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Choosing the Right Software Development Methodology: Waterfall vs Agile

Agile Vs. Waterfall

Frogslayer is known for being an outlier in the world of custom software development. Where others promise, we deliver. 

In fact, we put our money where our mouth is with a delivery guarantee. If we ever fail to deliver or meet any agreed-upon expectations, we commit our own resources to make it right. 

As you can imagine, this doesn’t leave much room for error.  

The stakes are high when it comes to custom software development, so choosing your development methodology isn’t a decision you or your team should make lightly. 

Your development methodology serves as your compass in a complex world of project execution. In this blog, we’ll explore key considerations and learn how selecting the right approach, be it Waterfall or Agile, can steer you to success every time.  

Software Development Methodologies 

Software development methodologies can be broadly categorized into two main categories: Waterfall and Agile. 

The Waterfall approach follows a linear, sequential path where each phase is completed before moving on to the next. On the other hand, Agile methodologies are iterative and emphasize flexibility, collaboration, and adaptability. 


The Waterfall methodology is the more traditional model that offers a structured approach to software development. It is characterized by distinct phases, including: 

  • Requirements gathering – what does the product need to accomplish, in detail 
  • Design – developing the architecture of the product 
  • Development writing code, integrating components 
  • Testing test cases, debugging 
  • Deployment installation, support, maintenance 

Waterfall is often chosen when there are regulatory or contractual obligations that demand strict adherence to defined processes. It’s suitable for projects with well-defined and stable requirements, where a sequential flow is preferred. It ensures each phase is completed before moving on to the next, providing clear documentation and traceability. 

It’s important to note that Waterfall often leverages functional specialties, with specialists completing their tasks before passing their work off to the next team member. In other words, the person writing a specification may not understand the potentially enormous complexity involved in implementing a specific feature, which may not be discovered until much later in the project. 


Agile frameworks, such as Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP), offer a more flexible and collaborative approach to software development. 

These methodologies focus on: 

  • Iterative and incremental development smaller chunks of working features are built, evaluated, and iterated on, enabling constant feedback and adaptation.  
  • Self-organizing, collaborative, cross-functional teams smaller teams allow for continuous improvement while also offering faster time-to-market and the ability to respond to changes more effectively. 

Agile methodologies are particularly well suited for projects with evolving or unclear requirements, where frequent stakeholder involvement and feedback is essential. 


Project Requirements 

How well-defined are your project’s requirements and needs up front? 

The more locked down the definitions and needs of a product are from the start, the more likely that Waterfall may be a beneficial method.  

However, sometimes what’s in and out of bounds for a project is in flux; in these cases, Agile would be a great approach.  

Consider it this way, in basketball, the team has flexibility to adjust their strategy in real-time based on their current situation. This similarly reflects Agile Development, in that no matter how many revisions or iterations the team makes, if we get the outcome we want, it’s a win.  

Waterfall Development is better compared to a relay race, with its more sequential and rigid structure. Each team member runs their leg consecutively, passing the baton to the next runner. While you can do plenty of strategizing beforehand, once the race begins, there is little to no room for improvising or adjusting strategy. 

Depending on how well-defined project needs are from the jump, one approach will be a better fit than the other, or in some cases, the approaches might need to be strategically combined. 

Balancing Flexibility and Structure 

A key consideration when choosing a software development methodology is striking the balance between flexibility and structure. It’s possible to find the perfect blend, if needed. 

While Waterfall and Agile methodologies represent two ends of the spectrum, it is important to note that there is no strict rule that forces adherence to a specific methodology. In fact, many organizations find success by adopting a blended or hybrid approach that combines elements from different methodologies. 

For example, a team might use a Scrum framework for managing development iterations and collaboration while also incorporating some Waterfall principles for documentation and regulatory compliance. 

One of our clients pivoted from an Agile approach to Waterfall as they took on a government client with a laundry list of strictly defined requirements. To minimize disruption to the team, the vast majority of Agile rituals and cadences were kept, such that most of the team never noticed the difference.

Meanwhile, the government client, to its credit, recognized that a strict adherence to Waterfall would limit their ability to respond to new or changing requirements discovered during development, so they ensured there was Agile time at the end of each SOW to tackle such work.

By tailoring the methodology to the specific project requirements, organizations can find a balance that suits their needs and maximizes productivity.

– Brad Sattem, Software Development Manager

Understand the Impact  

Choosing the right software development methodology is a critical decision that can significantly impact the success of a project.  

65% of software projects overrun budgets & timelines. Ever considered that the wrong development approach can play a huge role in this?  

For example, using an Agile approach for a project with a well-defined, stable scope can lead to unnecessary iterations and extended timelines. On the flip side, choosing Waterfall development for a project with evolving requirements will almost undoubtedly lead to significant rework and time wasted. 

We typically recommend an Agile(ish) approach. (Again, you can create a blend of methods as you see fit.) In our experience, most people haven’t done the research to uncover the unknowns. 

However, for governments or organizations with specific requirements and a willingness to invest time in defining those details upfront, Waterfall can be very effective.  

Final Thoughts 

When software projects are rife with risk, it’s crucial to choose your development approach wisely in order to deliver both in-budget and on-time.  

While Waterfall and Agile offer distinct approaches, remember that teams can blend different methodologies to create a custom approach that fits their specific needs. Strive to find that perfect balance between flexibility and structure, considering factors like project scope, stakeholder involvement, and project uncertainty. 

By selecting the appropriate methodology, teams can navigate their development journey with confidence and increase the likelihood of achieving successful outcomes. 

So, pause, assess your project’s unique requirements, and choose an approach that aligns with your vision and goals. 

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