Want to understand the differences between Waterfall and Agile project management?
While these are both popular project management methods, they’re drastically different in their approach.
So what makes them so different?
And more importantly, which one should you be using?
Let’s find out.
This article contains:
(click on the links to jump to a specific section)
- What is Waterfall?
- What is Agile?
- What’s the Difference Between Agile and Waterfall?
- Which is the One for You?
- The Best Project Management Software
Let’s get started.
What is Waterfall?
The Waterfall methodology is a “traditional” approach to project development. The entire process linear in that one task must be completed before the next.
The name comes after the thought of falling drops of water – where one process comes immediately after the other.
In this process, you get a project, your team works on it and once you have the final product, you give it to the client for approval.
Here’s how it works:
Breaking down the Waterfall Method
The Waterfall method works like this:
The planning process is the first stage of the Waterfall method.
Here, your team goes over a client’s project requirements and conducts extensive planning on how they’ll develop the product.
Design is when you and your team try to fulfill all of your client’s needs and develop the project.
The testing stage is the next Waterfall development process.
Once the project is completed, you and your team test it and document the issues that need fixing.
Once your team has finished testing the product, it’s finally delivered to the client.
When working with a Waterfall development project, each of these steps has to be finished before the next one can start.
For example, in Waterfall software development, the client will only review the software once it has been fully developed and tested.
Waterfall’s pros and cons
Here are the benefits and drawbacks of using the Waterfall model:
Waterfall Model pros:
A. Easy to prepare for
When using this methodology, each phase has very specific deliverables and a concrete review process.
As everything is already carefully thought out in this method, it’s easy to progress through each stage. This can make managing Waterfall projects simple as you always know what’s going to come.
B. Good for small, concise projects
As the Waterfall model is based on rigid, established steps, it’s a good model for managing simple projects with fixed deliverables. As there’s no chance of the project’s deliverables changing, you can progress through each phase seamlessly.
C. Easy to adopt
Since the Waterfall model is based on fixed principles, it’s easy to understand and adopt. Your team won’t be spending time learning new principles or coping with a new mindset to deal with it!
Waterfall Model cons:
A. Not suited to large, flexible projects
Waterfall is a linear approach, so it can’t manage project subdivisions well.
This model doesn’t allow you to test smaller sections of your project; the testing phase only occurs once you’ve fully finished development and design. That’s why this model is suited to a smaller project that can be fully developed and tested quickly.
B. Hard to adapt on the go
The Waterfall methodology works better when the project scope and project requirements are very clear and unlikely to change.
If your customer wants some changes, or if the requirements aren’t clear, it will be difficult to change the plan without going back to the first phase.
C. Riskier testing process
In the Waterfall methodology, you can’t test as you go. Testing only starts once the development process is done. Since you need to develop the whole project first and then test it, your chances of finding issues later on may increase.
If your testing process reveals too many issues, you’ll have to redo the whole development process from the start again!
What is Agile?
Agile development is an iterative and incremental project management method based on change and flexibility.
Agile breaks down large projects into smaller, manageable development cycles, called “sprints”. You then divide your project team into smaller, independent teams to work on these sprints.
How do sprints help?
Sprints help your team to fully develop and release each segment of your project to your customers for quick feedback. That way, you can quickly apply their recommendations to your iterations (sprints) before moving on to your next segment.
The Agile Manifesto
In order to understand this software development approach, you’ll need to understand the principles that guide it.
The Agile Manifesto is a brief summation of the core principles behind Agile’s software development.
Here’s a quick summary of its principles:
- Agile principles of customer satisfaction – Your customer should always be your priority. Embrace their changing needs and feedback to deliver a working product that satisfies them.
- Agile principles of quality – Your main measurement of success is your customer’s satisfaction. This is achieved with sustainable, quality-driven development that leads to continuous improvement.
- Agile principles of teamwork – Team members should always be actively involved and motivated. You should empower your team, treat them as individuals and give them the tools they need to succeed.
- Agile principles of project management – Keep your processes simple and evaluate them constantly. Remove all unnecessary processes to speed things up and optimize things – each step of the way.
But Agile methodology isn’t the only way to apply the Manifesto. There are multiple Agile techniques that stem from it.
Here’s a view of the two most popular ones:
Scrum and Kanban
Scrum and Kanban are the two most common Agile frameworks.
In the Scrum model, your Agile teams are completely self-sufficient and cross-functional.
Scrum-based collaboration is the best approach for complex projects that require experienced team members. When comparing Agile vs Scrum, there’s not much of a difference apart from scrum teams having a specialized scrum master leading the way.
Due to these minimal differences, comparing Scrum vs Waterfall is pretty much the same as comparing Waterfall vs Agile.
In the Kanban model, your tasks are laid out on an interactive Kanban board. With this setup, you can quickly move things around and visualize your progress easily.
