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Agile Vs Waterfall Project Management Approach

Agile Vs Waterfall Project Management Approach

Whether you are a seasoned project manager (right from those DOS based systems days) or budding project manager, you can’t have no-opinion about agile vs waterfall project management debate.

Pretty often you would come across the question “Which project management model do you use”; And we know that the person asking this question is expecting either of ‘Traditional‘ or ‘Agile‘ as answer. For those who are ‘Been-there-and-done-that”, will have honest answer but would be wondering whether to share it or not. Because they know agile or waterfall is not a project management model rather it is an approach or style of planning, organizing and delivering projects. There are certain principles applicable to each style, certain differences between them and you will find supporter strongly supporting either of these styles

First article of a bipartite series, Let’s look at what are these approaches and their merits and disadvantages

Agile vs Waterfall Project Management


Waterfall Project Management


Agile Project Management

Understanding the approach – What is it really?

Step by step approach where every step of project delivery is known and detailed out

The flexible and quick approach to manage & deliver project without requiring extensive planning

All dependencies are supposedly known and project moves to next step only when its previous step is completed

Iterative way to rapidly deliver incremental functionality rather than all-features-at-one-time

Most importantly, all requirements are clearly laid out, well documented and agreed right upfront

It is not required to know detailed requirement or final outcome right at the beginning

Customer isn’t expected to be available and extensively engaged all the time throughout project lifecycle

Active customer engagement is major driving factor for incremental project delivery

Traditional(Waterfall) Project Management


Agile Project Management


Waterfall project management approach emphasis on meticulous requirement management, project planning and documentation. It becomes lot easier to work on similar/existing project delivered in the past

Agile project management approach focuses on rapid delivery of working product/service. Hence agile project management can work for unrelated project without carrying historic baggage.

Typically traditional project management works best for project where project deliver physical outcome (like construction, plant machinery, etc)

Typically agile project management approach works best for service delivery, unrelated to physical product delivery (e.g. code, creative design, advisory , etc)

Since customer and project team has clarity of what will get delivered, it is easier to delegate and allow team who can work commerce their work independently

Since it is flexible, project execution and course of project delivery can be corrected based on customer suggestion/change request, in short it is adaptive to customers’ requirement

It is easier to Measure outcome against expected/planned one since final outcome is expected to be carved out well

Since the focus is on delivery of working features/functionality, key stakeholders including customer can ensure whether project is in right direction or not.

Project team enjoys certainty of project scope and project schedule hence can work with steady references

Measuring iterative outcome of project is easier at every phase. However final outcome may differ than initially planned one.


Waterfall Project Management


Agile Project Management


Waterfall model requires substantial effort for requirement management, project planning right at the beginning. It is quite an exercise which once completed leaves lesser chance for requirement changes

In case of agile project management approach there is always an uncertainty about project scope and schedule changes, project team in the beginning will remain on toes, may become panic. If it is unable to adapt to such delivery approach, it may not be able to deliver

Scope change/requirement change is slow process and has to go through change control & management processes

approach will not work for delivery of projects which require well defined requirement management, scoping and planning

Documentation and change control process make the whole process time consuming and inflexible

However while managing agile project, it is onus of project manager to carefully manage project/product backlog, decide deliverables in different sprints and track project progress in terms of final outcome

If business situation changes during the project execution, final outcome may not have relevance to the market/customer hence can lead to failure of project or negative SpellE>RoI for customer

Sense of flexibility and accepting change request at almost every phase can make customer habitual (to trial-error methods, thinking that it will be corrected in next sprint) and chances are poorly thought (or lack of well-thought) requirements will be delivered at the cost of project team’s hard work resulting in higher cost and not-so-desired outcome.

Revisiting and changing deliverable shipped/delivered in earlier phase is difficult.

Any error in requirement elicitation in early phase is difficult to rectify. In certain cases, project is most likely to fail


In next article ‘Traditional or Agile Project Management – which one is right for you’, we will see, different project scenarios and what is the most suitable approach to manage projects i.e. which approach could be more suitable agile vs waterfall project management.

Post by Dhan Wagholikar

About Zilicus

Zilicus offers the best project portfolio management tool ZilicusPM, with robust project management tools capabilities and easy ways to track project management KPI,

Know more about project portfolio management, Gantt chart, best project management tool, project management office, project management tips, project planning guide, project risk management, project scope management, effective project management, project manager guides and know more about Project Portfolio Management Software, Project Management Software Guide.


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I am a co-founder of Zilicus Solution and I write about project management, collaboration, productivity, project management software, cloud computing, requirement management and business empowerment.