Agile vs. Waterfall: Choosing the right approach for your software development

Choosing between Agile vs. Waterfall for software development

Software development is a complex process that involves many choices. One important decision is picking the right development methodology. This article compares two popular methods — Agile vs. Waterfall — in software development. We’ll explain what each approach involves, examine their pros and cons, and look at a few other methods, too. As a software development company, we also share which approaches we use in our projects and why. With this knowledge, you’ll be able to choose the best methodology for your project.

Why do you need to use methodologies for software development?

Software development methodologies help to manage complex development tasks. They set up an organized project structure, helping to clearly outline development steps, avoid mix-ups, and make sure tasks are handled in order. They also make it easier to predict project timelines, budget needs, and resource use, helping to plan better and meet project expectations.

By breaking down the development into smaller tasks, developers can spot possible risks early, which means tackling problems as they come up, not at the end, and thus, lowering the risk of project failure.

Finally, these methods can enhance communication and teamwork amongst different teams. This encourages good collaboration, making sure everyone is working towards the same goal. Involving customers at various stages of development, like with Agile, ensures the final software meets customer needs, increasing satisfaction. Even though it takes time to start using these methods, the benefits they provide in organization, risk management, quality, and efficiency make them vital for successful software development.

When comparing Agile vs. Waterfall in software development, it’s important to understand how each of them operates. In the next sections, we’ll take a closer look at both Agile and Waterfall methodologies and their advantages and disadvantages and explain which projects they suit most.

Waterfall methodology

The Waterfall methodology is a traditional approach commonly used for project management, frequently contrasted with Agile. It gets its name from the way it approaches tasks: sequentially, flowing steadily downwards like a waterfall through distinct stages.

These stages vary depending on interpretation but generally include requirements, design, development, testing, release, and maintenance. Each phase logically follows from its predecessor. Once a stage is complete, it’s considered final, and, typically, the team cannot turn back to tweak previous stages.

Agile vs. Waterfall in software development: The stages and structure of the Waterfall methodology

In the Requirements phase, project stakeholders define all system requirements to meet the project objectives. The development team along with the client creates a detailed documentation outlining the project’s entirety so that everyone involved knows their roles and the project expectations.

Then designers create the entire interface according to the set requirements. Only after the design is finished, developers start to write the code and build all the needed features. Next, the finished product is tested — QA engineers perform detailed check-ups to ensure the software or product meets the desired specifications and requirements outlined in the initial stage.

Finally, the product is released, and the Maintenance stage begins once the end-users start using the product or system. During this phase, developers maintain, troubleshoot, and continue to improve the product, ensuring it meets the users’ needs.

Agile methodology

Agile methodology is another type of project management approach often used in software development. It breaks down processes into small, step-by-step segments. Agile is about being flexible, working together, making customers happy, and constantly improving.

The methodology uses short, repetitive work cycles, called "sprints." At the end of each sprint, the team shows stakeholders the working features of the product. This way, they can get customer feedback, and make any necessary changes in the project more efficiently.

The key difference to highlight in the Agile vs. Waterfall in software development debate is that Agile has a different structure. Unlike Waterfall, the project stages in Agile don’t follow one another strictly. It’s more like building a puzzle — one piece at a time until you create the full picture. You can take a step back anytime you need and replace some pieces if they don’t fit.

Agile vs. Waterfall in software development: The stages and structure of the Agile methodology

Agile encourages teamwork where everyone comes together to better, think and solve problems with the shared goal of bringing value to the customers. Its flexible structure promotes innovation and allows modifications and quick action, crucial in a fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape.

Overview of other methodologies

When it comes to comparing Agile vs. Waterfall in software development, it’s important to consider several other approaches that organizations use in their processes.

  1. DevOps: A blend of development and operations, DevOps involves continuous development, continuous testing, continuous integration, continuous deployment, and continuous monitoring of software. It fosters collaboration among development, quality assurance, and operations teams, breaking down silos and promoting faster, more efficient development and deployment.
  2. Lean: Originally derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry, Lean has found its way into the programming world. Its primary goal is to deliver software in the most efficient way by stripping away all wasteful practices. It emphasizes delivering fast by managing work in progress and eliminating unnecessary tasks.
  3. Scrum: As an offshoot of Agile, Scrum is a highly popular methodology emphasizing collaboration, functioning software, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities. Scrum gives specific rules on how to work, like who does what, when to meet, and how to track progress. In other words, Agile is the overall approach and Scrum is a detailed plan within that approach.
  4. Kanban: Kanban is like a visual to-do list used to manage work. It uses a board where work tasks are written on cards. These cards are moved from "to-do" to "doing" to "done" so everyone can see what work has been completed and what needs to be done. This helps teams avoid taking on too much work at once and makes managing the work easier.
  5. Extreme Programming (XP): XP emphasizes continuous feedback, customer involvement, simplicity, and flexibility. It involves frequent "releases" in short development cycles, which are intended to improve productivity and introduce checkpoints for new customer requirements.

