Managing Software Development Projects: Agile vs. Waterfall Methodologies

managing software development

Project management methodologies exist to take you from point A to B as fast, efficiently, and with as little waste as possible. The waste bit is important: It entails minimizing lost time, errors, risks, duplicate or low-impact efforts, and costs.

In custom software development, developers typically rely on one of two popular methodologies: Agile or Waterfall. There’s still much debate over the two project management styles in our industry and which is best.

Here’s a breakdown:


Agile is an iterative, incremental method of managing the project’s design and build activities in a highly flexible and interactive manner.


  • More responsive to actual client needs
  • Demonstrable progress in small increments (usually about two weeks)
  • Ideal for internal product teams where prioritization drives work efforts, rather than the budget driving what gets done when


  • Responsive rather than proactive, making it difficult to nail down an actual plan
  • There is no way to estimate the total cost of a custom software project
  • Accountability happens on an incremental basis
  • Potential for lack of macro vision, since the focus is on incremental progress


Waterfall is a sequential design process, with progress flowing steadily downward through the phases of conception, initiation, analysis, design, build, testing, implementation, and maintenance.


  • Provides a long-term plan to budget a project against
  • Encourages proactive thought around a complete feature set
  • Creates project-level accountability within the web application development company


  • Development plans often change during implementation
  • Excessive design can strain or exceed budget
  • Organization needs might change once implementation hits a certain phase

The Hybrid Approach

Given that each method comes with benefits and pitfalls, we choose to manage our projects, blending their strengths in a hybrid approach, focusing on the pragmatic over the theoretical.

We’re often challenged to estimate the total cost of custom software development upfront. We don’t believe it’s responsible for doing so without a design document in place, so we make sure to have one — a practice that fits squarely into the Waterfall methodology.

But the idea of going away into a room and coding for six months without talking to the client — another Waterfall-style attribute — also feels irresponsible and ineffective. At that point, we embrace Agile methodology in spirit and ensure close and frequent communication with our clients.

Along those lines, we feel clients should be up-to-date on all project phases and progress, so we provide weekly status reports and demonstrate the progress we’ve made in the code every two weeks.

All things considered, what’s most important is having a project management process in place and actually following it. It’s surprising how many firms operate without one. Believe it or not, plenty of development shops work off sticky notes or an inbox or proclaim a project management process but stop managing when things get hard. When issues arise, they’re poorly equipped to deal with risk properly and reach a resolution quickly and cost-effectively.

Whichever approach your software developer chooses, it’s important you’re aware of it and confident in that choice.

If you would like to find out more about how we can work together to build a time and money-saving custom business software solution tailored to your unique needs, contact us today!