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Product Strategy

Agile Development vs Waterfall Development: What Is Perfect For Your Project?

Nisha Gopinath Menon
July 25, 2017

As agile methodologies started amassing across the board adoption, you’ll find enough platforms online debating whether it’s the truly superior method or not. Most would have you believe, Agile is the way to go, while others argue about the benefits of adopting the Waterfall methodology. Today, we refuse to partake in this debate, because this war has no winner. You see, when you boil down to it, neither the Agile method nor the Waterfall method is inherently better than the other. Hence, do not expect to find any easy answers here. Instead, we’ll arm you with information about both Waterfall and Agile methodologies. By the end, you will have yourself reached an informed decision about what’s best for you.

Waterfall Methodology

By classic project management, most mean a linear method, also known as Waterfall methodology. This happens to be a structured, disciplined, stage by stage sequential approach where each set of work is done in phases. When the first phase is over, you proceed to the second and so on and so forth. The number of phases differs according to the chosen Waterfall Methodology. As the name implies, inspired by the nature of a waterfall, you begin by gathering documents, design, code, then perform system testing, user acceptance testing, fix any problems and finally deliver the product.

The advantages of Waterfall methodology are:

  • The developers and clients agree on the deliverables going in. This makes it easy to plan and implement.
  • Tangible results every time a stage is over, which ensures visibility to others and provides a baseline to move forward on.
  • You can measure the progress more easily as all the work required to be done, is laid out going in.
  • The decision makers will be able to set a target delivery date more realistically since they can see the progress at each stage.
  • The whole process is well documented and leaves a clear paper trail for each stage or phase. This will prove beneficial for future projects as you can follow the similar logic and help set the groundwork.

The disadvantages of Waterfall methodology are:

  • Changes will cost you. This is one of the major demerits of the rigidity this methodology brings with it. Testing happens towards the end, so if your customers don’t accept the product, it’s too late to retrace your steps.
  • Clients don’t see a working product until almost the end of the line.
  • Saving all the testing for the end isn’t a good idea. When the deadline is around the corner, there’s a tendency to run and skip the testing. A poorly tested product won’t help you.
  • If any task in a particular stage wasn’t done right and identified at a later stage, the whole project is severely affected.
  • If your project comes with external or internal dependencies, then there could be delays.

Most of the pros and cons listed out might not apply to you if you’re working with a disciplined team. Even so, most of the pros listed out, like laying out the entire plan going in, giving you the ability to predict the delivery date is very much dependent on far too many factors to take this pro without a pinch of salt. If your client has clearly defined their requirements and they aren’t going to change throughout the time it takes to finish the project, then Waterfall Methodology will work for you. More often, for simple and predictable projects you’ll benefit by adopting Waterfall’s linear development path and inherent stability.

Agile Methodology

Agile is commonly pitted as a “solution” to the disadvantages of the waterfall methodology. The Agile methodology follows an incremental approach and emphasizes on rapid delivery of an application, instead of a sequential design process. It’s an iterative method where the different phases or sprints like requirements, design, build and test, required to complete a project are done in parallel with each other. The different requirements and solutions keep evolving as the project proceeds, based on priority and discipline. Scrum is the most popular method under the Agile Methodology.

The advantages of Agile Methodology are:

  • Requirements keep evolving and given the shorter planning cycles. Change can be catered to smoothly.
  • This methodology encourages active participation from the stakeholders, ensuring the product is built according to your priorities and vision.
  • Frequent communication and face-to-face interaction between the team members ensure faster progress and lesser impediments.
  • The short development cycles mean your project has the flexibility to change anything, anytime.
  • The methodology doesn't require much documentation. This saves you hours spent on the material you won’t need if you decide to replace anything.
  • Development is more user-focused, as a result of more interaction with your users which reduces the risk of your users not accepting the product.

The disadvantages of Agile Methodology are:

  • Since tasks are often reprioritized, the timeline could stretch beyond what you expected.
  • Agile Methodology is generally practiced by relatively small, multidisciplinary teams. The relative lack of structure amongst the teams compared to Waterfall Methodology means the team members should be disciplined and have a sense of ownership.
  • This methodology works best when every member of your team is committed to the project. Agile Methodology is all about active team involvement and can prove a lot more time consuming than the Waterfall Methodology.
  • Your team will have to find the right balance between code and documentation since Agile advocates software over comprehensive documentation.
 If you look closely, most of the demerits of Lean or Agile Methodology are different versions of, “if you do it sloppy, it won’t work.” This should go without saying. If you’re building a new product in an uncertain market and there’s a deadline looming over you then go with Agile. Especially if you do not have enough information up front, choosing to enforce strict requirements and planning at the beginning of your project will lead to costly mistakes down the line. Agile is meant to work ideal for projects where the end goal isn’t a clear picture yet, and requirements are always changing.


The conclusion most reach are, Waterfall projects tend to be slower, riskier if the market is uncertain and more expensive than Agile. Do not let yourself be influenced by the opinion of most people who are biased, to begin with. You see, Waterfall isn’t all bad and Agile isn’t all good. So why not pick the best of both and blend the two methodologies? They’re addressed as either Agifall or Wagile methods and are starting to become the preferred choice for global organizations. Mature and efficient enterprises understand when to apply each of these methods. We at CognitiveClouds are advocates of all three models depending on what you want to achieve.

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Nisha Gopinath Menon