Project Management Strategies: Comparing Agile and Waterfall

Aaron Walker
Aaron Walker  |  December 12, 2016

Modern software development approaches have evolved as fast as they’ve produced products.

Dozens of project management practices and processes currently exist, not to mention each individual team’s unique components.
Still, two of the most common and all-encompassing methodologies are the agile and waterfall approaches to development. While they contain many of the same components, the two approaches are vastly different.

Project management software tools are a key component to keeping teams on track. These tools often vary in their feature sets, some favoring long-term, waterfall planning, while others are geared towards the fast-paced agile approach.

Could you or your team benefit from overall project management tips? Check out our article for help staying on track, and maybe even utilize the best project management tools for marketers. 

Project Management Strategies

While there are more than two project management methodologies, agile and waterfall are often the most debated among teams. If your organization is having trouble coming to a conclusion, read the following to determine a tie breaker.

Agile Methodology

Agile project management is based on rapid iteration and user testing. While traditional methodologies focus on long-term goals and outlining requirements up front, agile teams take a choose-your-own-adventure’ approach.

After constantly testing, pitching ideas and hearing from users, agile software development aim to mold final products around users’ needs by learning what the products are as they go along. 

Popular products: JIRA, Targetprocess, Telerik TeamPulse and Pivotal Tracker.

  • Embraces ideas — Ideas are being tossed around at all points in the development process. Some may be rejected, but nearly all will be tested.
  • Users are heard — Developers can get a clearer idea of the customers’ needs through multiple sessions of user testing and feedback.
  • Tough to track — With components of the project constantly changing, teams may have difficulties tracking changes, phases and schedules.
  • Tougher to plan — Teams may come into the process with a general idea for a completion date, but they often alter schedules multiple times as goals are added or abandoned.

Waterfall Methodology

Here is the traditional, safe approach to software development. Team members and managers outline all requirements up front. From there, strict schedules are closely monitored.

Before teams move to a new phase of the sequential development schedule, requirements must be met and tasks must be completed. Instead of testing changes throughout the process, teams develop a near-complete product and push it to user testing at a specified date.

Popular products: LiquidPlanner, Microsoft Project, Smartsheet and Basecamp.

  • Simple and organized — One by one, tasks are checked off and team members know what to do next. New features are rarely be added, allowing developers to manage their schedules without interference.
  • Clear timeline and goals — This often benefits larger teams rather than smaller ones, but managers know the date a project will begin, tasks will be advanced and the product will be completed.
  • Rigid structure — As problems arise during the development process, it is difficult to accommodate new tasks while maintaining strict schedules, possibly resulting in decreased functionality.
  • Longer process — It can be difficult and time consuming to compile all requirements prior to initial development. Also, if the project planner is assigning realistic deadlines, the process will likely be drawn out.

If you want to learn more about project management, check out our articles on topics such as What is Project Management and 14 Project Management Skills to Look for in a Hire. Additionally, learn more about PERT charts

Aaron Walker

Aaron Walker

Aaron is a Senior Research Specialist who focuses on cybersecurity, information technology and software development. He began at G2 Crowd in 2016 after graduating from The University of Iowa. Aaron has written for The Daily Herald, Tribune Media, and The Daily Iowan, among other media outlets. In his free time, Aaron enjoys shooting film photography and fine-tuning his illustration skills.