Agile or Waterfall? Which One is Right for You?


Software companies, who are always looking for ways to streamline larger scale software projects, rely heavily on project micromanagement for end-result accuracy and overall software efficacy. Instead of using traditional project management software to track project progress, two very precise methods of streamlining the entire software development process are known to the coding industry: Agile, which requires (as the name implies) the ability to rapidly change based on project demand, and Waterfall, which is a sequential approach entailing the completion of predetermined steps from top to bottom (in the same manner a waterfall flows).
To determine which design process works best for you, we’ll dichotomize both methods.

How Agile works

Set upon 12 Principles, the Agile Manifesto is the framework by which the agile development method was formed. Concentrating heavily on synergetic project completion and short yet scalable completion times, the Agile method has proven to work well in small to medium-sized software development environments. Since face-to-face communication is a large component of the Agile methodology, larger corporations may find implementation of Agile challenging since oftentimes several projects are concurrently under development.
Agile measures success by completed product, not by completed step. In fact, sudden (even sporadic) changes throughout the developmental lifecycle are welcomed provided the 12 Principles are still adhered to. By utilizing an adaptive approach to software development, milestones can be created with enough flexibility to either complete or even alter the milestone depending on current need.

Some of the more popular Agile frameworks include:

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Crystal Clear
  • Extreme programming
  • Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)
  • Scrumban

agile frameworks

The most popular of the six listed is Scrum, which adopts a more empirical (and less predictive) approach to software project completion. By making teamwork, the epicenter of project management, developers can change several (or all) components based on customer requests because the concentration on each team members’ individual strengths is much heavier in the Scrum environment. The Scrum Alliance discusses their sets of principles in greater detail here.
Because of its ease of use and adaptability, Agile has become (arguably) the most pervasive development method used today.

How Waterfall works

Utilized as early as 1956, the Waterfall software development method – currently used by 33% of today’s top developers – was first used in construction and manufacturing settings, both of which are exorbitantly expensive and seemingly impossible to change once a specific product created in those traditionally “hardware” environments is completed. Once adapted into the software world, Winston W. Royce is heavily cited as the one who fathered the Waterfall development method used today.
Although many who implement the Waterfall method utilize a five-step process, Royce’s initial model outlines a six-step process:


1 step

Gather initial requirements

2 step

Analyze requirements using various models and schemas

3 step

Design the initial software framework

4 step

Code then integrate software

5 step

Test then debug if necessary

6 step

Implement an ongoing migration and/or maintenance schedule

Unlike the Agile method, each phase in a Waterfall environment begins only when previous phases have been tested and certified. Also, whereas the agile method fosters changes based on customer demand and the flexibility to do so, Waterfall developers may find difficulty in acting swift changes due to its downstream developmental process.
Due to growing problems with the initial Waterfall model, modifications were made which created sub-Waterfalls like Sashimi (uses Waterfall but overlaps its phases). In fact, the Department of Defense has stated their preference is the evolutionary acquisition model rather than a potentially costlier Waterfall software development environment.

Assessing which method works best for you

In evaluating which software development method would work best, several questions should be answered so a better understanding of time, money and involvement can be established:

  • Has the customer given our company full control of the project, or is there an expectation of customer involvement?
  • Is this a time sensitive project?
  • Are we able to prototype so the customer can see the “big picture” in smaller chunks?

There’s are no wrong or right software development methods, meaning which method would work best for you is more contingent on the needs of your customer, the size of your team, and how dedicated each team member is to the completion of any one specific project.
All projects start with an initial consultation with the potential client. Therefore, carefully worded questions will render the best direction to take your software development flowcharting.

Appworks, a Boston/Miami based application development company, finds that utilizing Agile/Scrum is a much more productive means to complete large or even small software projects, although the company has made their mark on the software development industry by utilizing a client-centric approach to completing software, and is open to using whatever methods works best for the end-buyer.