Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Scrum: Similarities and Differences

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The product management landscape keeps evolving. Customer requirements are changing faster than ever, which requires product managers to stay on top of the latest trends. When it comes to exploring different options for your organization, project management methodologies like Waterfall, Agile, and Scrum are great for streamlining business operations.

In this article, we’ll discuss these different methodologies. We’ll define key terms like Agile product management, Scrum project management, and the Waterfall methodology and see how these methodologies compare with each other.

What Is Agile Methodology in Product Management?

Agile product management is a modern approach to the product development process where a team incorporates constant feedback to create products tailored to user needs. In an Agile environment, teams are encouraged to work together to achieve goals set by the product manager.

It is a user-focused approach to project management that ensures high-value output because the team uses customer feedback for continuous improvement of the product. Creating products the Agile way leads to project managers making better-informed decisions and ensuring the product is made with the user in mind.

Agile methodology keeps the risk of failure low while promising higher customer satisfaction.

Agile is a mindset adopted by companies and product owners to adapt to changing conditions and remain productive. The Agile methodology helps businesses respond to change quicker, which ensures long-term project success.

The Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto stated the values and principles of Agile Software Development in 2001. The publication was created and signed by seventeen prominent software developers, each representing popular frameworks at the time. These included Scrum, Extreme Programming, DSDM, Adaptive Software Development, and many others.

Together, the authors of the manifesto contributed to creating a document that revolutionized how businesses worked. The Agile Manifesto set the foundations for agile software development by stating these four core values:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change by following a plan

To give companies a better idea of how to apply the Agile process, its founders established the twelve principles of Agile.

Twelve Principles of Agile Software Development

The Agile Manifesto contained a set of principles to help guide project managers on how to develop Agile teams. Here are the twelve principles of Agile methodology:

  • Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software
  • Welcome changing requirements, even in late development
  • Deliver valuable working software frequently (weeks rather than months), ensuring timely deployment of deliverables.
  • Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
  • Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
  • Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress
  • Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  • Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential
  • Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
  • Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective and adjusts accordingly

Although the Agile methodology was designed for software development, it didn’t take long for other industries to start implementing it. The State of Agile report in 2018 stated that 49% of business owners used the Agile approach, with 55% saying it led to increased productivity.

How is the Agile Methodology Applied?

Under the Agile methodology, work is split into sprints. The development process entails several sprints, and each sprint incorporates evolving customer feedback until a final product emerges.

Although there are different project management frameworks, they all may follow a similar process:

  • Sprint planning – The product owner revises the product backlog to prioritize the tasks accomplished in each sprint. The entire team sits together to identify the best plan of action to tackle the goals of the next sprint.
  • Implementation – Agile teams start working and meet together frequently to discuss problems, ideas, and new strategies, to encourage collaboration and strong team interaction. These time-boxed Scrum meetings serve as dedicated time for team members to synchronize their efforts, share progress updates, address challenges, and align their actions toward achieving project goals.
  • Sprint review – The team may hold an informal stand-up meeting at the end of the sprint to present what was accomplished and what wasn’t.
  • Sprint retrospective – At the end of the sprint, the team discusses what went well and what they could improve on. They may also identify poorly defined tasks and how to better manage the workload.

In short, Agile leadership encourages teamwork and breaks the process into manageable sprints that enable development teams to create better products faster.

What is the Waterfall Methodology of Product Management?

The Waterfall Model is a traditional approach to project management where the development process is arranged in a linear fashion. In Waterfall methodology, the entire process goes through the same sequential pattern, known as the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), where the development team forwards the product to the next phase upon the completion of the previous phase.

Before Agile project management, businesses tended to use traditional Waterfall methodology as a means of breaking down tasks into multiple development phases. These phases usually consist of the following:

  • Requirements
  • Design
  • Implement
  • Verify
  • Maintenance

Unlike Agile, the Waterfall model only tested products at the end of the development process, leaving little to no room for change. The Waterfall model remained the status quo for many years.

How Does the Waterfall Model Work?

The term “Waterfall” was coined to describe this model of product development because each phase flows in a downward, sequential manner.

