Agile vs Waterfall: Which is better for software development?

Is Agile better than Waterfall? Here are four factors that will help you decide which is better suited for your software development needs.

Chasing Waterfalls: Software development has a new Agile kid on the block

The traditional Waterfall methodology is being rapidly replaced by Agile.Why is that?Because Agile is a flexible method that gives you the easy option to change requirements throughout the software development cycle. If your business drivers are bound to change, Agile is the way to go. However, Agile is not something to be learnt from an article or a blog, rather it needs to be experienced and perfected with application over time.Find out more about the Agile model here.The Waterfall model, on the other hand, is a structured software development model which has pre-defined phases—from system engineering and analysis, to implementation and maintenance. It is best suited for projects with clearly defined requirements that are not bound to change throughout the development lifecycle. It applies particularly well in large scale projects.Click here and read about the Waterfall model in detail.Are you confused about which methodology is better for your company?To help you, we have listed four differentiating factors that will help you resolve which is more suited to your software development needsBy checking this box, you confirm that you have read and are agreeing to our Privacy Policy.

Organisational Structure and Control

The organisational structure helps distinguish tasks and responsibilities of each designation and determines the flow of information within the company.A company with a mechanistic—or bureaucratic—structure has a centralised form of communication and a well-defined hierarchy. Companies such as these have a stable environment and can incorporate the Waterfall model well. On the other hand, a company with an organic structure is flexible and able to adapt to changes. Hence, Agile will best suit their needs.This method works best in businesses with a people-centric control compared to a process-centric approach. A people-centric approach encourages teamwork and role interchangeability. As Agile allows quick adoption to changing scenarios, the flexibility of people-centric control complements it well.Whereas, a company that aims for stable growth, consistency and predictability, should adopt a process-centric approach, like Waterfall.This approach favours specialisation. Since Waterfall has sequential stages, it is convenient to incorporate a process-driven form of control. Specialised individuals complete the allotted task before passing it onto the next phase.


Management Style

The traditional Waterfall model would work well in a command and control—or C2—environment. Command and control is an authoritative, top-down method of leadership, with authority resting with the senior management. This style works best where the outcome of the project is pre-determined and can be executed in a static environment.Agile, on the other hand, complements collaborative leadership. This dynamic management style ensures teamwork, cooperation and the ability to cope with changing project requirements. The utilisation of diverse thinking is a key element to this style’s success.When it comes to knowledge management, Waterfall focuses on explicit knowledge, whereas, Agile takes a more tacit approach. Explicit management refers to information that is easily identifiable, shared and employed. Tacit knowledge is more intuitive and subjective.One can easily infer that Agile—built for adaptation—will work well in companies with a more flexible work environment.


Communication is key, whether it’s amongst colleagues, or with the client.Internal communication can be formal or informal. Formal communication follows a particular channel, with a strict hierarchy to follow. Waterfall is suited to companies that have clearly defined communication channels.In comparison, informal communication is more diverse and can follow in any direction. Since Agile works best without any barriers, it thrives in an environment which has a free flow of communication.External communication is dependent on the customer’s level of involvement in the project. Even though communication is essential no matter which methodology is followed, it plays a critical role in Agile’s success. The client is highly involved in every phase of the product’s life cycle.Whereas, since Waterfall has pre-planned stages with little room for concurrent adjustment, the client’s role isn’t as vital during software development.

Development Cycle

The Waterfall model is a traditional life cycle model, compared to Agile which is an evolutionary deliverable model.The evolutionary deliverable model is an iterative approach to software development where deliverables are incremental—with the exception of laying down an initial development plan. The traditional life cycle, however, is not as dynamic. With pre-defined stages and procedures, there is little room for spontaneous changes.Waterfall is guided by different activities or tasks, which are sequential in nature. Whereas, Agile is guided by product requirements and features. If your needs and requirements are bound to change during development, choose Agile. Conversely, if the activities of the project are fixed, Waterfall is the way to go.

Agile or Waterfall?

So, which one wins the race?In the end, it all comes down to one thing—project requirements.A company, or team, with a well-defined hierarchy, a formal channel of communication, and pre-defined project requirements that are not subject to change, can adopt the traditional model. It is also preferable for large-scale projects.However, Agile works best in teams with an informal network of communication and a flexible hierarchy, where project requirements are bound to changes, delivered incrementally.Even though Agile is being widely adopted by companies, if your needs are better fulfilled by Waterfall, choose that instead!

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