What Is The Difference Between Waterfall and Agile Project Management?

Anastasia
Anastasia
Oct 12 · 5 min read
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

The ultimate goal of any project manager is to deliver the project successfully and achieve the maximum client satisfaction. So when you get a project brief that outlines your client’s needs, your primary task is to pick a methodology that will work best with the given project requirements and available resources.

Project managers often hesitate between the Waterfall and the Agile methodologies as they have proved their efficiency across decades, but they should be applied judiciously. Review the differences between the Waterfall and the Agile models in the next section or continue reading to dive deep into these notions, understand their nature and discover the differences between them in more detail.

Agile vs. Waterfall Model

Here’s a quick comparison table illustrating the differences between the Waterfall and the Agile models. For a more detailed comparison, continue reading or quick-jump to a more comprehensive comparison table, summarizing the detailed overview of both methodologies provided below.

What is Waterfall Model?

Waterfall is a linear and sequential approach to project management where project phases follow each other without overlapping or getting back to the previous phases. It involves thorough preparation, strict schedules and deadlines, low client interaction and high pressure due to its strict and inflexible structure. As long as Waterfall is the most structured sequential approach, it works best for software development, engineering and construction projects.

Let’s see what phases the Waterfall model includes to understand the nature of this project management approach.

Phases of the Waterfall Model

The Waterfall model includes the following 7 phases, where each phase starts only after the previous one has been finished. The outcome of each phase is used as input for initiating the next stage.

  1. Requirement gathering. One of the key features of the Waterfall model is that all customer requirements are collected and approved before the beginning of the project, meaning no mid-project changes are allowed. The outcome of this phase is a project requirements document which means that all necessary data is collected and no further customer interference is required
  2. Analysis. Project specifications are reviewed from business perspectives, technical and financial resources are audited for feasibility.
  3. Design. Project manager relies on project requirements to develop project specifications, including project plan.
  4. Implementation. At this stage, all the previous planning is put into action.
  5. Testing. After the development is completed, testing is performed to identify flaws and errors, fix and polish the end-product. Customer involvement is possible.
  6. Delivery. The fully functional product is released or handed over to the customer. In non-software projects, delivery is most often the final phase.
  7. Maintenance (optional). Software projects often require maintenance, such as product improvements and updates.

Advantages of Waterfall Model

  • Easy and straightforward. Each Waterfall phase has its own review process and deliverables.
  • Predictable. All the requirements, processes, timelines, deadlines and end-product are fixed and well-documented.
  • Comprehensive documentation. Waterfall requires many project management deliverables, which ensure a greater understanding of the tasks and the end product.
  • The fastest project delivery in small and simple projects.

Disadvantages of Waterfall Model

  • No room for changes. Waterfall is not compatible with changes in client requirements
  • Never backward. Waterfall is a traditional project management methodology that doesn’t allow teams to get back to the previous project development phases
  • Delayed testing. In the Waterfall model, testing is delayed until the end of the project development, meaning you discover mistakes and flaws too late and have to invest a lot of time in fixing them instead of managing them early on.
  • Reduced efficiency because project phases don’t overlap.
  • Pressure and stress caused by inflexible deadlines.
  • Lower customer satisfaction due to the lack of customer feedback during the implementation phase.
  • High risks. If any unexpected obstacles happen, there’s a high chance that they will negatively impact your project’s timeline.
  • Not suitable for complex projects with high risks.

What is Agile?

Agile is a project management methodology that involves project development cycles with high customer involvement. The key focus of this methodology is achieving high customer satisfaction in complex projects due to continuous testing, customer feedback and changes to the project requirements.

Let’s see what phases the Agile project management includes.

Phases of Agile Project Management

Agile approach to managing projects includes the same phases as the Waterfall approach. The only difference is that Agile methodology works in cycles, while Waterfall requires a sequential approach.

Advantages of Agile

  • Superior quality product and higher customer satisfaction due to client involvement in the development process.
  • Increased flexibility. Agile divides projects into small sprints that allow teams to implement changes on short notice.
  • Reduced risks. Agile works in small sprints that focus on continuous delivery and eliminate chances of project failure.
  • Continuous improvement. The cyclic structure and customer feedback allow project teams to improve the product throughout its development process.
  • Improved team morale. Another distinct feature of Agile teams is self-organization, meaning more autonomy, less micromanagement and stress.
  • Improved performance visibility with daily meetings and project progress charts.

Disadvantages of Agile

  • Poor resource planning. Agile projects are not limited by the end result — they are continuously improved, meaning low control over project resources.
  • Difficult to evaluate project time and costs. Agile projects welcome customer feedback and changes to the project requirements that usually bloat project timelines and costs.
  • High possibility of scope creep. Projects easily get sidetracked due to high customer involvement and their changes to the project requirements.
  • Limited documentation. In Agile projects, documentation is built incrementally, meaning it is not detailed enough to be reliable.

What is the Difference Between Waterfall and Agile Project Management?

To sum up, the Waterfall model serves best for simple and straightforward projects that don’t rely on customer feedback, while the Agile approach is the best fit for feedback-based projects, especially in high-risk situations.

Time Tracking in Waterfall and Agile Projects

No matter which project management approach you choose, time tracking is essential to measuring your team’s productivity, monitoring project progress and justifying project costs to your customers. Using reliable time tracking software, like actiTIME, you can observe members’ progress as they submit their work through this shared platform and track their hours committed to their assigned tasks. This is essential for meeting deadlines and being proactive if you recognize that your team members’ pace may lead to significant delays.

Whether you opt for implementing the Waterfall Model or the Agile Method, let time tracking keep your project moving forward. You’ll finish your project on time at a quality that will satisfy your clients and customer base.

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