Waterfall vs. Agile: What Is the Best Approach For a Software Development Project?

7 minutes
Jakub Ryba

One of the first decisions to make when starting a software development project is the methodology to use. In case you are new to development, a development methodology is simply the way you organize your work.

For software development projects, the two most popular methodologies are Waterfall and Agile. If you ask a new-age developer, they will likely tell you Waterfall is dead. However, because many organizations still use traditional development environments and processes, the Waterfall methodology is still widely used today.

Both Waterfall and Agile have their unique requirements, strong points, and challenges. To help you evaluate when to use either of these methodologies, let’s walk through their advantages and disadvantages, where one may be more suitable than the other, and whether it is possible to combine the two approaches and benefit from each concurrently.


The Waterfall Approach

As the name suggests, Waterfall describes a stepped approach with a prescribed set of activities. It entails that you start by gathering and documenting all requirements, then move to design, development, testing, and finally deployment and delivery.

No subsequent step can begin if the current step is not complete, and the end result is a culmination of all the steps involved to produce the final product.


Benefits of the Waterfall methodology

Developers use the Waterfall approach because it is straightforward. It enables you to define what you are building in great detail at the beginning, which makes it easier to set start-and-end dates, milestones, and deliverables.

Once development starts, team members can concentrate on their work without continuously engaging stakeholders to discuss product requirements.

Furthermore, since everything is documented and approved before development, the final product is more predictable. The team does not need to meet frequently to ensure the project is staying on course to achieving the desired result.


Potential drawbacks of the Waterfall methodology

Although the waterfall methodology is structured and straightforward, it has some limitations that make it relatively unsuited for some projects.

For starters, defining requirements upfront may leave less room for creativity because it does not encourage team members to exploit opportunities they might uncover during development.

The Waterfall approach is also less accommodating to end-user feedback. Therefore, it is not ideal for projects that require active customer involvement.

Lastly, a rigid methodology can make cost adjustments harder to incorporate, especially if undefined needs come up along the way. Making changes to a finished product typically involves extensive and expensive rework.


The Agile Approach

The Agile methodology replaces rigid structures with a more collaborative process, where requirements and results evolve through iterations.

With the Agile methodology, a project team can start by establishing a few initial requirements, then move to designing, developing, testing, and deploying. After deployment, the team collects feedback and establishes new requirements for the next update. This cycle continues until the final desired product is achieved. 


Benefits of the Agile methodology

Agile offers a lot more flexibility than Waterfall. Your team can adjust priorities and requirements easily to meet evolving demands. Flexibility also promotes creativity because team members know any new ideas can be implemented with ease.

Unlike the Waterfall methodology, Agile encourages cross-functional teamwork. Because expectations can be adjusted during development, stakeholders work more closely together, contributing new ideas and empowering each other to deliver the best final product.

Agile projects are quicker to develop and deploy because they skip the initial steps of detailed structuring and documentation. The team spends its time and energy developing and improving the software product with each iteration.


Potential drawbacks of the Agile methodology

Agile presents appealing benefits, but it may not be ideal for some initiatives. The primary concern with this approach is that timelines, milestones, budgets, and the final outcome of the project are less predictable. A flexible approach to development means outcomes might be significantly different from what was initially envisioned.

Additionally, Agile requires the active participation of all team members and end-users. The entire team must be prepared to devote time, build trust, and contribute to building the product.

Because Agile does not insist on documentation, it may not be ideal for projects that require extensive record-keeping, such as healthcare and government initiatives.

Finally, agile keeps a project more open to change than Waterfall. As a result, rework is often inevitable, which creates the possibility of delays and additional costs.


How can you decide between Agile and Waterfall for your project?

Agile and Waterfall are uniquely effective. So, the right approach for you will depend on the nature of your project.

If your project has a rigid deadline, tight budget, pre-defined features, or strict regulatory requirements, Waterfall will serve you best. With this approach, you can clearly define the project and follow a fixed and predictable path to achieve the desired product. 

On the other hand, if you are not sure what you need to build at the onset, your timeline and budget are flexible, you are open to new ideas, and your team values collaboration overworking in silos, Agile is the way to go.


Implement a Redmine hybrid solution for the best of both worlds

At this point, you are probably wondering whether it is possible to combine both Agile and Waterfall to leverage the benefits of each approach. In truth, many development teams combine these two methodologies to optimize resource utilization and maximize customer satisfaction.

With Easy Redmine’s Scrum and Kanban tools, you can develop a hybrid model where the project starts with a Waterfall approach to get to an approved design, then adopts Agile to improve it.

Alternatively, you can start with Agile to develop a picture of your final product and jump to Waterfall when you clearly understand what your project will achieve.

Sign up with Easy Redmine and get the best of Agile and Waterfall for your software project.

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