Agile vs Waterfall Methodology – What is it?

It’s vital to establish a software development methodology whenever you create a new development team or begin a new project. These methodologies allow you to organise your employees more effectively, helping achieve the goal of designing and releasing software. The methodology you use can impact costs, the adaptability of the project, and the level of input you can incorporate from other departments or key stakeholders. 

While waterfall methodology is the more traditional approach to project management, it has a considerable number of drawbacks and limitations. The agile methodology, on the other hand, is rapidly becoming the norm among software development teams. Its primary benefit is the flexibility it promotes: appropriately enough, the methodology makes a team far more agile and able to adapt to emerging circumstances. 

This article will provide a detailed overview of both methodologies, weighing their benefits and drawbacks. We’ll provide the information you need to decide which methodology is best suited to your company. 

Agile vs Waterfall: What’s the Difference?

The Agile Methodology

Agile Methodology was first described in the principles and values of the 2001 Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The basic idea is to continuously release smaller sections of a product, instead of working towards a single large product. 

Each release generally consists of a planning, development, and testing phase. The maintenance and improvement of the previous release forms part of the next one. 

A range of different frameworks and product delivery methods fall under the agile umbrella, including Scrum, Lean, Six Sigma, and Kanban. 

Agile frameworks provide a flexible solution allowing your company to adapt as the situation demands. They prioritise communication, so any client requests can be incorporated quickly and easily. Agile methodologies are also iterative, allowing teams to learn and products to be improved continuously with each new cycle.

The Waterfall Methodology

Waterfall is much more linear than agile. This methodology focuses on upfront planning, where all the requirements fully defined before a project commences. The clients and users are only consulted during the initial planning phase. 

Work is completed in phases, but unlike agile, these phases are only to be completed once. The work “cascades”, much like a waterfall, through different project phases. Each phase needs to be completed before the next one can begin. 

Waterfall is not iterative, meaning products are released in their entirety instead of incrementally. 

When to Use Agile Methodology vs. Waterfall

Waterfall is particularly useful for large, complex projects with unchanging requirements. If the product has a very specific purpose, and user feedback would not affect the development of the product much, the waterfall methodology is a good idea. Whilst this methodology is not particularly adaptable, it allows teams to be much more focused since only one phase needs to be worked on at a time.

While it does have some benefits, waterfall is losing traction in the market as large complex projects are increasingly managed through Agile. The agile methodology allows large projects to be separated into manageable chunks as opposed to a monolithic, rigid structure.

Furthermore, agile works well for projects that require flexibility and clients who are seeking or refining their product-market fit. In the modern software industry, where most companies value user feedback and the customer experience, agile methodologies are superior.

As the iterative process allows for a product to be altered easily, this methodology also tends to lead to higher quality products. Small adjustments and improvements can be made each iteration, whereas products from a waterfall methodology are difficult to adapt once launched. 

Agile vs Waterfall: Pros and Cons

Agile

Pros

  • Agile provides the flexibility to respond to changes in the market and new intelligence.
  • It encourages knowledge sharing. During each iteration, team members can learn something new and share information as they make progress. 
  • Since communication is a priority, there’s faster and more regular feedback.
  • With no big final launch to aim for, there’s also more deadline flexibility with agile methodologies. 

Cons

  • Loose planning allows for adaptability, but can lead to unpredictable deadlines and delays.
  • Agile methodologies have a relentless pace. There’s little time for rest between iterations, and each new iteration needs to incorporate maintenance and analysis of the previous one.
  • Since an agile methodology includes continuous iterations, and therefore future chances to fix problems, loose testing requirements might be implemented. These can let bugs through which will affect the user experience.

Waterfall

Pros

  • Since waterfall projects are fully planned prior to being started, there’s minimal scope creep.
  • The prior planning leads to a predictable and well-specified final product, as well as well-defined roles and responsibilities during the development phase.
  • Clients can be safe in the knowledge that a project using the waterfall methodology has precise plans and firm deadlines.

Cons

  • The thoroughness of the initial planning often leads to a severe lack of flexibility.
  • The lack of iterations and incremental progress means there are few (if any) opportunities to course correct when a project is going wrong.
  • A company that uses waterfall consistently will have many large gaps between their new products reaching the market. 
  • Testing is the final stage in a long development process, which often leads to unsustainable workarounds and technical debt as bugs are identified too late. 

Embracing Agile in the Modern World

In the contemporary software development industry, agile is the more effective and popular choice of methodology. According to the State of Agile 2021 report, there was significant growth in agile adoption within software development teams, increasing from 37% in 2020 to 86% in 2021.

The two most urgent reasons for adopting agile are the speed and flexibility required by working environments these days. The global trend of remote working makes projects less predictable, which makes agile more appealing.

In addition, clients are more demanding than ever. Since customer satisfaction is a top priority in the agile methodology, it’s a clear favourite among modern teams. Agile ways of working can involve the client every step of the way for a stronger relationship and enhanced customer satisfaction.

There’s no doubt that agile is the preferred way of working for development teams worldwide. However, it’s not without its own challenges. For instance, ensuring your development teams are working optimally can be a challenge without the right oversight. That’s where BlueOptima comes in.

Build an Efficient Agile Team with BlueOptima

BlueOptima’s Developer Analytics solution can massively enhance agile methodologies. The tool gives team leads the opportunity to continuously improve iterations by providing key insights into developers’ output. 

With the metrics provided by BlueOptima, teams can benefit from the flexibility of agile methodologies and avoid its drawbacks. Our developer analytics data prevents the slip-ups caused by loose planning or testing requirements by offering more granular insights into how your development team is performing during each iteration.

Click here to see how we have helped our clients implement and objectively measure their Agile Transformation.