The great part of Kanban is that you don’t have to implement the whole methodology; you can instead use a Kanban board to better visualize your sprint’s life cycle. You can also use it during your sprint planning to establish a consolidated view of your development project.
Both Kanban and Scrum have their own advantages and disadvantages.
However, these Agile-based development methods are perfect examples of how flexible the Agile methodology can be when compared to the Waterfall methodology.
Agile’s pros and cons
Agile’s iterative method has a lot of advantages and a few disadvantages.
Here’s a closer look at both:
In the Agile model, your customer reviews the product at the end of each development cycle. Your team then implements their feedback to ensure that their needs are satisfied.
With constant customer involvement, your Agile project can easily fulfill your customer’s needs, even if their demands constantly change.
B. Highly productive and motivated teams
The Agile methodology has a strong focus on people and collaboration. This leads to extremely motivated and self-organized developers. The cross-functional teams always have clear responsibilities and are actively involved in your project’s progress.
C. Leads to more efficient processes
One of the most unique benefits of Agile is its sprint-based approach.
Through sprints, it’s easy to ensure consistent quality throughout the whole process. At the end of each Agile project iteration is a final sprint review. Here, your team goes over what went wrong and what could be improved in the future.
This way, your team learns from their earlier process and applies that knowledge to the next sprint.
D. Better accountability
Both the team and the client know exactly what has been done, what’s being developed and what’s the next step. Additionally, you have multiple project stakeholders who have to oversee the development process and provide feedback.
This ensures that everyone in an Agile project remains accountable for their work.
A. This software development methodology isn’t great for small projects
The Agile model depends on dividing the work into smaller cycles. If the project is already small to begin with, it may be pointless to try and divide it further.
B. It’s easy for this model to go off track
The Agile development methodology is very flexible to changing customer demands.
While this can help you address their needs, it can also result in limitless scope creep occurring.
As your customers keep adding demands and changes, your product’s development life cycle could go on indefinitely!
What’s the difference between Agile and Waterfall?
Here’s a closer look at how the Agile vs Waterfall frameworks differ:
A. Differences between their work process
Waterfall work process
In the Waterfall model, there’s only one development cycle. Your project isn’t split into multiple sprints or iterations. You get the client requirements and then start work on the entire project.
Agile work process
This is the biggest difference between Agile vs Waterfall.
Agile project management splits the product development process into multiple cycles (sprints). Each of these sprints needs to be completed and approved by the customer before you move on to the next one.
B. Differences between their flexibility
The Waterfall model can’t handle changing project requirements or scope increases. As each phase of the whole process is carefully planned out at the start, it can be quite rigid.
As the Agile methodology is based on splitting a project into multiple development cycles, it’s very conducive to change. This iterative approach to software development can handle changing customer requirements with ease!
Since you’re not working on the whole project at once – you have multiple opportunities to include customer feedback along the way.
C. Differences between their testing process
Waterfall’s testing process
In the Waterfall methodology, you only test a product once the entire development phase is finished. While this can help you develop the product undisturbed, it could lead to large scale issues at the end.
Remember, you’ve developed your entire product before you test for problems!
Agile testing process
In this project management methodology, the project is reviewed and tested after each sprint. This helps you fine-tune every part of the project to ensure that it always satisfies customer needs.
D. Differences between their teams
The Waterfall team
The Waterfall team is a very structured unit with a project manager leading the processes. Most of the team members have well-defined roles and only work on what they’re asked to do.
The Agile team
In the Agile approach, most of the team members are self-sufficient and cross-functional. While there’s a product owner and project manager guiding the team, they’re expected to be fairly self-sufficient.
This enables them to quickly adapt to project changes
E. Differences between their customer involvement
Customer involvement with waterfall
In a Waterfall project, your clients are only involved in the early stages of the project and when the final product is completed.
There’s minimal involvement while you’re developing your project.
Customer involvement with Agile
Since the sprints in Agile development facilitate customer feedback at all levels, you get their constant input on a project. They’re not limited to the start and end – they’re present throughout!
Which is the one for you?
When looking at Waterfall vs Agile frameworks, you need to think of:
- The size of your project – Is it short and simple, or will it be better to divide it up?
- The size of your team – Is your team very structured, or is it filled with cross-functional members?
- Your clients – Do they want to actively be a part of your project process?
- The project’s needs – Does the project have fixed deliverables or is it very flexible?
When comparing Waterfall vs Agile, Waterfall is best for…
- Quicker, cheaper and smaller projects
- Projects for clients that don’t want to be actively involved
- Projects with very clear and fixed goals and requirements
When comparing Agile vs Waterfall, Agile is best for…
- Clients that need to be involved at every step of the way
- Projects with changing requirements
- Large, complex projects that need to be broken down
The best project management software for Agile and Waterfall
Regardless of if you’re using Agile or Waterfall, you’ll need the right project management tool to manage your activities.
