Waterfall vs agile framework for project management: a guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 24 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Within software development, there are two primary frameworks that project managers choose from to direct their teams and workflow. These are the Waterfall and Agile framework methodologies. Each one serves to benefit a team differently, and their use depends on the management style of a team. In this article, we explore the distinct features of the Waterfall and Agile framework methodologies and provide some specific examples of tools that use them.

Waterfall vs Agile frameworks

The choice between Waterfall vs Agile frameworks is an ongoing debate amongst software developers. They're both different management framework methodologies that take very different approaches to how each project unfolds. The Waterfall framework is a more structured methodology that requires a team of software developers to work chronologically on a task until it's complete.

The Agile framework is a speedier methodology that focuses more on the feedback of the team when creating their final product. There is no definitive answer which methodology works best, as this depends on the project. It's accepted that the Waterfall framework is more effective on projects that feature rigid timelines. Whereas the Agile framework is preferable for more creative projects.

Related: What makes a good team and how to build one

What is the Waterfall framework?

The Waterfall framework is a little more commonplace. It's used to delegate the tasks involved in a project to the corresponding team efficiently and chronologically. It's a simple and effective framework to implement because it means that a team can't move on to the next task until they have completed their current one. This ensures that you complete everything on time. The Waterfall framework doesn't allow for flexibility or feedback and improvements in the workflow, as it isolates workers from their team.

6 stages of the Waterfall framework

Within each application of the Waterfall framework, there are six distinct stages. This includes the requirements stage, analysis stage, design stage, implementation stage, testing stage and maintenance stage. All of which occur in this rigid, chronological order:

1. Requirements

This phase is all about the customer. It's designed to track the ins and outs of what they want their end product to be. This allows the management team to compose briefs for each team member to reflect on this. It's used as a point of referral throughout the creation process, and it aims to ensure that the customer doesn't feel confused about any features. At this stage, there is no plan on how to meet the brief. One example would be a software developer receiving information from a client on what they wish their software to contain.

2. Analysis

After the client has passed on their requirements, the team that is working on this product gathers so that they can analyse the brief and make a plan on how they're going to meet it. This includes working out a timescale, figuring out what tools the team needs, and creating a budget for each aspect of the project. An example of this would be a software developer figuring out how they're going to create a company's new software by planning out which coding programmes are necessary throughout the process.

3. Design

The design phase has two phases, the logical design phase and the physical design phase. The logical design phase includes fine-tuning the plans made during the analysis stage to ensure that they're fit for purpose. The physical design phase puts the customer's features into the logical design phase into practice, actually creating the end product. One example of this would be the building of a new piece of software following the roadmap set out in the logical design and analysis phase.

Related: 15 tips for improving your creativity in the workplace

4. Implementation

During the implementation phase, developers focus on the customer's desires, as outlined in the requirements phase. This means that the developers test the software from the physical design phase to ensure that it fulfils the specifications that the customer put into place. An example of this would be to tweak the finishes of a new software system to make sure that it has all the right features that the client specifically asked for, rather than a software designer adding their ones instead.

5. Testing

Once the project is ready according to the customer's requirements, it's time to run a series of tests within the testing phase to ensure that the product works well and that it's of a high standard. Depending on the product and the design company, you might invite the customer back so that they can see the product with their own eyes and give their approval (or points for improvement). One example would be to test a new piece of software to ensure that there aren't any bugs or embarrassing errors.

Related: How to become a software development engineer in test: a guide

6. Maintenance

The last stage is the Maintenance stage. Here, the final product is ready for release. This involves making ongoing tweaks to ensure that the product stays relevant and competitive in the market. It's also here that developers deal with customer complaints. An example of this would be to bring out an updated version of the software, for example, that has new features, corrects any errors and fixes any bugs.

What is the Agile framework?

The Agile framework is a more relaxed style of project management that first came about from the world of software development. Shunning strict rules between the various colleagues and contributors on a project, they decide instead to operate using a set of various principles that teams can now use to make their choices. With this type of framework, communication and feedback are valuable as this allows each worker to have their say on what's working well and what needs improving. It's a management style that allows for fluctuation and works best in healthy, creative environments where feedback is key.

What types of Agile frameworks are there?

Project managers can use many types of Agile frameworks according to their preferences and needs. Some common examples of Agile framework methodology include:

  • eXtreme Programming (XP)

  • Scrum

  • Hybrid

  • Crystal

  • Kanban

  • feature driven development (FDD)

  • adaptive software development (ASD)

  • lean software development (LSD)

Despite these variations, the most common Agile framework methodologies used in software development are eXtreme Programming (XP) and Scrum.

What is eXtreme Programming (XP)?

The eXtreme Programming (XP) is an Agile piece of software development that is often used by software developers. It's favoured because it allows them to improve the quality of the piece of software that they're currently developing according to feedback. It makes the life of the whole software development team involved in the project much easier as it allows the client to receive the product that they want as fast as possible with rapid feedback. One example of this in practice would be if a client passed on their requirements to the software developers from the perspective of their ideal user.

This is because it would allow the software developers to construct the final product in increments every week or so. Then, the entire team can take turns to scrutinise each other's work, offering feedback and highlighting errors. As this happens, the client can pass on any user complaints to the software developer who factors this into the final product. This process repeats in regular waves until the software is up to scratch.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is a more organised form of Agile framework methodology. It's formed from a series of hands-on aspects that eventually all sync up. This means that a Scrum team can:

  • work on a series of requirements

  • select a bullet from this list of requirements and form a plan on how their team of developers can enact this

  • complete this implementation in around 2-4 weeks at a time

  • use ScrumMaster programming so that they can stay focused on their goals and requirements

  • close the Scrum with a presentation of their work for their tea.

  • receive feedback from the rest of their team on what went well and what needs improving to make the final product better

An example of this in practice would be if a member of the development team met a client to take down a list of requirements for their new piece of software. From these requirements, the project leader would then take the most important features and think up ways in which they can incorporate this into the new software within the next 2-4 weeks. Next, the team reviews the work that specific member has done with their chosen feature. As any tweaks are ongoing, the next member of the team leader chooses another feature, and the process restarts once more.


  • Agile framework: types, methodology and how to choose one

  • Different types of project management methodologies

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