Waterfall vs. Agile Methodology in Software Development

One of the first questions at the beginning of any software development project is what methodology should be used to guide the process.  Two of the most popular methodologies are Waterfall Software Development and Agile Software Development.

Although both alternatives have strong advocates in their corner, the choice seems to rest on personal preference, client request, deadline, and even habit. But, do those metrics really point towards making a final decision? Learning more about each method will help you come to a conclusion easier, and ultimately impact the success of your project.

So, what’s the best methodology? To answer these questions and determine the best approach, we’ll shed some light on the advantages and disadvantages of waterfall vs agile.

Traditional and time-tested: Waterfall Software Development

Waterfall has been used since the 1970s. It’s a process where progress is sequential and a linear approach in which stages are laid out chronologically.

What this means for software developers and stakeholders involved in the project is that there are no surprises, since each stage needs to be completed before progression to the next step. Often, there are a total of 8 stages which can be split between 4 phases:


Stages Phases
  • Concept and Initiation (Discovery)
The ‘build stage of the project. Usually detailed and scheduled and takes up 40% of time.
  • Analysis and Design (Requirements)
Constant improvement on design and build fronts.
  • Construction and Testing (Build)
This stage relies heavily on detailed documentation.
  • Implementation and Maintenance (Deployment)
Final product is constantly tested by different users and groups once the project is complete.

The Waterfall Software Development approach works best when a project is clearly defined and the goal is clear. It works well when you have a team of experts, or when you feel comfortable that available team members will not get overwhelmed by the project.

Waterfall Software Development also works well when budgetary or time constraints are predetermined.

Advantages of the waterfall software development approach:

  • Because of its structure, you can use the same approach multiple times for software that are only slightly different from each other. For example, if you’re integrating similar features across different software, you can run similar waterfall projects for each one. This saves a lot of time and planning.
  • The waterfall approach does well at meeting client expectations. Prior to the ‘build’ stage, if your team knows what to expect in terms of cost, timeline and project size then a the traditional approach can help them meet the end-goal easier.
  • Waterfall software development requires detailed documentation and planning, meaning changes to software specifications are minimal. This translates to happier employees since they don’t have to  perform multiple revisions.
  • The waterfall approach quickly exposes weaknesses. In a well-defined waterfall project, it becomes apparent when things aren’t working or could be improved, such as when an extra team member might be needed to accelerate progress.

Disadvantages of the waterfall software development approach:

  • A big drawback of a pure Waterfall approach is its inflexibility. Since the project is solely based on documented requirements — rather than customer feedback — the client may not see the software until its testing stage (when it’s almost finished). And by that time, changes can be difficult and costly to make.
  • Excessive revisions to and constant planning for these changes can make the budget spiral out of control.
  • If project requirements haven’t been clarified until the end of the project, at that point it’s often too late or difficult to implement changes

New and exciting: Agile

It’s all in the name with this method. Agile is a flexible approach to software development,suited to changing expectations and building on project activities in a highly flexible and interactive manner.

Agile is an umbrella term and comprises several methodologies and techniques. The most common are Scrum, Kanban and Lean. Together, Agile projects form a group of small cycles known as sprints (typically 2-weeks long).

Each sprint consists of design, implementation, testing, and deployment. At the end of every sprint, a complete, working feature can be added to your software/application without the need for further testing.

Agile methods are typically good for software and projects where the focus is usefulness of final product, not timeline. It’s also been recognized as a ‘must’ for software where constant upgrades are necessary.

Advantages of Agile Software Development

  • Short sprints give the project flexibility and changes can be made whenever needed.
  • Flexibility also allows for immediate user feedback from the end-user itself, reducing the risk of building software that nobody ends up using.
  • Breaking down projects into manageable chunks allows for the team to focus on one aspect of the software per phase. This leads to faster and more frequent development, testing and collaboration cycles. Since tests are conducted at each sprint, bugs get resolved quicker as well.
  • Agile methods require constant communication during development. This means better teamwork and more motivation as employees are willing to take responsibility over their section of the project.

Disadvantages of Agile Software Development

  • The Agile method means constant development. Which makes it difficult to jot down a concrete plan and timeline.
  • Costs can easily spiral out of control as there’s no way to estimate the cost of a custom software project.
  • The team has to be knowledgeable about the project or software they’re developing. This is because of uncertainty around scope and schedules. And because Agile is an ever-evolving process, teams can quickly get stuck into the “let’s just add one more thing” loop. An expert team knows what features to include and which ones to reject, saving valuable time and resources.

The Final Verdict: Waterfall vs Agile Software Development

Both methods are used by software development teams across many organizations. Determining which methodology is better means understaging the context and situation for which the process is being used.  If there is a need to have a fixed budget with a well understood and complete requirements, then Waterfall is the best bet. If the final system can’t be defined full due to lack of clarity and the budget or timeline is flexible, then Agile is better as it will provide initial results quicker and can adapt quickly as new input comes in. Always make sure to look at the technology you’re developing, market insights, budgetary and time constraints, team size, and more. This will guide you to the right methodology for you.

At JIG Technologies, we first look at the business needs first, then make decisions on what the best methodology to use is. This business first approach, as opposed the technology first approach allows JIG to deliver with more reliability than others. If you’re looking for a software development team that can build customized software aligned to your business objectives from the ground up, look no further. Call us today!