Waterfall vs Agile



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Fact Sheet





Waterfall is a project management methodology with sets of processes designed for environments where the future solution can be predicted and documented.

Agile frameworks are designed for complex environments where the future solution is unknown, so plans and solutions are iterated as more is known.

The differences in these approaches means that agile tends to be more successful than waterfall.

Standish Group Chaos Studies 2013-2017

Methodology vs Framework

Methodoligies are processed based and define all of the rules, artefacts, tasks and decision-making points that are required. In essence, a methodology is a complete set of rules and processes. PRINCE2 is an example of a project management “methodology”.

Frameworks, like SAFe however, are designed to be incomplete. While this means they are lightweight and highly adaptable, they often require significant expertise to make them successful.  Some frameworks, like Scrum, provide a bottom-up approach. Ultimately, there is no “agile project managementmethodology” — they’re all frameworks.

Waterfall vs Scrum

The essential difference between Waterfall and agile frameworks like Scrum is in its predictive versus adaptive practices. Importantly, Waterfall is a methodology. It employs processes that assume if you follow them, you’ll have successful delivery. Scrum, however, while it has a high level plan and objectives, empolys empiricm to inspect increments of potentially releasable product and then adapts to any changes needed in a plan for the next 2 weeks.

Due to its inherent ability to adapt to change, research indicates that agile frameworks like Scrum are more successful.

Waterfall Scrum
Schedule driven Value driven
Assumes that extensive up-front planning will decrease risk and improve solution delivery Assumes that building solution increments, inspecting them, and then adapting plans will decrease risk
Project management governance Product management governance
Bottom-up: Upfront plan creates the cost, schedule, estimates Top-down: Financial investments are made in the intended outcome and imapct.
Development is phase based and sequential Development is iterative and incremental
Focus is predictive Focus is adaptive
Demonstrate progress by reporting on activity and stage gateways Demonstrate progress by demonstrating the impact and outcome of the investment based on the features delivered; showing an increment of the solution each Sprint.
Product quality at the end after extensive test/fix activities Quality is built in with upfront standards
Batches are large (frequently 100%) Optimises smaller, economically sensible, batch sizes for speed of delivery of valued features
Critical learning applies on one major analyse-design-build-test loop Leverages multiple concurrent learning loops
Process is tolerant of late learning Work is organised for fast feedback
Handovers between analyse-design-build-test phases with knowledge stored in documents Cross-functional team with knowledge of the product invested in the whole team through shared experiences


Agile vs Waterfall

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