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Waterfall vs Agile: Which Approach is Right for Your Website Project?

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One of the common things we regularly see when organisations are forming their RFPs or RFTs for website development projects is often grappling with the decision of choosing the right methodology for execution. The choice between Waterfall and Agile, which are two of the main project management strategies, shapes how the project unfolds from inception to completion.

In this article, we explore the key differences between these two methodologies, focusing on their applicability to website development projects.

Scope and Requirements

The Waterfall methodology works well when the scope and requirements of the website are well-defined at the project’s outset. Each step, from design, and build to deployment, is executed sequentially and documented. This requires a comprehensive understanding of the site's functionality, design, and user interface requirements before project initiation.

Waterfall’s sequential nature means that once the requirements and scope are defined a detailed project plan can be created which sets out clear expectations in terms of scope, schedule, effort, and budget. This approach makes it easier to monitor and report on progress against key deliverables and milestones while monitoring assigned budgetary spending.

The Agile approach fits situations where the requirements are likely to evolve. It allows developers to focus on building one piece or 'sprint' at a time, with each sprint resulting in a usable increment of the website which is developed, tested and reviewed. This approach provides the opportunity to refine and adjust the design and functionality throughout the project.

It also helps avoid rework and delays caused by late-stage changes as the changes in requirements and priorities are accommodated throughout the project's lifecycle. The primary focus is on making sure the team is working on the most valuable and high-priority items, which in turn has the benefit of reducing the likelihood of spending time/resources on features that may not be required.


With the Waterfall approach, alterations or enhancements to the original plan can disrupt the project due to its linear and sequential structure. This makes it a less desirable choice for dynamic projects which have a high likelihood of changes being required throughout the project lifecycle due to changing business needs or evolving market conditions.

In contrast, the Agile approach offers flexibility. Changes can be integrated at any stage of the project. Each sprint is followed by a review, which allows for realignment according to changing requirements or feedback. This effectively means that adaptive planning is used throughout the project lifecycle and the project plan can be adjusted based on new information, changes in priorities, evolving market conditions or changes to the project budget.

Client Involvement

In a Waterfall model, client involvement typically occurs at specific stages of the project lifecycle. There is typically more client involvement required during the early project phases where key decisions are made for example during the Requirements Gathering and Design and Review phases. There is also a need for the client to undertake User Acceptance Testing before the product launch. However, there would be limited involvement required during the development and internal testing phases.

The Agile methodology encourages consistent client involvement which is one of its fundamental principles. The client is involved from the outset of the project and continuously throughout. For example, typically the client would provide input into the creation of the Product Backlog, Sprint Planning, Sprint Reviews, the creation of User Stories and acceptance criteria and so this is very much a collaborative approach. Regular interaction and feedback loops ensure that the developing website aligns with the client's evolving needs and expectations.

Testing and Quality Assurance

In Waterfall, the testing phase comes after the development phase has been completed, which could lead to the discovery of bugs or issues late in the project lifecycle, making them expensive and time-consuming to fix if significant changes or rework are required. Although the structured approach which leads to rigorous testing and validation does ensure a focus on quality.

In Agile, testing is integrated throughout development with a focus on continuous testing, validation and adjustment based on frequent feedback. Every sprint should conclude with testing, facilitating early identification of problems and allowing developers to rectify them promptly. This approach aims to catch and address issues earlier, reducing the risk of major issues being discovered during the testing phase.

Risk Management

The Agile and Waterfall methodologies approach risk management in different ways, both of which have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to addressing project risks.

Due to its nature, there is a perception that the Waterfall methodology could pose a higher risk, especially for lengthy website development projects as there's a possibility that the finished product might not meet the client's expectations because it is not tested until after development has been completed.

Waterfall's sequential nature means that scope changes are not encouraged after the project has started meaning that any changes in market trends or user preferences during the development could affect the website's relevance. Waterfall methodologies typically define the strategy for addressing risks before the project begins; the risks are identified, analysed and prioritised upfront along with mitigation and contingency plans. The result, therefore, is a structured and upfront approach to risk assessment and mitigation.

Agile methodologies encourage continuous risk identification and mitigation throughout the project's lifecycle. The methodology in itself welcomes and encourages change and the potential risks are identified early and are continuously monitored and mitigated. Regular reviews, collaborative decision making and the flexibility to adapt to changes enhance risk awareness and ensure that the final product aligns with user expectations and market trends. Agile's iterative nature means that it allows for constant evaluation and adjustment, significantly reducing the project's risk profile.

Which Approach is Right for You?

The best approach for a particular website project will depend on several factors, such as the size and complexity of the project, the level of change that is expected, the project budget (fixed or fluid) and the preferences and availability of the project team.

If you have a well-defined project with predictable requirements, then the Waterfall methodology may be a good fit. However, if you have a complex project with a high degree of uncertainty, then the Agile methodology may be a better choice.

Ultimately, the best way to decide which approach is right for you is to talk to a project manager who has experience with both methodologies. They can help you assess your specific project and make a recommendation that is right for you.

Interested in learning more? Then why not get in touch to have a one-to-one session with one of our experts?

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