Luckily, there’s one tool that covers all of your needs: ClickUp!
Using ClickUp is super easy and it’ll adapt to your management needs in no time.
Here’s a look at some of its features:
- Multiple views: to cope with different project management preferences
- Gantt charts: to keep track of your project’s progress
- Comment sections: to facilitate efficient team collaboration
- Custom statuses: to stay on top of all your project stages
- Sprint lists: to manage your sprints
- Dashboards: to visualize your project progress metrics
Here’s a closer look at those features:
A. Multiple Views
Instead of using rigid management tools that force you to adapt to their interfaces, ClickUp gives you multiple views to adapt to your team!
Here’s how these views look like:
1. Required Task Views
ClickUp has two required task views that adapt to different project management approaches:
A. Board View
ClickUp’s board view is the perfect Kanban board for your team. It helps you move tasks around quickly and find out what stages they’re in.
B. List View
This is an ideal view for project managers who handle their work with GTD-style to-do lists. Here, your team member’s tasks are listed down in a simple checklist. As you progress, you can check off your tasks and move on to the next ones.
2. Box View
The Box view is perfect for project managers. It’s a high-level overview of all the tasks your team currently has underway.
How you use this view:
Project managers can use it to get a high-level overview of everything that’s going on. Since tasks are sorted by assignee, project managers can immediately figure out what each team member is working on and make any necessary changes.
ClickUp’s Calendar view helps project managers plan and manage their work schedule. You can check on all your upcoming tasks and prepare for them in no time.
Using this view with your team:
With this view, you can easily keep up with your upcoming tasks.
Project managers can also toggle between calendar views.
Project managers are able to view their calendar as:
- Days: To view project tasks scheduled on a given date
- 4-Days: To view scheduled tasks over a rolling four day period
- Week: To look at your weekly schedule
- Monthly: To look at your project roadmap for the next month
4. Me Mode
ClickUp’s “Me” mode will only highlight comments, subtasks and task lists assigned to you. This will minimize distractions – helping you focus better on your assignments.
B. Gantt Charts
ClickUp gives you state-of-the-art Gantt charts to track and manage your projects. You get a bird’s eye view of your project progress and can make changes to your plans in no time.
ClickUp’s Gantt charts come with tons of automation to make them super powerful. ClickUp’s Gantt charts can:
- Automatically readjust your task dependencies when you reschedule items
- Calculate the project progress percentage based on tasks completed/total tasks
- Compare expected vs current project progress
- Calculate your critical path to identify which tasks you must prioritize
- Help with workflow management
C. Comment Sections
Team collaboration features are one of the most important elements of any project management software. Your team needs to use your tool to communicate project updates and collaborate over your development process quickly.
Here’s how to achieve it using ClickUp:
Each task comes with its own dedicated comment section to help your team exchange files and ideas. They can even tag people and share project updates to keep the project rolling.
The project management software can also integrate with tons of communication tools, like Slack and Skype, to make sure that efficient project communication is always just a click away!
D. Custom Statuses
Want to know why ClickUp can so easily adapt to both Agile and Waterfall?
That’s because it can adapt to anything!
Remember, every project has its own niche-specific stages and requirements. Your management tool has to be able to cope with these variances.
How ClickUp helps you with this:
Traditional project management tools usually give you a standard set of project statuses. ClickUp, however, lets you customize them!
That way, you’re not stuck with a pre-made set of statuses that don’t accurately reflect your project stages.
Why would that be a problem?
Imagine using the same set of statuses for both your blog posts and for your software development projects!
However, with ClickUp’s customizable statuses, that isn’t a problem.
You can get as creative and detailed as you want – “Editorial Review”, “Beta Testing”, “Wireframing”, “Quality Check” – it’s entirely up to you!
E. Sprint Lists
You can’t manage Agile projects without sprint lists, right?
That’s why ClickUp can add checklists to all your projects, tasks and subtasks to create sprint lists that break down your deliverables. Simply check items off these lists as you move to the next sprint!
You can even add scrum points to each list to quickly tackle your product backlog items.
ClickUp also comes with powerful dashboards to visualize your project and sprint data.
Here’s a quick look at what you get:
- Velocity charts: to determine the completion rate of your tasks
- Burndown charts: to see how well your team is progressing against a target line and visualize remaining work
- Burnup charts: to see how much you’ve already completed against your scope
- Cumulative flow charts: to track your project progress over time
The Waterfall and Agile methodologies both have their pros and cons.
And while each development methodology is perfect for a different kind of project, you’ll still need the right project management software.
Luckily, ClickUp has all the features you need to handle the Agile and Waterfall frameworks and keep your projects on track! Why not sign up for free today?
Erica is ClickUp’s Senior Content Manager and professional beach bum. She spends her days creating emails, blogs, landing pages, and more to help people increase their productivity so they can save one day every week to do more of what they love.