To apply the Waterfall model, product teams need to engage in thorough project planning before starting. Having a product roadmap can help with in-depth planning, as every team member knows their roles, responsibilities, and goals.

Getting the planning right is crucial to implementing the Waterfall model successfully. Unlike the flexible Agile methodology, Waterfall allows less room for adjusting for errors or changing project requirements.

If implemented correctly, the Waterfall model provides a well-needed structure to the product development process. It ensures better time management and a clear view of how the project is progressing.

What Is Scrum Project Management?

Scrum is an Agile methodology that provides product managers with an incremental and iterative approach to the product development process. Of all the Agile methodologies, Scrum is the most popular framework.

Under the Scrum framework, products are developed in short sprints, usually lasting around two weeks. These sprints encourage iterative development.

In Scrum, there aren’t any official titles; rather, everyone is part of a cross-functional team with the role of “developer.”

Such cross-functionality encourages collaboration and allows development teams to work together to ensure faster results and better output.

The Scrum Guide

Created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, the Scrum Guide is a 14-page document that states the Scrum principles, methodology, and how it works.

It was conceived in the early 1990s and officially released in 2010. Since then, the original creators of the Scrum Guide have updated it. The latest version was published in November 2020.

The Scrum Guide lists five core values:

  • Commitment
  • Focus
  • Openness
  • Respect
  • Courage

These above values are what guide development teams to effectively apply Scrum methodology to the development process.

The Three Pillars of Scrum

Scrum is founded upon two main things: 1) making decisions based on knowledge gained from experience and 2) lean thinking, which helps business owners prioritize what’s important and reduce waste.

To support these principles, the Scrum Guide notes three foundational pillars for product teams to keep in mind:


Scrum thrives on collaboration between cross-functional teams. This level of project visibility assures that software teams are making well-informed decisions. Low transparency within departments could lead to poorly defined tasks and increased waste as Scrum teams may not be following the best plan of action.


Since Agile projects encourage feedback. Inspection is what enables people to make changes based on this feedback. As the Scrum Guide states: “Inspection without adaptation is pointless. Scrum events are designed to provoke change.”

After inspection, teams may find room for adjustments.


If the project is heading in the wrong direction, not aligning with organizational goals, or the end product is unlikely to satisfy the user, the strategy needs to be adjusted. Making these adjustments early on in the development process can reduce project costs and lead to better output within deadlines.

This is why the Scrum project management methodology prompts a project manager to create self-managing teams. This empowers the Scrum team to make adjustments they see fit, allowing them to embrace change.

Roles of a Scrum Team

In a Scrum team, there are no specific titles assigned to team members. Everyone is given the role of ‘developer’ and is expected to participate in the development process. This simplifies the Agile model and improves transparency, communication, and cross-functional collaboration within the development team.

However, when everyone is doing the same thing, chaos can ensue. That’s why there are roles that give the Agile framework some structure.

Development Team

The development team consists of members who contribute to the development process directly. Development teams are responsible for creating a usable feature every sprint.

When it comes to the requirements of being a developer, their skills may vary depending on the type of project and the best plan of action for achieving the sprint goals.

Development teams are always responsible for the following:

  • Creating a sprint backlog and a plan for implementing the sprint
  • Defining when the entire process will be done to prevent a never-ending quality check
  • Adapting to changes and making adjustments to the plan to achieve the Sprint goal
  • Ensuring accountability by holding team members responsible for their actions

Product Owner

The product owner aligns the Scrum team to maximize the value of output. Apart from this, the product owner is also responsible for creating and maintaining the product backlog. In Agile projects, the product owner is responsible for:

  • Developing and communicating product goals
  • Creating, revising, and managing the product backlog
  • Ordering and maintaining the product backlog items
  • Ensuring the product backlog is transparent and clearly understood

For the product owner to carry out these responsibilities, their decisions need to be respected.

Scrum Master

The Scrum Master is responsible for implementing the project management methodology according to the Scrum Guide. They’re accountable for communicating Scrum principles and explaining its practice.

The Scrum team’s productivity depends on the efficiency of the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master allows the software development process to flow effectively by enabling team members to improve their practices within Scrum guidelines.

