What Makes Agile Project Management Different Than Waterfall

By December 13, 2018 No Comments
Agile Project Management TTA Blog

Today’s buzzword is Agile. Agile is defined as “having a quick, resourceful, and adaptable character.”[i] Agile project management is the hot modern way to manage and develop a new project. Although there are many project management tactics, small and large organizations seem to be leaning toward Agile because of its practicality and flexibility. But, according to 2018 Key Metrics Data, project managers are still almost split down the middle as to which they are using, Agile or Waterfall.[ii] So, what makes Agile different than Waterfall project management (PM)?

Traditional methodologies such as Waterfall are typically rigid and linear. During the Waterfall method “you can see the progress flowing through the different phases.”[iii] The phases being, analysis, design, implementation, testing, and maintenance.[iv] This process involves planning all actions and tasks up front, assuming you have everything needed before the project begins. Waterfall PM finishes a task or phase before moving on to the next and does not allow much of an opportunity to move backwards. These forms of PM are highly controlled, supposing requirements are fixed components in the development of a new product.

Often the Waterfall method is exactly the right path to successful completion of a project. A benefit of Waterfall is that the final delivery is decided on early by all stakeholders, which makes planning and designing much more concrete. Projects with limited wiggle room absolutely gain from Waterfall PM. However, this can leave little to no room for surprises and unexpected changes, which can end up leading to budget and timeline issues. If you feel that is the case, you might want to consider Agile.

What Makes Agile Different?

While “a traditional system focuses on upfront planning where factors like cost, scope, and time are given importance, Agile management gives prominence to teamwork, customer collaboration, and flexibility.”[v] Agile, throws out the idea that you can have control over everything in a project. It “accepts uncertainty as a given, and values responding to change over having a plan.”[vi]

Agile can be a bit uncomfortable to those used to using the Waterfall method. Promoting teamwork, Agile requires teams to work with a fair number of unknowns. Throughout the process, Agile PM teams need to be able to “stay fast and flexible.”[vii]

The Agile process takes an iterative approach, completing small tasks in a quicker period of time. Similar to traditional forms, Agile has phases. However, Agile’s flexibility allows for repetition of releases, and sequence is thrown out the window. Phases of each step can look like, review, implement, adapt, and repeat. The adaptability of this form of PM is a big factor, as all too often things change during development “Adaptive planning is perhaps the biggest feature of Agile and one that makes it a crowd favorite among project managers.”[viii]

With the constant planning and feedback during the entire process, teams can communicate with clients and/or leaders more regularly on the development, delivering more value add and reducing risks. Organizations small and large are jumping at Agile PM. The benefits alone validate its popularity. A major benefit of managing a project using Agile is teams tend to detect any problems in the project early and are able to correct them before they become a larger problem. Projects are completed more efficiently and more effectively.

With the pros and cons to both forms of PM, it’s important to decide which direction to take your next project.

How to Know Which to Use?

At times it can be difficult to figure out which method of PM is best for your project. Below are some helpful indicators.

When is Waterfall Right?[ix]

  • When the project has strict budget or timeline constraints and there is little to no room for change.
  • When detailed and rigid requirements that do not allow for flexibility.
  • When the project has compliance requirements

When is Agile Right?[x]

  • When the project requirements are unclear and there is room for change.
  • When Stakeholders want to be more involved in the development
  • When costs for changes are small, and funds are available
  • When more of a team collaboration is desired

Throughout the years, both Agile and Waterfall methods have been modified and also sometimes blended to deliver optimal results. There are times when its best to use a combination of Agile and Waterfall. It’s important to consider all parts of the project before deciding on a direction.

Ultimately, project management teams should adopt both forms of management to practice each and learn what works best for your organization. Visit our Project Management page to see how you can benefit from our expertise!



[i] https://monday.com/blog/agile-project-management-scrum/

[ii] https://www.softwareadvice.com/resources/when-to-use-agile-vs-waterfall-project-management/
[iii] https://apiumhub.com/tech-blog-barcelona/benefits-of-agile-project-management/
[iv] https://apiumhub.com/tech-blog-barcelona/benefits-of-agile-project-management/
[v] https://www.knowledgehut.com/blog/agile/agile-project-management-vs-traditional-project-management
[vi] https://monday.com/blog/agile-project-management-scrum/
[vii] https://monday.com/blog/agile-project-management-scrum/
[viii] https://www.knowledgehut.com/blog/agile/agile-project-management-vs-traditional-project-management
[ix] https://www.softwareadvice.com/resources/when-to-use-agile-vs-waterfall-project-management/
[x] https://www.softwareadvice.com/resources/when-to-use-agile-vs-waterfall-project-management/

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