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Agile vs. Waterfall in Software Development

There’s more than one way to do a lot of things in life, and software development is no different. 

In the world of software development, you’ve probably come to know the names of two of the most popular of these methodologies: Agile and Waterfall.There are pros and cons to both approaches, and determining the right methodology for your software development project depends on a variety of factors. Here’s what you need to know.


The Agile methodology, first formally described in 2001, emphasizes flexibility, collaboration and customer satisfaction. In Agile, the project is broken down into small, manageable chunks also known as “sprints”. Each sprint is developed and tested independently. 

Agile emphasizes the importance of communication between developers, stakeholders and customers, with regular feedback and iteration cycles throughout the project being key to it all working the way it’s supposed to work.


On the other hand, Waterfall development, first developed in 1970, is a linear approach that emphasizes planning, documentation and a well-defined process. In Waterfall, the project is broken down into phases, with each phase completed before developers work on the next one. 

Waterfall places a heavy emphasis on upfront planning and documentation, with less flexibility for changes during the development process. Toyota is one of the most famous companies to have used Waterfall in its software development. 

Pros and cons of Agile

Developers and managers like Agile for projects with high levels of uncertainty, where requirements may change rapidly, or when the scope of the project may be unclear (at least at first). Agile allows for more flexibility in the development process, with the ability to make changes and pivot as needed. Agile is also ideal for projects where you get a lot of customer interaction and feedback.

One of the main benefits of Agile is that it allows developers to deliver software quickly and efficiently. By breaking the project down into small, manageable chunks, Agile lets developers deliver incremental improvements and new features in short cycles. This helps to keep the project on track and ensure that the end product meets the customer’s needs.

Problems that can arise with Agile include mission creep (where the project aims grow far beyond the original intentions), poorer documentation, the tendency sometimes for budgets and time consumption to exceed initial expectations, and the fact that updates and improvements necessarily come in small spurts. 

Nowadays a lot of companies are using Agile to develop, test and deliver code very quickly. And some of them are getting really good at it. It’s proven especially popular with tech startups. Major companies known to use the Agile methodology include Google, Apple, Microsoft, Barclays, Cisco, IBM and LEGO, among many others. 

Pros and cons of Waterfall

Waterfall, on the other hand, is better suited to projects that start off with well-defined requirements and a clear scope. Waterfall is more predictable and requires a defined timeline and budget, making it easier to plan and manage. Waterfall is also generally better for projects where there is less need for customer interaction and feedback, or where there are large teams often working in highly regulated industries. It is the go-to approach for many projects that are highly technical or require specialized knowledge.  It’s been around longer, and is often seen as more antiquated and less nimble than the cool-kid-on-the-block Agile approach.

Waterfall can also be more time-consuming, with a longer development cycle and less frequent delivery of software. There is less flexibility for changes during the development process, and to be the most effective, Waterfall often needs strict deadlines and fixed budgets.

Which is better for you?

Both Agile and Waterfall methodologies have strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, the choice between Agile and Waterfall should be based on the unique needs and constraints of your project. 

Recently, we’ve seen an increase in the number of clients requesting a hybrid approach that uses a combination of Waterfall and Agile. These clients usually want us to do much more up-front planning than typically occurs in Agile, but then also want to use the more flexible sprint-based approach to development once it is underway. This can work very well for the right organization.

If you want to chat with an expert about what’s better for you, reach out to Plan A today!


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