Waterfall Project Management vs. Agile: Which Works for You?

Interested in learning about Waterfall project management?

Despite being one of the oldest project management methodologies, the Waterfall model is still popular among project management circles in 2021.

Sure, Waterfall isn’t as flexible as its modern counterparts like the Agile approach. But the model’s linear approach to project management does have some benefits for teams.

What are these benefits?

More importantly, what is Waterfall project management exactly?

Luckily, we’re going to take some help from the cast of FRIENDS here. 

I mean, the Waterfall model is pretty much a fossil in the world of project management.

And Ross can’t seem to contain his excitement about it for obvious reasons:

ross explaining his profession

In this article, you’ll learn about Waterfall project management, its process and three key pros and cons. We’ll also cover why Agile is a better alternative to the Waterfall model and how to manage your projects effectively in 2021.

Let’s get rolling. 

What is Waterfall Project Management?

Waterfall is a traditional project management approach where you complete a project as a step-by-step (linear or sequential) process. The project team essentially completes each task/stage in the project before moving on to the next one.

And as each step cascades into the next one, like water flowing down in a waterfall, this approach is called the Waterfall methodology. 

Phoebe pretending to be surprised

But what are the steps that go into the Waterfall process?

Let’s find out…

The 5 Key Stages in Waterfall Project Management 

A project following the Waterfall development methodology ‘flows’ through five key phases:

Requirements phase

The first step is to gather all project requirements from the clients or customers. This is then documented and analyzed to understand what they want from the project.

Design phase

Once you know what is required, you define the design specifications for the project. This includes deciding what technology to use, creating models and diagrams, etc. 

Implementation phase

In this stage, you develop the project according to the project requirements gathered in the requirements phase. In software engineering, this phase involves coding the software.

Testing phase

Testing is the QA stage in a Waterfall project. Once you’ve developed the product/system, you verify that it has met the project requirements and works well or not.

Delivery phase

If the testing was successful, the finished product is finally delivered to the client or customer. 

If you’re using the Waterfall process, you must follow this development cycle in the exact order.


Each phase’s input depends on the previous one’s output. 

For example, let’s say you’re developing an Android app for Ross to map dinosaur fossil locations. To start coding, you need to complete the design phase — only then will you know what programming language and software architecture you need in the development process

What happens if you don’t follow this order?

You’ll develop a product/system that doesn’t meet Ross’ project requirements correctly!

Like how Rachel made her English trifle.

Rachel realizing she made a mistake

This is also why the requirements phase is the most important one in the Waterfall project management methodology. If you don’t know what the client (Ross) wants, they’ll not be happy with your deliverable. 

Moreover, you’ll just be wasting your time and resources!  

But stakeholder needs can change frequently, right? (You know how hard it is for Ross to make up his mind.)

And this lack of flexibility is one of the main drawbacks of the Waterfall development methodology.

Three Pros And Cons Of The Waterfall Project Management Model

Before we talk about its drawbacks, let’s see why this methodology is still used today.

A. Waterfall project management model pros

Here are three benefits of using the Waterfall methodology in project management:

1. Easy to understand and manage

The Waterfall project management method is so easy to learn that even Joey could do it. 

I mean, it’s not as hard as learning French!

Phoebe teaching Joey French

Firstly, you don’t have to learn any principles to use the Waterfall model. Maybe, following its sequential structure could count as a principle, but that’s it. 

Secondly, as the project’s development is split into easy-to-understand stages, managing a Waterfall project becomes very simple. 

Remember Monica’s catchphrase, “I know”?

That’ll be yours too when you’re using the Waterfall process — you’ll always know what’s to be done and delivered in each stage (provided you got your project requirements right, of course).

Monica saying "I know!"

2. Extensive documentation

Waterfall project management is a document-heavy approach

You’ll create detailed documents for all stages in a Waterfall project, starting with the requirements phase

Documentation may seem boring and tedious to do (except for people who enjoy organization, like Monica). 

However, it actually has a few benefits, like:

  • Everyone will be on the same page about what to do in each phase
  • New project team members can read these documents to familiarize themselves with the project quickly 
  • You can use it as references when presenting progress reports to clients

3. Suitable for small projects

Ross’s love for dinosaurs barely changed over time, right?