Bear in mind that each software development methodology has its strengths and weaknesses and is better suited to certain types of projects than others. The right methodology depends on the project requirements, team structure, customer needs, and the scale of the project. Often, a blend of methodologies — drawing from the strengths of each — can provide a more balanced and effective approach for certain projects.

Interested in software development? Contact us to choose a suitable approach for your project

Agile vs. Waterfall for software development: What should you choose for your project?

Choosing between Agile and Waterfall methodologies depends significantly on the type of project, the industry involved, the project’s objectives, and the level of certainty or uncertainty anticipated.


Agile is an excellent choice when the project is dynamic, with a possibility for evolving requirements. It’s ideal for early-stage startups and industries where frequent changes in the landscape occur. This method is perfect for projects requiring user feedback and iterative testing. The short sprints allow quick adjustments, and rapid prototyping and ensure that the end product meets users’ expectations.

Agile also promotes closer collaboration between cross-functional teams, ensures faster delivery of usable features, and allows for constant refinements. So, if you anticipate numerous changes, seek to launch quickly, and value client engagement and collaboration, Agile could be your best bet.


On the contrary, the Waterfall approach shines in the Agile vs. Waterfall in software development discussion when working on projects with fixed requirements and firm, steady objectives, where there’s little to no chance of sudden change in scope. This methodology excels at first-time projects with distinct deliverables, where planning, time, and resources are locked in from the start.

Waterfall’s linear and logical format allows for rigorous documentation, which can benefit projects where thorough record-keeping is essential. It also demands less customer involvement — perfect for projects where client input isn’t readily available or necessary and for situations where the end goal is well-defined, time scales are set, and budgets are fixed.

  1. Flexibility: Agile adapts quickly and effectively to changes, ideal for projects with shifting priorities.
  2. Iterative delivery: With Agile, the working features of a product are shown to stakeholders early on.
  3. Customer satisfaction: Regular interactions with customers ensure that the product meets user expectations.
  4. Continuous improvements: Agile encourages frequent feedback, enabling continual refinement of the product and processes.
  1. Predictability: The clear, linear structure makes it easy to estimate the project’s cost and timeline.
  2. Comprehensive documentation: The method provides thorough record-keeping.
  3. Less client involvement: Waterfall doesn’t require constant client interaction, which can be a boon if client availability is limited.
  1. Difficulty in estimating: The iterative nature of Agile makes it harder to determine the project’s final cost and timeline.
  2. More demanding: Agile requires frequent interaction and active participation from stakeholders, which can be time-consuming.
  3. Lack of documentation: Agile focuses more on the work at hand than on comprehensive documentation, which may pose challenges to some clients.
  1. Inflexibility: Once a stage is completed, switching back to it for alterations can be complicated and costly.
  2. Delayed testing: Testing is done towards the end, increasing risks of late problem detection.
  3. Inability to adapt: Fast-paced, dynamic environments can make the Waterfall model a challenging choice.
Use the table comparing the methodologies to choose which one suits your project best

At Ronas IT, we often use a method called Scrumban — a combination of Scrum and Kanban strategies. This hybrid approach lets us operate seamlessly with set scopes and designs while also adjusting to changes during development. Scrumban has been successful for many of our projects thanks to its mix of predictability and flexibility.

At times, when clients prefer accurate adherence to predefined specifics, we employ the Waterfall approach. Despite being a linear strategy, it’s perfect for projects requiring a straightforward and specific outcome. This method follows a steady, building process ensuring we fulfill the client’s exact needs without considerable variation.

In summary, when pondering over Agile vs. Waterfall in software development, entrepreneurs should consider the project’s nature, the urgency for delivery, the stability of requirements, and the level of customer involvement. Both methodologies have their strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, understanding your project requirements, goals, constraints, and context will guide you in aligning your choice with the appropriate methodology.

To conclude

The choice between Agile and Waterfall methodologies in software development is not a binary one. Instead, it depends on various project factors such as the type of project, project objectives, team structure, level of customer involvement, and potential certainty or uncertainty. Agile excels in a dynamic, customer-centric environment where flexibility and regular feedback are pivotal. On the other hand, Waterfall suits projects with well-defined objectives, stringent documentation, and fixed timelines and budgets.

It’s crucial to understand that each methodology has its strengths and weaknesses — knowing the specifics of your project will guide you in making the optimal choice. Moreover, sometimes a hybrid methodology may be the best fit, offering a balance of the benefits from different approaches. In case you need help with understanding which methodology fits your project, you can always contact Ronas IT for a consultation on Agile vs. Waterfall for software development. Based on your requirements and the specifics of your project, as well as deadlines and budget, we will suggest a suitable approach.

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