charged with the responsibilities of planning, control, and management.

The typical stages of a Waterfall project are:

  • Analysis: definition of preliminary requirements for the project, development of project documentation;
  • Design: development of design and basic specifications;
  • Implementation: start of the practical work – each of the teams begins to perform the assigned tasks;
  • Testing: each of the elements of the project is subjected to tests and analysis to fulfill the set requirements;
  • Delivery: the product or service is officially launched;
  • Support: follow-up to ensure trouble-free operation and continuous improvement;

Advantages of the Waterfall

The advantages of the Waterfall approach lie mainly in its predictability and ease of replication – if necessary, once defined, the overall structure of a project developed according to this methodology can be easily copied both within and outside the organization.

A disadvantage of this type of project management is that the strictly defined and linear structure significantly reduces the flexibility of implementation.

When there are a change in the circumstances and/or goals within the project, it is little or almost impossible for it to be quickly and easily adapted to the new conditions and requirements. This makes the Waterfall system less suitable for some specific types of activities, such as software development for example.

Agile methodology

Agile methodology offers a project management alternative that addresses this very weakness of the Waterfall approach. Historically, it originated in Eastern business organizations, as it corresponds to the traditions, culture, and perceptions typical of these societies.

Where Waterfall deals with strictly defined stages and processes, Agile follows rather the phases of the project life cycle. It focuses more on the specific actions to be performed, breaking them down into smaller cycles called “iterations.”

After its completion, each iteration is evaluated and analyzed by the entire project team, which includes representatives of all project participants.

The conclusions, ideas, and recommendations from this discussion are then used as a basis for determining the next steps of the project implementation.

Accordingly, one of the main advantages of the Agile method is the ability to flexibly adapt to changing circumstances and/or requirements during the implementation of the respective project. This can often result in savings in resources and/or time.

Because of its flexible, “team” structure, the Agile approach does not require the designation of one specific “project manager” figure. Instead, the Agile methodology distributes its traditional responsibilities, such as managing budgets, people, resources, and scale, among the various members of the project team.

The typical phases (iterations) of an Agile project are:

  • Conceptualization: defining the vision for the project, including identification of the needs and desires of the end-users (clients), project participants, and individual members of the work teams;
  • Brainstorming: defining the initial set of product requirements, with all teams working together to define key objectives within the development period;
  • Development: each of the teams focuses on the implementation of the set parameters, but in parallel, constantly searches for alternatives to satisfy the predefined conditions of the project;
  • Adaptation: the results achieved are reviewed and analyzed. The need to modify project parameters is assessed;

Finalization: the final version of the project is evaluated and analyzed against the predefined requirements. Errors and weaknesses are analyzed and reviewed to avoid them in the future;


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Waterfall and Agile project management methodologies: Conclusion

In practice, Waterfall and Agile project management methodologies are not at odds. None of them are inherently “right” or “wrong.” In essence, they are simply two different approaches, two different philosophies of project management.

Each of them has its strengths and weaknesses that make it suitable for managing different types of projects.

I hope this brief has clarified the issue of differences between Waterfall and Agile methodology.

4 thoughts on “Comparison between Waterfall and Agile project management”

  1. Waterfall (also called waterfall) methodology. With it, the stages of project development are phased and sequential, i.e. there is no way to move on to the second stage before the first stage of project development is finished. It applies to smaller projects where the needs are more easily understood. It is considered unsuitable for the development of larger projects, as it is very difficult to go back in case of the need for corrections in a previous stage of the developed project. As another minus, we can mention the fact that the communication and synchronization of the team working on this type of project is minimal. In this model, the testing phase is possible only after the completion of the project, which in turn can lead to major problems both from a resource and financial point of view. This is because if there is an error, it is much more difficult to detect it.
    Agile methodology. It is known for its adaptability, which in turn makes it a preferred method to use in project development, given the continuous dynamics and development of the market. It can be subject to changes in specifications even when and if the initial planning is complete. Testing is conducted in parallel with the development of the product or service. In this method, dedicated teams with a high quality of integrity and synchronization are preferred. The fact that the buyer of the product or service also learns directly in the development and testing of the obtained results after each so-called “sprint” can also be considered positive. Also, the test plan is revised after each sprint. Disadvantages of this methodology are: unsuitable for small projects; a specialist is required to make decisive decisions; the project can gradually go off track if the manager is not clear about what outcome he wants.