Scrum Masters play a vital role in the organization and are responsible for:

  • Coaching self-managing teams and maintaining cross-functionality
  • Guiding the team to perform high-value incremental sprints
  • Removing obstacles that interfere with the potential of team members
  • Ensuring that Scrum is properly implemented and results in a positive outcome

The Scrum Master also coordinates with the product owner to improve communication, discuss ideas, and find better techniques to increase productivity.

How to Implement a Scrum Framework

Sprints are the main aspect of the Scrum project management methodology, and all other areas of Scrum or Scrum Events are contained within them.

A sprint is “where ideas are turned into value.” It is a timeframe in which a specific set of tasks need to be completed. The timeframe for this may vary, but it is usually around two weeks. These sprints are then repeated until a complete product comes about.

When defining the sprint, you need to make sure that tasks align with the product goal. The product owner has full control over the work accomplished in a sprint. If the product goal becomes outdated, the product owner can cancel the sprint and work on a new project.

Sprint Planning

Sprint planning is the first development phase of the sprint. During sprint planning, the entire team sits together to discuss a plan of action for the sprint. The product owner ensures that prioritized items from the product backlog are also included in the product roadmap.

Sprint planning may be summarized by answering the following questions:

  • Why is this sprint valuable?
  • What can be done in this sprint?
  • How will the chosen work get done?

The collection of the sprint goal, product backlog, and plan of action is referred to as the Sprint Backlog. There is a specific timeframe for planning. For a 2-week sprint, planning should be limited to fifteen to thirty minutes. For longer sprints, the time for planning may increase.

Daily Scrum

The daily Scrum is a 15-minute work-in-progress event where developers come together to track progress towards the sprint goal. During this time, they discuss and adjust the strategy to better align it with the sprint goal.

These daily scrums encourage effective communication, identify issues, and improve decision-making.

Sprint Review

A sprint review is a short session where the Scrum team presents what it was able to accomplish during the sprint for key stakeholders to review. They gather ideas and information to refine future sprints and better define tasks.

Sprint Retrospective

A sprint retrospective is carried out after the end of each sprint. The Scrum team comes together to discuss what worked, what didn’t, the problems they faced, and how they were able to overcome them.

These retrospective sessions help Scrum teams identify factors that might increase the efficiency of future sprints and add to the Sprint Backlog.

This is the final stage of the process, which concludes the sprint.

Benefits of Scrum Methodology

  • Quicker releases of high-value products to end-users
  • Higher-quality output as the team adjusts the plan to improve future iterations
  • Short sprints force product teams to work efficiently, increase productivity, and ship products faster
  • Lower project costs due to reduced waste and the application of lean principles
  • Improves customer satisfaction as products are tailored to user needs and requirements

Similarities Between Agile, Waterfall, and Scrum

No matter which framework or project management methodology you choose, the main purpose remains the same. 

Each of these methodologies was designed to manage complex software by breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable chunks while segmenting them into multiple phases and milestones, which helps simplify the development process.

Although Agile, Waterfall, and Scrum serve the same purpose, they each offer a different approach.

Differences between Agile Project Management and Waterfall Project Management

Although the Agile model and Waterfall model aim at producing high-quality output, they have different project lifecycles.

In the Waterfall model, the system development cycle is broken into evolving phases. The development process is linear, and the team breaks down complex projects into actionable steps. The entire project follows the same sequential pattern until it is complete.

The Agile method breaks the project into sprints. These sprints are repeated until the product has reached a state consistent with the project goals. The team receives feedback and introduces it to improve the product’s future iterations and allow businesses to adjust to changing customer demands.

Both models, despite their distinct approaches, have benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits of Agile Development

User-Focused Approach

Agile methodologies offer a user-focused approach by taking in regular feedback from stakeholders, applying user stories to create high-value products optimized for the ideal user experience.

Improved Customer Satisfaction

Agile encourages constant feedback, which aligns the end product with customer needs and requirements, improving customer satisfaction.

Improved Collaboration and Transparency

One of Agile’s principles states, “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.” This improves collaboration and increases transparency. Many Agile frameworks, such as Scrum, also promote cross-functionality within teams to help them collaborate better.


