Agile vs Waterfall Project Management: The Ultimate Differential Guide

Agile vs Waterfall Project Management

This guide is for you if you are unsure about the pros and cons of agile vs waterfall project management. Each project management style is suited for different project types.

The basic difference between waterfall vs. agile project management is this: Waterfall follows a linear style of work where each project phase starts only once the previous project phase is complete. Agile focuses on working simultaneously to accomplish project phases.

What is Agile Project Management Methodology?

This methodology requires:

  • Constant stakeholder interactions
  • High flexibility
  • Great team initiative and collaboration for accomplishing projects with short-term deadlines

The Agile project management methodology came into being to eliminate Waterfall’s more rigid style of work structure. Here are its defining characteristics:

  • Fluid: It is a fluid and flexible style of project management where the project might change direction, even in the latter stages of development.
  • Feedback-driven: This style of project management focuses on factoring in the stakeholders’ feedback throughout the development in real-time.
  • Sprint-style work: The teams often work on project phases concurrently as the deadlines are more short-term in nature.
  • Collaborative: In this, the team (and not the project manager) drives the project’s direction. Consequently, the team members are more motivated, productive, and accountable for their work.

Here’s how the agile methodology works:

Step 1: The developer team starts out with a simple design and works on small modules/sprints.

Step 2: The work is carried out on a weekly/monthly basis.

Step 3: Once the module/sprint is complete, it is sent for testing. This helps developers from making mistakes in the consequent sprint.

Step 4: If bugs are identified, the developer will work on removing the bug and then gather client reviews.

Step 5: The developer will implement changes if the client demands changes.

Step 6: At the end of each module/sprint, project priorities are evaluated, and work is categorized accordingly.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Agile

Advantages of Agile

Disadvantages of Agile

Productivity: Short-term deadlines help boost work efficiency. Overlap: Since team members work on multiple phases simultaneously, there may be overlap or added effort in later phases.
Flexibility: The project approach is flexible in nature as the direction pivots, and the team has a greater license to experiment. Miscommunication and misalignment: Considering that the deliverables are not required to be completed before progressing to the next phase, there may be issues such as:


  • Difficulty in ensuring that the entire team and the different departments are on the same page
  • Miscommunication between team members if resources keep leaving and joining the project
Feedback: In a customer-facing methodology, the team often shares the progress status with the client and incorporates real-time feedback into the software development process. As a result, clients are always aware of the project’s progress and status. Skewed timeline: Determining the project timeline from the very start can be difficult as the timelines are prone to changes. Agile methodology demands the expertise of a seasoned project manager as the sprints need to be prioritized, and the time period keeps evolving.

An Example of an Agile Project Management Software

Agile Project Management Tools: Nifty

Nifty is an example of an agile project management software that empowers engineering teams to accomplish better results quicker. Here are some of its most unique features:

  • Better product planning: The tool’s intuitive UI empowers project managers to centralize everything–from pre-planning with the product team to incorporating user feedback and addressing support tickets.
  • Resource-balancing: Users can easily assign a weight to tasks using story points to balance resources. They can also predict the effort required for upcoming releases.
  • Real-time reporting: The tool also helps managers to keep a tab of the team’s automated sprint progress as the release date approaches.

If you want to boost release efficiency and track your agile sprint cycles, Nifty is the tool for you.

What is Waterfall Project Management Methodology?

This methodology requires:

  • A more hands-off approach
  • The goals, objectives, and outcomes are to be defined from the very beginning.
  • Low flexibility as the deliverables should be completed before progressing to the next phase.

In contrast, the waterfall project management methodology follows a linear form of project management. If you deal with projects where you can clearly define the end result and the timelines from the beginning, then this project management methodology is for you.

The most important difference between waterfall vs agile project management methodology is that in the former, the project expectations can be clearly defined, and the key deliverables need to be completed before progressing to the next phase.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Waterfall

Advantages of Waterfall

Disadvantages of Waterfall

Concrete: This methodology offers a concrete blueprint of the project–from start to finish. Longer deadline: Since each project phase must be completed prior to progressing to the next stage, the project can take longer to complete. Plus, waterfall demands heavy requirements initially, and one small mistake can derail the whole project.
Time-saving: Since the project requirements are established early on in the process, the teams can benefit from saved time. Scope creep: The tests are done only at the end of the project, which is why project managers may not be able to identify a bottleneck until the next phase has already begun. This can lead to rework and more effort wasted in identifying how or when the mistake/error occurred.
Streamlined workflow: This style follows a more structured approach to project management, as each phase needs to be completed before progressing to the next phase. Rigid process: The biggest drawback of this methodology is the inability to accommodate changes later on. Additionally, the stakeholders may find out about impending issues much later on in the project’s progress, making it an inevitable failure.