  2. Waterfall is a linear management model, meaning that once the first stage is completed, then the second stage begins. The model is simple, projects are executed faster, each step is tied to a specific result, but it is more suitable for small projects. With Waterfall, it is difficult to go back to the previous stage and correct errors that occurred. The requirements are set at the beginning and cannot be changed once work on the project has started.

    Agile, on the other hand, is characterized by adaptability, which also ensures the higher quality of the final product. Unlike the above method, Agile allows change in requirements after the workflow has started. The development and testing processes are parallel, allowing for timely troubleshooting. Because the method follows a gradual progression and the client and the team are in sync. In this method, the key is to make decisions in a timely manner, but the people in charge must be focused on the goals so as not to lose direction. Agile may require more financial resources, but it is also used in larger projects.

  3. The defining characteristic of an Agile project is that it produces and delivers work in short sprints. These are repeated to refine the work results until they meet the customer’s requirements.
    With Waterfall, deadlines are long-term, they can last for years. Sometimes this is a big disadvantage, because nowadays the environment changes extremely fast, and by the time the project is finished, it may have changed and users may not need the given product at all. Even if the project is in a non-changing environment, long-term planning without options for changes and additional adjustments can sometimes also be a disadvantage. With Waterfall, everything is clearly drawn down to the last detail. In Agile processes are not so strict and changes can be made. Processes are created not so much to be strictly followed as to ensure that at each stage the work to be done is defined and in accordance with the customer’s requirements. Agile does not place as much emphasis on highly detailed documentation and does not expect to fully understand the requirements before work begins. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of delivering a working product as something tangible to the customer. Then it can be perfected.
    With Waterfall systems, everything is detailed and the risk is much lower (which is a plus), but on the other hand, flexibility is also less. In this line of thinking, many project teams do not understand how to use agile project management and in such cases it is a negative for the project.

    Agile or Waterfall project management?

    In general, agile and waterfall approaches to project management bring both strengths and weaknesses to project execution. Professionals will best suit the project, project environment and contracting parties with an emphasis on behaviour, leadership and management.
    For selection, it is most important to consider the project goals and the organizational culture of the implementation environment.

  4. Waterfall – The world’s first American Project System. It was founded in 1990 to manage projects with established strict rules and work schedules to be followed. The system is a concept of business models with the aim of manufacturing, patenting and many passes. However, it excludes all human qualities and characteristics to be managed more easily. Waterfall manpower is just a necessity to carry out projects. It is easily and quickly replaced and does not need to be developed and qualified. This is a leading factor to this day today. In 1969, a similar Project Management Institution-PMI was created, which is imposed massively and globally. It creates its own manual with rules for project management, and everything is patented and paid for.

    Agile – A Japanese project management business system with established principles and rules for production and management.Agile includes and emphasizes exactly the workforce, unlike Waterfall. According to the Agile system, the workforce must be motivated, supported and protected, because thanks to it, a given project becomes high-quality and successful. Agile production processes and product management are very well accepted by society, and even Americans include their practices in their books and systems. Even without trying to patent everything, the Japanese manage to successfully create an Agile management system, which focuses on improving methods and principles for quality management and project implementation.

    The differences between Western and Eastern management methodologies are a clear factor in achieving results through a different way of thinking and philosophy. For Americans, the Project Manager position is considered one of the most important in the field, while the Japanese do not emphasize the manager position so much, but rather soon to the principles of success. An Agile manager with less experience can be much more successful than a Waterfall manager with years of experience. Precisely because of these different management systems, we can wonder how an Agile manager would do better successful, productive and expeditious in the project than the Waterfall manager.

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