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Have you heard of Agile and Waterfall methodologies, but didn’t quite understand the difference? Let’s dive in and find out!


What are Agile & Waterfall?

Project management (or task execution anywhere) can be approached in a variety of ways, and two popular methods of executing projects are Waterfall and Agile. These methodologies were predominantly used in Software Development, however can benefit most functional domains.


Why does it matter for People, Marketing and Finance teams?

  • Agile methodologies have enabled fast paced delivery of innovative Software products over the last 2 decades

  • Understanding basics about Agile and Waterfall can help your team deliver projects more efficiently , with a great customer experience

  • Project management methodologies (Agile or Waterfall) can be applied to most functional domains, to most activities that have a defined timeline and outcome- not just for full time project managers


What is the difference?

Waterfall: Work follows a strict set of steps in a linear, sequential order. Each phase must be completed before moving on to the next one. Detailed planning is followed by execution and one big output delivered to the customer at the end. Waterfall ways of executing projects were popularized since the 1970s.


Agile: Work outputs are broken down into smaller tangible deliverables to customers, which are completed in short periods of time. Executing teams can adapt and allow for changes in customer requirements due to executing smaller deliverables more frequently. Agile methodologies were developed over the 1980s and 1990s with the creation of the Agile Manifesto in 2001.


Can we use a simple example to understand the Agile and Waterfall, without jargon?

I use this simple example to illustrate the difference between Agile and Waterfall while leading sessions on Agile 101 for HR/People, Recruiting, Marketing and Finance teams. This example helps to understand the relevance of Agile outside the context of Software Development.



A customer asks company ABC to provide them with 3 shirts in 3 weeks. The customer asked for these shirts to be half-sleeved, collared and buttoned.


Response 1: Company ABC uses Waterfall methodology

Company ABC purchases the fabric for all 3 shirts in week 1, cuts the fabric for 3 shirts in week 2 and stitches the shirts in week 3. The 3 shirts are delivered together, to the customer at the end of week 3 (visually represented in Illustration 1). The company has met its order successfully and the customer has no complaints.


Illustration 1

Image:, Isheeta Bali


Response 2: Company ABC uses Agile methodology

Company ABC buys fabric, cuts and stitches Shirt 1- which is delivered to the customer at the end of week 1. The customer feels the tangible result by trying on the Shirt 1. The customer realizes that they don’t want 3 identical shirts and ask for the second piece to be a t-shirt. Company ABC therefore buys fabric, cuts and stitches a t-shirt to deliver it to the customer by end of week 2. The customer is once again very happy to see a tangible output and asks for Shirt 3 to be a formal blouse, which is delivered at the end of week 3.


Illustration 2

Image:, Isheeta Bali


In this example- which is a more customer centric methodology-Waterfall, or Agile?

In both the Waterfall and Agile methodologies, the customer order was fulfilled. However, when I ask training participants which approach they would prefer as customers, the overwhelming majority prefer Response 2 i.e. the Agile way. It is therefore a question worthwhile asking ourselves- what would our customers prefer- Agile or Waterfall? Both approaches have their merits and applicability.


How to choose between Waterfall and Agile approaches executing work?


A Waterfall approach can work well in an environment where:

  • customers know exactly what they want with full clarity on details

  • requirements are not expected to change

  • there is very little ambiguity on plans

  • executing teams can deliver products as one chunk at the end of a longer execution cycle (illustration 1)

An Agile approach can work well in an environment where:

  • deliverables that are complex and require more exploration to define the exact requirements and evolution of the service or product

  • industries dealing with fast paced changes or external ambiguity that may impact customer requirements

  • long range plans and original customer requirements may become irrelevant during the year

  • executing teams are expected to welcome changes in customer needs and adapt the service or product accordingly


Hybrid: Blend between Waterfall & Agile

This is a highly debated approach in the Agile community, however teams are also experimenting with blending Waterfall and Agile.


That’s the end of the three minutes!

Hope that this example helps those who are new to the topic to scratch the surface about the hype around Agile, and how this can be relevant to deliverables outside Software Development . I have experienced the measurable benefits of applying tools from Agile Product Management in different functions, and I encourage Professionals from enablement functions Like People, Recruiting, Finance and Marketing to learn about and apply these techniques for Customer Delight and Executing faster.


Agile methodologies are an aggregate of several practical techniques-

  • Scrum (delivered highest priority outputs in short cycles called Sprints),

  • Kanban (visualize progress , bottlenecks and flow of work on a billboard),

  • Lean (Identify and reduce waste),

There are several other Agile techniques- Crystal, XP and many more. There are differences in opinions over which techniques are strictly within the Agile framework- however keeping things simple by reflecting a broad understanding.


Contrary to popular belief,

  1. Some methodologies are easy to adopt, as long as there is a

  2. fundamental understanding of concept and principles,

  3. a mindset to want to be Agile,

  4. simple tools to deploy the techniques without manual work

2. Teams do not have to have fully certified or experienced Agilists to start their Agile journeys


Want to know more about how your team can adopt Agile?

Lead the way for your functional domain with a gradual Agile adoption or an Agile transformation !

In case you are curious about the topic, please reach out to us at (Email: to know how we support PMO, People, Finance, Marketing teams on adopting Agile tools via our 101 capability building sessions, supporting tools, or other partnership offerings.


As reading recommendations, Agile Project Management for Beginners (Thomas Taylor) and Agile Practice Guide (Project Management Institute) are good books for beginners. These are just my personal recommendations without any affiliation or promotional responsibilities towards these books. PMI and Scrum alliance have a tonne of free reading resources for those who are looking for credible articles.


Please feel free to leave comments with your thoughts, questions or experiences on the topic.

PS: Credit to Chat GPT for suggesting language edits.

Image credit and source: Christopher Little, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons