Agile or Waterfall? Which Is Best for IT Project Management?

Project management (PM) keeps teams focused and effective. In many ways, more efficiency allows you to take on more work, create more value, and increase profitability. But with so many philosophies to PM, how do IT leaders know which is right? The choice depends on where you place value. Are you flexible on deadline but not cost and scope? Is the scope of work flexible but not the schedule? Two of the most popular methodologies value these attributes differently. Let’s look at what ways each excels, so you can make an informed choice.


Agile is effective for large projects and cross-functional teams. It was created to provide teams with a way to create project plans that can adapt while the work is ongoing (think software development). There are many principles that drive Agile methodology, but here’s a quick overview:
  • The cost of a project and the schedule are fixed. The scope often varies to match.
  • Agile is designed for multiple projects and on-the-fly changes.
  • It’s an iterative process for ongoing feature delivery.
  • Interpersonal interactions are favored over processes and tools.
There are also many methodologies that fit under the Agile banner and build on its principles. Here are some of the most popular:
  • Scrum uses deadlines, regular sprints, and quick standup meetings to focus efforts.
  • Kanban uses boards to visualize cues that help teams identify bottlenecks (think tools like Trello).
  • Scrumban is a hybrid of Scrum and Kanban that uses sprints and visualizations.
  • Lean builds on Agile principals by focusing on speed, waste reduction, and empowering team members.


A widely discussed alternative to Agile is Waterfall. Waterfall is effective for projects where changes in scope become expensive quickly (like building a building). Waterfall is often used in construction, manufacturing, or on projects with predictable outcomes (like many IT projects). Waterfall is less flexible for software development because it’s not built for ongoing projects that constantly need new features and iterations.
  • Project scope is fixed but schedule can often vary to fit
  • More rigid and focused on a well-defined outcome
  • Not great for iterative, ongoing projects like software
  • Great for completing small to medium projects quickly

About Process

If your team doesn’t use the method, it will fail. Your team must understand how your chosen method works, why it’s useful, and what’s expected of them. Here are some principles to consider:
  • Someone must own project management – Implementing a new process might require new tools and training. You need someone to own it, build it, and lead it to success.
  • The method must be at the center of everything – The process shouldn’t be the job, but it should define how work gets done. As such, all work must fit in the framework of the process for it to function.
  • It’s not the tool; it’s the habit – There are many tools that help with IT project management. These aren’t useful if the team can’t get in the habit of using them. You or the project leader must help your team build habits around the tools and processes.


Streamlining processes will help you grow. Your project management process is about minimizing duplicate effort and getting work done efficiently and effectively. So, pick something that works and stick with it. Be rigorous about your process discipline and you’ll see how quickly it leads to more profit and opportunity.

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