Comparing Agile and Waterfall Project Management Methodologies

comparing agile versus waterfall project management methodologies

A Comparison and Key Use Cases

When it comes to determining a project management methodology, there’s plenty that needs to be considered. Depending on the nature of your specific project and your organization’s current infrastructure, one project methodology may be more favorable over another. Below, we’re comparing Agile and Waterfall project methodologies, and detail use cases for when which methodology is recommended in specific circumstances.

As the more traditional methodology of the two with a long history, most organizations likely have greater familiarity with Waterfall. The Waterfall methodology is about having a linear structure and moving from one distinct phase to the next once each phase has been completed. Between each phase, there exists a gate of sorts where the project requirements must be reviewed and approved by the customer, clients, or project stakeholders before design and work on the next phase can begin.

One of the benefits of the Waterfall method is that both developers, clients, or the internal team can agree on what exactly will be delivered very early on in the project development lifecycle. However, this can also be a drawback, if participants in design sessions cannot fully contribute design ideas until they have the chance to see and touch some form of the product, or if internal/external influences over time require the design to evolve.

Creating a robust project plan with great attention to detail well in advance can also make planning, design, and execution a more straightforward process. What’s more, progress can be measured easily since the entire project scope is fully understood ahead of time.

The Agile methodology is likely on Project Manager’s radar due to its reputation as the newer and trending project management method, particularly within the tech sphere. At its core, Agile is an iterative approach that allows you to deliver on a project throughout its life cycle.

A key benefit of Agile is the ability to get a streamlined version of your product into the hands of users at an earlier date, even if the entire intended functionality and capabilities of your product are not ready to be delivered. By rolling out your product to users in smaller phases, you’re able to build buzz and excitement around your product while also gaining the benefit of hearing and adapting to user feedback. This allows for flexibility in your future product design and phases, allowing you to adjust your features based upon the valuable end-user feedback you receive.

With Agile, expect a far less linear project plan and rollout than with the Waterfall methodology. The benefit of gaining user feedback and adapting to it is an attractive feature of Agile, though the reality often involves less predictability and unforeseen adjustments to your project that can sometimes result in unforeseen project costs and hours. Oftentimes, if the project implementation involves complex accounting or human resources systems, an Agile project methodology won’t lend itself particularly well to these kinds of projects. Due to the longer timeline that is oftentimes required, a hybrid-style project methodology that incorporates elements of Waterfall and Agile can oftentimes be the most beneficial approach.

A Waterfall/Agile hybrid approach can bring together the best of both worlds so to speak, where projects that don’t lend themselves particularly well to either methodology are able to thrive. For instance, the benefit we see in an Agile-based approach of being able to develop and test in smaller pieces and phases can be leveraged in a hybrid methodology.

Unlike with a purely Agile methodology, a hybrid approach that involves holding off on actually delivering each phase directly to customers as they are completed can be a prudent project move. Instead, as each phase is complete, turning over the product to your employees for user feedback/testing from your internal team can be a way to gain the benefits of obtaining product feedback for your next project phases without the pressure of full go live.

In a world where we’re seeing increased attention and focus on Agile as a project management method, companies may be rushing into prematurely incorporating Agile into their project management offices when it isn’t necessarily the best approach. For instance, a purely Agile methodology might not work well for a large-scale finance or HCM implementation project.

Luckily, you’re not alone when it comes to project management advice and best practices. Our Project Management experts are here to help and address your current or future project management pain points. Reach out to [email protected] to set up a time to discuss upcoming IT initiatives your organization is planning to undergo. In the meantime, check out this blog piece on “How to Make Your Technology Implementation Successful” here and learn about what we believe are the key items to consider when preparing for a technology implementation to ensure success.


  • Maddie Caron

    Ms. Caron serves as Elire's Marketing Specialist, specializing in content writing and digital media communications. Maddie works to deliver relevant industry updates and technical blog posts to educate and engage Elire's audience.

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