Agile vs Waterfall Software Development
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Agile vs. Waterfall

Agile and Waterfall are the two main software methodologies,
or ways to organize teams in the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

When considering different approaches today, organizations and teams juggle these two terms when deciding which is best for delivering their software. However, choosing between the two largely depends on multiple factors, since Waterfall and Agile are applied for alternative purposes.

In this guide, we will look at the properties of the two methodologies, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each, and their history, and modern use.


Waterfall was the leading methodology for a long time because it was the only methodology for a long time. The first mention of Waterfall as a practice was in 1970. At the time, Waterfall was influential to project managers looking for a way to give an organizational structure to software development.

Agile entered the conversation in 2001 when seven people created the Agile Software Development Manifesto at a ski resort in Utah to combat some of the shortcomings with Waterfall.

These problems were most often centered around the fact that there was often too much of an emphasis on planning and documentation rather than delivering software, and it was too difficult to go backwards to make necessary adjustments.

As the software industry evolved and hastened, Waterfall wasn’t meeting the needs of every business.

“Agile plans are a baseline that we use to help us control change. Agile teams plan just as carefully as traditional teams, but the plans are constantly changing to reflect the things we learn during a project. Success is based on value delivered by the software.” – Agile Manifesto co-author Martin Fowler

Methodology Terminology

User Story

A user story is used to describe a software feature as customer would see it. The goal of Agile is to bring user stories from ideation to deployment, considering who the user is, what they want to accomplish, and how they accomplish it with that feature.


Sprints are the fixed-length iterations in Agile that last two weeks and expect teams to deliver new functionality, features, or improvements during that time.


Scrum is one of the most prominent Agile frameworks using Sprints and “stand-ups” where team members review roles, responsibilities, and progress.


The combination of Software Development and Information Technology Operations under one role, DevOps, is largely attributed to Agile’s need for communication and collaboration through the SDLC.

Continuous Integration

Continuous Integration (CI) is Where a team of developers intermittently merges their code changes into a shared, controlled repository. Many teams use CI to meet Agile requirements.


Agile is often referred to as a RAD (Rapid Application Development) technique because it’s supports a faster development method for more features to be released more quickly.


A way to visualize the development process, with sections for “To do,” “Doing,” “In review,” and “Done.”

Hybrid Approach

The idea of a Waterfall and Agile “hybrid” is a little controversial where some don’t agree that it’s a legitimate methodology, but the idea is to combine working principles of Agile and Waterfall.

The Two Methodologies Today

Both Waterfall and Agile are used across different organizations today.

However, the introduction of Agile stemmed from a changing technological landscape. A few years ago, Waterfall worked for most companies because features were only released on a periodic basis.

As releases became more regular for many companies working to deliver on an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly basis instead of a yearly one, Waterfall became less practical for many people.

With the option of Agile, teams had more flexibility to quickly deliver high functioning features and answer changing customer demand by releasing new iterations and updates more regularly.

While there has been somewhat of a shift to Agile and it leads as the primary management approach today, many people still use Waterfall for projects that clearly rely on extensive planning and static requirements or are unlikely to change.

Next Steps for Teams That Want To Go Agile

  1. If you are interested in moving to Agile, identify the roles and people you need on your team to make a successful transition.

  2. Look at your current team, as well, to understand where there are silos and barriers to communication. Agile works best when this is cross-departmental collaboration, so it's important to work from the inside out.

  3. Look at your current planning process, and outline how your strategy will change in Agile development to allow for more feedback and flexibility. This will be crucial to shifting to a new way of thinking in your team's workflow.

  4. Agile will require more testing earlier in the software development life cycle. Make it a priority to evaluate whether you will need to introduce automation, additional QA team members, new tools, or something else to help you be successful.

  5. Identify the areas that currently challenge your team and what you're going to improve in the transition to Agile. 

Additional Resources

For more information, check out these resources:

Choosing Between Speed vs Quality in Software Development

Understanding Continuous Integration Testing

Prioritizing Your Scrum Team's Definition of Done

What is DevOps, Really?

The Difference Between Manual vs Automated Testing


Agile and Waterfall both have their unique strengths and weakness.

Despite which is more traditional or more popular, an organization’s decision between the two methodologies should ultimately be based on their individual goals, teams, customers, projects, and development processes to be most successful.

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