Agile or Waterfall: How to Choose Which is Best for Your Project


When you’re considering different methodologies for your project, you may be curious which is the best approach. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether choosing Agile or Waterfall is best for your team.

You’ve no doubt been hearing quite a bit about Agile these days. It seems to be growing in popularity.

I recently wrote about the differences between Agile and Waterfall project execution approaches. If you missed the post and want to catch up, you can find two good overviews here:

Agile vs Waterfall Methodology: What’s the Difference?

A PM’s Guide to Agile Software Development

And now that you’re seeing Agile pop up everywhere, you’re thinking you should give it a try.  But you’re just not quite sure yet….


How do you know if Agile or Waterfall is the best choice for your team?

Since you’ve been hearing so many folks praising Agile, you may be wondering if it’s the best approach for your next project.

But how can you tell?  You’d love to give Agile a try, but you’re just not sure if it’s the right way to go.

There’s not one right answer.

Much like trying to determine which is the best form of transportation for your travel, there are various considerations to take into account. During a vacation away, there are different ways you could get to your destination. Yet different modes of transportation and routes could be good for different reasons.

For example, if you’re going to New Orleans, you may be thinking of either taking the train or driving.

Perhaps you want to have more flexibility along the way. You may want to take your car in case you decide to stop on the way for a swamp tour to see alligators.

But if you’re more interested in relaxing and letting someone else take the wheel while you read and sleep, you might select the train as your mode of travel.

Both approaches will get you to the Big Easy, and they each have advantages. But depending on your needs and wants, you might find that one fits the situation better than the other.

The same is true of Agile and Waterfall.


Considerations for Choosing Agile or Waterfall

To give you insight into choosing the best approach for your project, I’ve laid out various points to consider when choosing the best approach for your team.

One approach isn’t necessarily better than the other.  And one approach isn’t always the best for everything.  But considering these points will help you make a more informed decision on the approach to use.


Use this guide for holding discussions with your team on which you think would be best for your project.


RequirementsMore Flexible – the team has a general idea, but wants the flexibility to make adjustmentsMore concrete – the team knows exactly what they want
End User InvolvementThe end user is heavily involved in the process from beginning to end to give input and feedback. The team can make adjustments based on end user input.The end user is not as involved. The team does development and provides the solution to the end user.
Speed of deliveryYou need to get some component of usable software to the end user quickly.You need to complete the solution before handing it over to the user. Taking more time to have all components completed is more important.
Delivery StyleThe solution can be delivered incrementally. The users get benefit from getting parts of the solution staggered over time.The solution is best delivered all at once. There’s no benefit to delivering smaller components of the solution over time. Rather, the entire solution needs to be handed over for the best outcome.
Technology / SolutionThe technology or solution is not fully understood, and creating prototypes provides the opportunity to make corrections and changes to improve what you’re making.The technology is well-known.
Team SkillIf your development team highly skilled and highly self-motivated, then they may be well suited for Agile.If the team needs more guidance and monitoring, then waterfall may be better for them.
Management SupportManagement is fully supportive of the team using Agile and empowers them to work more independently.Management wants more control and prefers the locked down waterfall schedule.
Project Size and ComplexityIf the project size is small to medium, then it may be a good candidate for an Agile approach.If the project is large and complex, then waterfall could be better.  A larger team dealing with more complexity will have difficulty incorporating many changes through the course of the project.
Team LocationWhen the team is all located in the same place and can communicate easily and rapidly, then Agile can work well.


If the team is widely dispersed across countries and time zones, communicating quickly to adjust for changing requirements and priorities can be more difficult. Widely dispersed teams are better suited to  waterfall.
Work Structure AgreementIf you can work with changing requirements and some schedule flexibility, then Agile can work.If you are a consultant delivering a solution with rigid deliverables for a client, then creating a predictable schedule with locked down scope and requirements will work best.


As you can see, there are considerations that can give your team guidance on which is the best approach for your project. Take time to talk with your team when making the decision. It will help you know you’re making the best choice based on criteria that matters to you.

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