Is the Waterfall Method Still Relevant? Or Is Agile Project Management Still Best?

Agile and waterfall methodologies are some of the widely deployed techniques in the project development and management world. Each approach finds use cases in different sectors, and both are deployed by small and large businesses alike. 

To better understand what waterfall and agile project management techniques are, we will discuss how the two find application in the software development niche. We’ll also highlight their key differences as well as their pros and cons to help you choose the right methodology when developing or implementing critical projects or products.

Understanding Waterfall Methodology 

As the name suggests, the waterfall methodology or waterfall model is a step-by-step development process that flows – more like a waterfall – throughout the project development cycle. This methodology is used by engineers, software developers, and even scientists to ensure detailed documentation of the project roadmap with consecutive execution and a predictable timeline. 

The waterfall methodology is ideal for projects where all the requirements are available upfront. Think of a critical, time-sensitive software used to control an autonomous vehicle or one used for real-time feedback control in a manufacturing plant. Such environments require high-end precision, and the software needs to be accurate the first time. A sequential implementation process highlighting the respective deadlines, including the expected product launch, would be ideal for such projects. 

To maximize the likelihood of success while using the waterfall methodology, team members must have a say throughout the planning and implementation phases. They do the heavy lifting, and they understand the technical processes better. A disconnect between the implementation team and management teams may lead to substandard products or failed projects.  

Effective communication is also crucial to ensure everything proceeds according to plan. More often, customers who choose the waterfall method do not want to be heavily involved in product development. This shouldn’t mean a lack of communication, however. To ensure the product is right the first time, the team must understand customer expectations and focus on delivering just that.  

Agile Methodology: A Quick Overview 

Unlike waterfall methodology, where everything follows a clear implementation roadmap, agile is more of an iterative, back-and-forth approach to product development. Instead of planning the whole project, agile teams break the project down piece by piece with intermittent testing, brainstorming, and continuous improvement.

Due to the small and frequent releases common with agile methodology, product development moves faster but is prone to errors and constant updates. Agile teams often use client or customer feedback to improve current processes and build better products. This technique works well when the agile team doesn’t know all the product requirements, hence the need to build with an agile mindset. 

Hybrid Approach to Project Management 

Agile and waterfall methodologies are different product development techniques that can be combined strategically to maximize the benefits of the two. Typically, the waterfall model is slow but sure, and most managers prefer it due to the predictable project timelines with less input from the end users. On the other hand, agile methodology yields faster, bit-by-bit updates and improvements but is more demanding. The impact is that customers can enjoy new features sooner, but the trial and error side of it makes it inappropriate for specific projects.

Over the years, project managers have adopted a hybrid approach to project management. They implement both agile and waterfall methodologies to enjoy the predictability of waterfall while delivering software and products quickly. However, this requires a well-thought-out strategy and an agile compliance manifesto built on resilience and adaptability. 

The best way to implement a hybrid product development model is to understand your project needs and customer expectations. That way, you can choose project management tactics that suit your team and project. 


Now that you know the difference between waterfall and agile methodologies, you can better pick the model that works best for your unique needs. With waterfall methodology, you can give your customers a clear breakdown of the project implementation timelines. This means focusing on having everything work seamlessly the first time. On the other hand, an Agile model follows a practical, trial-and-error technique where teams are allowed to fail before building for scale and efficiency.

That said, achieving perfection is almost impossible. Still, you can always deliver high-quality software and products by paying attention to detail and making the right choices at each stage of the development process. The decision to use agile, waterfall, or hybrid methodologies depends on several factors. First, you should understand the type of product or project you are working on. Second, you need to know who you are working with, i.e., who are your clients and customers? Understanding these basics will help you choose the best product development approach that suits your needs.