Ever-changing customer trends and demands make a lot of products obsolete shortly after release. Agile offers an adaptive approach that responds flexibly to change and welcomes adjustments to the strategy even in later stages.

Faster Releases

Under Agile product management, work is divided into sprints. These sprints are time-constrained, which leads to quicker launches while maintaining the quality of the end product.

Challenges of Agile Development

Lack of Control

Compared to the Waterfall model that provides structure to the development process, Agile is autonomous. The dynamic nature of an Agile workflow removes authority from the project manager, making them feel a lack of control over the process.

Costly and Time-Consuming

Training Agile teams can be expensive and time-consuming. According to a report by VersionOne, insufficient training is one of the most common causes of failure in Agile management.

Shifts in the Development Process

Thanks to its adaptive approach, Agile makes it easier to adjust to changes and make products better suited to customer needs. However, incorporating constant feedback and adjusting the strategy can cause major shifts in the process, which team members may be unable to adapt to.

Benefits of Waterfall Project Management

Pre-planned Requirements

In the Waterfall approach, project managers are tasked with considering all requirements before production. This ensures that product teams have a clear idea of what to do because all tasks, roles, and requirements are clearly defined.

Resistant to Change

Waterfall thrives on a fixed plan, meaning team members can confidently approach the development process as the strategy is resistant to change. Since there won’t be many changes to the initial plan, developers won’t have to worry about adapting to changes or learning new skills in a limited timeframe.

Provides a Clear Structure

The Waterfall model lays out the phases of the development process. It lets team members know how the product evolves from one development phase to another and where the product currently stands. This helps them make better estimates and make well-informed decisions.


Every member knows exactly how the product will develop and how it moves from one phase to another. The predictability offered by the Waterfall method prevents unwanted errors or sudden changes the product team may be unable to adapt to.

Helps Teams Stay on Track

Since everything is discussed and documented beforehand, the team is aware of the steps they need to take to reach the product goal. This allows them to stay on track and stick to a strategy that is aligned with the company’s goals.

Challenges of Waterfall Project Management

May Cause Delays

In Waterfall, everything needs to be known and documented before production starts. However, gathering all the details beforehand can be time-consuming and lead to delays in starting development.

Rigid, Doesn’t Adapt to Change

Waterfall follows a fixed plan rather than a flexible strategy. The rigidness of the plan leaves little to no room for adjustments meaning the product is slow to incorporate customer feedback.

Mistakes Can Be Costly

Testing is only done at the end of the project lifecycle. If the team discovers any errors in this phase of the product development process, it can be expensive to go back and fix them.

Increased Risk

Opting for the Waterfall approach is also riskier than flexible approaches like Agile. If the requirements or goals aren’t properly defined and documented at the start, the entire process may not be as effective. This can lead to a huge loss of money when the end product is unable to satisfy user needs and wants.

Is Agile Better than Waterfall Methodology?

Seeing how Agile practices have revolutionized software development projects, many people are quick to favor it over the Waterfall model. But Waterfall is still quite popular with project managers, who use it for the majority of their projects.

Although the dynamic nature of Agile allows a project manager to better adjust their strategy to meet customer needs, the Waterfall approach provides them with a simple structure and increases control thanks to its predictability.

So, Agile isn’t necessarily better than Waterfall; it depends on the project and the goals the business wishes to achieve. Agile may be better suited for short-term projects where companies are required to quickly launch new feature areas. But, if a business wants to keep a solid quality check, work on longer-term projects, and create products within an easy-to-understand structure, Waterfall may be the answer.

Scrum vs. Agile

Scrum is one of the most popular ways of implementing Agile practices. It’s so popular that many people use the terms Scrum and Agile interchangeably, thinking they are one and the same. 

In reality, Scrum is part of Agile. Agile product management is a philosophy where businesses are told to embrace change rather than fear it.

Scrum, on the other hand, is a framework that puts Agile principles into practice. It adheres to the values listed in the Agile Manifesto and is used to create better products faster.