Agile vs Waterfall Project Management: An In-Depth Comparison

Agile vs Waterfall Project Management: Timeline

The Agile Way:

  • Offers greater flexibility
  • Accounts for experimenting with diverse directions
  • Instead of a rigid and fixed timeline, the schedule changes as the project progresses
  • Team members are required to deliver working software frequently (within a couple of weeks/months)
  • Projects have a shorter deadline

The Waterfall Way:

  • Has a fixed timeline
  • The start and end dates of the project are mapped out from the very beginning

Waterfall vs Agile Project Management: Client Involvement

The Agile Way:

  • A core requirement, agile includes clients at every stage of project development
  • The highest priority is to satisfy the customer’s needs and expectations via early and continuous delivery of valuable software
  • Stakeholders are expected to be involved and provide feedback to the software development team as the project progresses across the different development phases

The Waterfall Way:

  • Once the goal is defined, this methodology does not typically include the client except for specific check-ins
  • Integrating client feedback is a one-off initiative that occurs at the start of the project (as opposed to being an ongoing process)

Agile vs Waterfall Project Management: Flexibility

The Agile Way:

  • Flexibility comes in-built with the Agile method
  • Allows for shorter sprints of work
  • Allows for accommodating different directions and helps project managers to integrate new data–even at later stages of a project

The Waterfall Way:

  • Not as flexible as Agile as every phase must be accomplished before the next phase begins
  • Project planning occurs ahead of time and requires teams to have a clear vision of the end-goals and customer expectations from start to finish

Waterfall vs Agile Project Management: Cost

The Agile Way:

  • The budget is largely flexible as the project needs to change
  • Encourages project managers to experiment and drive new changes, no matter which stages the project lies in within the project lifecycle

The Waterfall Way:

  • The budget is fixed as the project needs and goals are defined at the very start, and there is little to no room for change/experimentation midway

Agile vs Waterfall Project Management: Risk

The Agile Way:

  • Managing risk and issues in Agile plays a more reactive and active role as the requirements keep changing often, leading to more unpredictability and risks

The Waterfall Way:

  • Here, the project managers typically get more time to plan for the project. Plus, they have longer deadlines and work within a more stable environment, making it less risky than Agile.

Agile vs Waterfall Project Management – Which is Best for You?

Before you zero in on a particular project management style, consider the following learnings:

Who is Waterfall ideally suited for?

Waterfall is ideal for projects that:

  • Have a clearly-defined end goal
  • Need a structured approach to getting tasks done without much room for flexibility
  • Require a linear progression to be followed
  • Have requirements that mandate following strict rules and regulations, as each phase’s deliverables will need to adhere to the strict procedures in place

Who is Agile ideally suited for?

Agile is best for:

  • Providing greater scope for adapting to the changing needs as the project develops
  • Projects where the end-goal is highly-dependent on research/testing
  • Projects where stakeholders are involved intimately at every stage of development
  • IT companies where the requirements change at lightning speed and where teams can work in parallel across different phases.
  • Teams that move with agility keep experimenting with their direction and don’t have an inkling of what the end product will look like
  • Teams that comprise more flexible, collaborative, and self-motivated team members
  • Projects that require rapid deployment as opposed to laser-focusing on the quality of the product

Over to You

There’s no clear winner in the battle of agile vs. waterfall project management. The project management style you embrace will ultimately depend on the kind of end product you want and other parameters, such as whether the project has a fixed budget, deadline, and so on. Both these methods come with their own set of pros and cons.

To understand which one to choose, speak to your team members to get a good sense of the end product needed. If the goal is not clear, going the agile route might be more beneficial for your organization.


What is the difference between agile vs waterfall project management?

The main difference between the waterfall vs agile project management methodology is that waterfall embraces a more linear work style and requires the team to complete every project phase before moving to the next phase.

Waterfall can also be collaborative, but the tasks are handled sequentially. Agile, on the other hand, is more focused on allowing team members to work simultaneously across different project phases. Think of Agile as an iterative methodology that integrates a collaborative and cyclic process.

Which is better: Agile or Waterfall?

Both Agile and Waterfall methodologies are used for different types of projects. If you are uncertain about the project requirements, have a project with shorter timelines, and want rapid project delivery, Agile is the way to go.

In contrast, if you are dealing with a project that has complex dependencies and follows a linear work style, Waterfall might be better for you.

What are the 3 main differences between Agile and Waterfall methodologies?

The three main differences between Agile vs Waterfall project management methodologies include:

  • Approach: In the waterfall method, the requirements don’t change too often, and the project follows a sequential path where the next project phase begins only when the previous one is complete. The Agile method is more iterative and incremental in nature, with the team delivering deliverables early and often as the project requirements keep changing.
  • Flexibility: In the waterfall method, there’s no room for error or change. If any kind of scope creep occurs, the whole project will need to be initiated again from the beginning. In the agile method, there’s great room for experimentation and flexibility as the work happens simultaneously and in sprints.
  • Objectives and final product: In the waterfall method, the client has a crystal-clear understanding of the project goals, end product, the costs involved, and the deadline. In the agile methodology, there’s no clear-cut understanding of what the final product will look like. Consequently, the end result may be drastically different from what was intended in the first place.