February 21, 2018


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Project Management Life Cycle – Why We Need To Think Beyond Waterfall Versus Agile

By Bryan Burrow

Waterfall versus AgileOften when there is a discussion about project management life cycles, it quickly and inevitably comes down to talk about “Waterfall versus Agile”. That’s a real concern, because the selection of project life cycle is a crucial one. Let me explain why I believe that the over-promotion of “Agile” by comparing it with Waterfall is not just wrong, it can positively be dangerous.

When people talk about “Agile versus Waterfall” they mostly mean “Iterative versus step-by-step”, which is not quite the same thing.

When they talk about Waterfall and its disadvantages when compared to Agile, the concern is about the “one-step-at-a-time”, linear nature of the Waterfall approach. What they often don’t know, is that there are other life cycle models besides these two. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach.

There are circumstances where a Waterfall approach may be the right approach for you.

The main drawback with Waterfall is that a change in requirements midway through the project means going back to square one. However, there are times when you may want, or even need, to impose such a level of control over all or part of your project.

Agile Methods

The most common Agile method is Scrum, but it’s not the only one. There are other Agile methods, including Crystal Clear, Extreme Programming, Feature Driven Development and Test Driven Development. Your choice of Agile approach should depend on your circumstances.

Any Agile approach is pretty much dependent on giving users autonomy and the freedom to design what they believe is right. If your organisation can’t provide that freedom, under the direction of a product champion or key user, then none of these approaches are likely to deliver the results you want.

Agile does not eliminate the need for Analysts or Designers. With the advent of Agile methods some people have questioned the need for Business Analysts, Systems Analysts and Designers. The switch away from more formal methods doesn’t replace the need for Analysts or Designers; it just changes how they do their job.

Agile is a software development method, not a project management method.

Agile as a Long Term Strategy

If think you can use Agile safely for your entire project you’re in for a very rude awakening, especially if you’re running a project that:

  • involves a mix of software, hardware and services
  • requires procurement of third party products and services or
  • involves multiple suppliers where they are using different project methods.

If you’re new to Agile and think you’ll master it in one go, you’re wrong.

You should think about developing your organisation’s capability to use an Agile approach as a long term strategy. It is not a quick fix. Plan for your migration to a more Agile approach.

Tips for Agile

So, if you are intent on using Agile, what should you do? If you are planning to use Agile, here are five tips that will help you to do so safely:

#1:     Decide whether you’re ready to use Agile at all.

#2:     Develop your Agile adoption strategy.

#3:     Decide which parts of your project could best benefit from an Agile approach.

#4:     Start small.

#5:     Review and improve.

So the next time the subject of Project Management Lifecycle comes up in conversation, you’ll know that there is more to life, and to the success of your project, than Agile versus Waterfall.


About the Author: Bryan Barrow works with Project Management Office (PMO) Managers, Project Directors and organisations that need to deliver more of their projects on time and within budget, so that they achieve their strategic objectives. Bryan’s new Guide to organising and planning project kick off workshops is now available. Visit bryanbarrow.com for more information.



  1. Hi,

    As per my observation Agile works best when the co. has a stable product and it wants to incrementaly upgrade the product.

    Praveen Malik


  1. Project Management Life Cycle - Why We Need To ... says:

    […] A look at various Agile methods, a good strategy and tips for successful implementation of Agile at your organisation.  […]