Similarities: Scrum vs. Agile

Adjusts to Change

Both Agile and Scrum help teams to adapt to changing circumstances and prompt project managers to adjust their strategy. Neither follows a fixed plan and offers flexibility in the product strategy allowing teams to incorporate ever-changing customer demands.

Leads to Better Outcomes

The best project management methodologies don’t just increase output; rather, they focus on improving outcomes. An outcome is a behavioral change that occurs within Agile teams that leads them to think differently about the development process.

Both Scrum and Agile train development teams to better manage their time by producing high-value products within shorter deadlines. They also lead to better alignment between departments, increased transparency, and improved communication.

Improves Collaboration

One of the Agile principles states, “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.” This is also reflected in the Scrum Guide through daily scrums, where developers interact with each other regularly to discuss issues and how to tackle them.

Differences: Scrum vs. Agile

Agile is a Philosophy, Scrum is Actionable

Agile is a mindset adopted by companies enabling teams to think differently about software development. Many Agile methodologies provide steps to turn the Agile mindset into a reality.

Scrum is one of those methodologies that gives businesses a framework to apply Agile and produce high-value products more quickly.

Different Roles

Agile software development focuses on an autonomous work culture where people are divided into self-organizing teams and are given the freedom to create their own strategies. However, most businesses need some structure to work effectively and hold people accountable. Unlike Agile, Scrum defines three roles for the organization, including a product owner, Scrum Master, and developers.

Different Sets of Values and Principles

Agile is based on four core values that pave the way for a modern project management methodology. These values give product managers a way to think differently and move away from traditional processes.

Scrum is founded on five core values guiding the team members as they execute the development process. Even though it is aligned with Agile principles, Scrum focuses more on employees and on how to create the ideal framework within guidelines set by the Scrum Guide.

Comparison Between Agile, Waterfall, and Scrum

Adapts to changeDoesn’t adapt to changeAdapts to change
Team members are arranged into self-organizing teamsDifferent teams are assigned to handle different phases of the project lifecycleTeam members are part of a Scrum team
Iterative and incremental approachFollows a fixed plan with a linear processIterative and incremental approach with high responsiveness to change
Late launch with multiple iterations to refine the productLate launches with fixed time and no revisionsLate launch with iterations if needed
Product is tested after every new development projectProduct is tested only at the end of the development processProduct is tested after every new development
Team members are free to choose their own strategies and are arranged in self-managing teamsTeam members are skilled in specific areas and segmented into groupsTeams have a broad range of skills and are given the role of developer

Which Project Management Methodology Should You Choose?

Which project management methodology will work for you depends on your organization. Before choosing one, you should clearly define what goals you plan on achieving with the product.

If you’re in a competitive industry and need to produce newer features in the fastest time possible, Scrum may be the ideal framework for you. However, if you’re working on a long-term complex project that consists of many different specifications, a more controlled approach like the Waterfall model might be better suited for you.

Another popular methodology worth considering is the Kanban board, which focuses on visualizing and optimizing workflow efficiency. It can be particularly effective in situations where flexibility and continuous improvement are paramount.


Choosing the right project management methodology for your company is essential. The approach you choose will impact the end result of your product and how your teams will achieve organizational goals.

Popular methodologies like Agile, Waterfall, and Scrum are common choices for project managers. Although they serve the same purpose of improving the development process, knowing the differences and similarities between them helps when making the best decision for your business.

TCGen Principal & Founder

John Carter

John Carter specializes in product development, from the strategy and innovation processes to product definition, execution, and launch. He has helped companies cut time to market, rapidly scale their product program, and improve innovation with customer-led insights. His work leads to greater profitability, reduced costs, and improved customer satisfaction.

John currently serves on the Board of Directors of Cirrus Logic (CRUS), a leading supplier of mixed-signal semiconductors. He is involved with company strategy and sits on the Compensation and Audit Committees.

Before starting the consulting firm TCGen, John was the Chief Engineer of BOSE Corporation. John is the inventor of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones and shares the original patent with Dr. Amar Bose. He was one of the initial contributors to BOSE’s entry into the automobile OEM business. He led the product and business development of BOSE’s patented noise reduction technology for the military market.

John Carter, TCGen Principal & Founder