Why Waterfall Works (Sometimes)

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Why Waterfall Works (Sometimes)

Not sure how to structure your next software development project? These insights into the two most common methodologies may be able to help.

· Agile Zone ·
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Pondering the Waterfall

Pondering the Waterfall approach? Be sure to read on.

One of the most important decisions businesses have to make during project implementation is which development methodology to choose. Though there are many options available, the two most commonly used project development methodologies are Waterfall and Agile.

Both methodologies have their own strengths and weaknesses. The choice between the two, though, depends on customers’ requirements, your team, size of the project, project scope, etc. You also need to have a thorough understanding of both these methods to pick the one that can make your project run faster and more efficiently.

What follows are the pros and cons of each:

Waterfall Model

Waterfall is the traditional development methodology where a linear approach is followed. The team moves to the next phase of development only after the previous step is completed successfully. Waterfall method is best suited for projects that are simple, small, and are well-defined.

The project under this model starts with detailed requirement gathering and moves downwards towards other steps just like a waterfall. If you are using this method, you need to be clear about all the project requirements from the beginning because there’s no going back and requirements can’t be changed once the project starts.

Its pros and cons include:


  • This method is useful when there’s a tight schedule for the project with a fixed budget and timelines.

  • It can save a lot of time, since it requires proper planning and scheduling, not to mention requirements being laid out clearly.

  • Involvement of customers isn’t required in all the phases of development, thus ensuring fast delivery of the project.

  • From the beginning, the scope of the work is defined. It is, therefore, easy to measure the performance of your project.

  • It gives importance to documentation for future use, allowing new team members to get accustomed to the project.


  • This model is considered rigid with no scope to make changes in the middle of the project.

  • The testing process is carried out once the development is completely over. Bugs are found in the later stage, which can be costly to fix.

  • There is a risk of project failure. If there are too many errors, the project may have to be started over from the very beginning.

  • Significant time is spent on planning, which can lead to delays in completion of the project and the costs associated with it.

Agile Model

Agile takes a completely different approach to project management. It is a more flexible method and suitable for complex projects. It takes an iterative and incremental approach, responding to the changing requirements. Instead of defining requirements at the beginning of the project, it is done around each iteration. This method has short delivery cycles known as “sprints.” They have a specific duration with a list of deliverables.

There is continuous communication between the project managers, developers, testers, and customers during the project. The application or software is delivered in functional components on an ongoing basis, and clients’ feedback is taken.

Below are the pros and cons of this project development methodology:


  • It has continuously evolving requirements and embraces changes, so there is less required planning and documentation.

  • Clients’ involvement is there in the project, enabling them to suggest changes as per their requirements after each iteration is complete. This also reduces the risk of project failure.

  • Agile ensures quick time-to-market as clients get deliverables on a continuous basis. Beta versions can be released quickly, and the product can be further developed through successive iterations.

  • Ongoing testing is done in this model. Issues can be identified quickly, and modifications can be made in the early stage without having to wait for the development process to end.

  • As the project is divided into manageable units, quality can be maintained and results can be produced quickly.

  • As customers are involved in the project working directly with the development team, they get a sense of ownership. There is a high degree of collaboration and transparency, and they develop trust in the team’s abilities to deliver high-quality software.


  • Due to the lack of documentation in Agile, dependencies on team members increase.

  • In Agile, tracking of the project, planning, project finish dates, etc. are uncertain. As there’s less predictability, team members face problems in defining the project scope.

  • This model requires a high level of collaboration and regular communication between the stakeholders and team members. This might not always be feasible due to the remote location or lack of time. The project may fail if the clients do not provide regular insights.

  • There can be an increase in the time and cost because the project may require more iterations than those initially planned and customers may ask for additional features.

Which one should you choose?

Neither of the approaches is better than the other; it’s all about choosing the best fit for your project. You have to consider your technical expertise, available resources, size of the project, budget, timelines, complexity of the project, project requirements, etc. and make the most apt decision.

You can adopt the Agile method if you expect your project’s requirements and goals to change. If you have clearly-defined end goals and don’t expect your requirements to change, the Waterfall model will work well. Agile is preferable for larger and complex projects, while the Waterfall method will be more appropriate for simpler and shorter projects.

The above-listed strengths and weaknesses of both models will hopefully help you to determine which one will be suitable for you. You can even combine both of these methodologies and choose a hybrid model to leverage the benefits of both.

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