Ross showing off his dinosaur tie

Similarly, in small projects, project requirements and deliverables are less likely to change. 

For managing such projects, the Waterfall method is a good fit. 

As the project scope is fixed, you can proceed through each development stage seamlessly.

B. Waterfall project management model cons

While the Waterfall project management methodology can be useful in some situations, it’s mostly seen as a flawed model — especially in software engineering.

Here are three reasons why: 

1. Lack of flexibility

Ross doesn’t like change, and neither does the Waterfall methodology!

Ross unhappy about change

The model requires everything to be clearly defined before starting each phase — something that’s not practical when client/customer needs could change any time.

So if they want to change any project feature, or if the requirements aren’t clear, you’ll have to restart the project from the requirements phase again.

Talk about a waste of time and resources!

2. The testing process can be risky

Remember, in the Waterfall method, you don’t test as you go

You need to develop the entire project before you can start testing it. 

This delay can increase the chances of your project being riddled with bugs and other issues. And if the testing process reveals too many issues, you’ll have to restart the whole development process from scratch. 

Moreover, as the project is nearly over by the time you reach the testing stage, teams tend to rush through it just to deliver the project in time. 

While they’ll meet the deadline, the client could receive a product that wasn’t adequately tested and checked. 

Ross, Rachel & Phoebe disappointed

3. Not suitable for large, complex projects

Large projects are also more prone to changing requirements. 

If you use the Waterfall model to manage such projects, you’ll have to restart the development process each time the requirement changes — which is definitely not feasible. 

Additionally, as the testing phase occurs only post-development, you can’t test individual components in such projects — resulting in a bug-ridden product.

So how do you manage large projects or ones with changing requirements? 

You use the Agile project management method!

What’s the Agile model?

Let’s dive right into it.

A Better Alternative to Waterfall Project Management Method: Agile 

Agile is a broad management approach that helps you adapt to changing project requirements quickly. 

Unlike Waterfall, Agile doesn’t follow a linear development approach. Instead, it follows an iterative and incremental process

What does that mean?

  • An iterative process is one that helps you refine the project in successive development cycles
  • An incremental process is one in which the project is developed and delivered in pieces

For this, large projects in Agile are broken down into smaller sections — each developed in short cycles called sprints

How does this help?

During a sprint, the project team (also called an Agile team) only develops and tests a specific section of the project. At the end of each sprint, stakeholders review the deliverable and give their feedback. The team then implements the necessary changes in the next development cycle.  

Here’s an example to help you understand this better:

Let’s say Rachel’s in charge of developing an eCommerce app for Ralph Lauren. 

With the Waterfall project management method:
Her team could be in the testing phase when her boss says that she wants a new feature in the app, such as displaying the latest Spring collection on the homepage. 

To implement that single feature, her project team will have to start the whole development cycle from the start again!

Rachel shocked on the phone

However, with the Agile approach:
Her project team could give Rachel a version of the app each month, ask for her feedback and implement it before developing the next section. 

This way, they’ll be able to add the new feature easily without having to redo the whole project.

Other key Agile management concepts

Agile helps incorporate stakeholder feedback at every step of the development process.

Great, right?

But sprints aren’t the only elements in the Agile project management!

Agile also has a set of guiding principles, just like Ross here:

Ross talking about his principles

Each Agile principle (12 in total) is defined in the Agile Manifesto.

What’s the Agile Manifesto?

The Agile Manifesto is a document that describes the core values and guiding principles of the Agile model. So if you want to adopt the Agile technique, the best place to start is by going through this document.

But wait… there’s more.

What else?

  • As Agile is a broad concept, it’s split into multiple project methodologies like Scrum, Kanban, Lean, etc. So when you’re looking to adopt Agile, you’ll have to decide if you want to implement Scrum, Kanban or any other Agile methodology.
  • The Agile method is also built on a set of management practices, known as Agile practices. These practices help ensure that there’s continuous improvement in the project’s development. Having daily meetings and forming cross-functional teams are some essential Agile practices.

Look, we get it.

The Agile method sounds like a lot to take in.

Phoebe agreeing


But don’t worry!

Just check out our simple guide on Agile project management for help on adopting the Agile model quickly!

The Best Project Management Software for Waterfall and Agile: ClickUp

So which project management methodology should you use?

That’s totally up to you! 

If it’s a small project with rigid requirements and deliverables, go for the Waterfall model.

If not, adopt the Agile approach

But regardless of the method you adopt, how do you ensure that your projects run smoothly?

With a powerful project management tool like ClickUp!

But what’s ClickUp?

clickup devices

ClickUp is the world’s #1 project management tool. From documenting project requirements in the Waterfall model to tracking the progress of your Agile project, ClickUp can handle anything you throw at it!

Phoebe excited

Here’s a closer look at some of ClickUp’s features:

1. Custom Statuses to manage project stages easily

Every project will have specific development stages. 

Even Monica’s cooking does.

Monica enforcing strict cooking instructions

However, most project management tools give you a set of rigid statuses that have nothing to do with your project

I mean, who needs “beta development” in a marketing project!

Luckily, with ClickUp’s Custom Statuses, that’s a thing of the past.

ClickUp lets you create customized task statuses that accurately reflect your project needs. For example, you can create a “testing” stage in your Agile software development project

Similarly, for a content marketing project, you can create a “published” stage — it’s entirely up to you!

board view

2. Multiple Views to adapt to any project management methodology quickly

ClickUp can seamlessly adapt according to your project management methodology

Waterfall, Agile, Scrum… you name it!

friends cast all shocked

But how does it do that?

With Multiple Views!

ClickUp gives you different views like:

  • List view: View your tasks as GTD-style to-do lists. This view is perfect for those who prefer using sprint lists
  • Board view: If you want to adopt the Kanban approach, this is the view for you
  • Box view: Ideal for any project manager or Scrum master, this gives you a high-level view of each team member’s workload
  • Me Mode: View what’s assigned only to you to focus on your assignments easily 
  • Calendar view: View your tasks in a calendar format to plan schedules and keep track of them
calendar view

3. Assigned Comments to ensure that your comments never go unnoticed

Most projects have a lot of moving parts — tasks, to-do lists, meetings… the list is endless.

And when a lot is going on, comments can slip through the cracks and go unnoticed by your team members. This can lead to severe delays and confusion over the project.

Your team will probably be like Phoebe here:

Phoebe distressed in a clothing store

Luckily, with ClickUp’s Assigned Comments, that’s not an issue!

ClickUp lets you create a task out of a comment and assign it to any team member (including yourself) easily. The assignee will be then notified of this and it’ll even pop up in their task tray to help them get started instantly.

Once they’re done with it, they can resolve the comment easily to avoid unnecessary follow-ups. 

You can also add checklists to keep things moving along, and on track!

resolve an assigned comment

4. Docs to create comprehensive documentation for your projects

Clear project documentation is essential to ensure that everyone’s on the same page. 

Moreover, if you’re using the Waterfall approach, you must know exactly what the stakeholder wants during the requirements phase

But how do you keep track of your project requirements and other documentation? 

By using ClickUp Docs!

Docs help you create detailed project and company-related documents that are stored alongside your projects. With real-time collaboration, file sharing and access rights, it’s the best solution for project documentation!

clickup docs

You can even:

  • Embed URLs into your Doc
  • Format your text with a rich text editor
  • Export any Doc as PDF, HTML and Markdown files
  • Customize Doc access rights
  • Let Google index these docs
  • And more!

Super handy, right?

Joey impressed

But that’s not all of ClickUp’s features!

This project management software also gives you a wide variety of features like:


Sure, the Waterfall project management methodology has its benefits. 

But it has some critical drawbacks — especially when you’re dealing with changing project requirements

And unlike FRIENDS, some things are best left to the past.

Instead of the Waterfall approach, why not use a modern project management methodology like Agile for better adaptability and efficiency?

However, just deciding on a methodology is not enough to manage a project

You also need a powerful project management tool like ClickUp!

From Waterfall to Agile and every development methodology in between, ClickUp can be customized to suit your project needs. 

Sign up today and get someone who’s always looking out for you and your projects!

friends cast clapping

Questions? Comments? Visit our Help Center for support.

Sign up for FREE and start using ClickUp in seconds!
Please enter valid email address