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Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Scrum vs. Kanban: What’s the Difference?

April 8, 2024
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Last updated
April 17, 2024
Anika Jahin
Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Scrum vs. Kanban: What’s the Difference?
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Project success hinges on a strong foundation – the right project management processes. While only 46% of organizations prioritize project management as a culture, mature project management programs lead to higher rates of on-time and on-budget project completion.

Building a robust project management program starts with choosing the perfect methodology for your project needs. However, with many options like Agile, Waterfall, Kanban, and Scrum, navigating the world of project management methodologies can feel overwhelming.

This blog is your roadmap to conquering this challenge. We'll break down the core principles of Agile vs Waterfall methodologies, delve into popular frameworks like Scrum and Kanban, and equip you with a decision-making framework to select the ideal methodology for your project.

Traditional vs. Agile Methodologies

Project management methodologies fall into two broad categories: traditional and Agile. Traditional methodologies, like Waterfall, follow a linear, sequential approach. Each development phase (e.g., requirement gathering, design, coding) is completed in a specific order before moving on to the next.

This structured approach offers a clear project scope, detailed documentation, and predictable resource allocation. However, it can be inflexible to change and struggle to adapt to evolving project requirements.

In contrast, Agile methodologies, like Scrum and Kanban, embrace adaptability and continuous improvement. They break projects down into smaller, iterative cycles, allowing for ongoing feedback and course correction throughout the development process.

This approach is ideal for projects with uncertain requirements or a need to respond quickly to changing market demands. However, Agile methodologies can require strong team communication and collaboration and may not be suitable for highly regulated environments.

Understanding these fundamental differences between traditional and Agile methodologies is the first step to selecting the best approach for your project.

The Waterfall Methodology

The Waterfall methodology, a cornerstone of traditional project management, thrives on a well-defined plan and sequential execution.

Imagine a waterfall – water cascades down in a series of distinct stages, mirroring the Waterfall approach.

Each development phase, like requirement gathering, design, development, testing, deployment, and maintenance, is completed in a linear order before moving on to the next.

Here's a breakdown of the typical stages in a Waterfall project:

  1. Requirement Gathering: This initial phase involves meticulously collecting and documenting project requirements from stakeholders. The goal is to establish a clear understanding of project goals, functionalities, and deliverables.
  2. Design: Based on the gathered requirements, the project team translates them into a detailed design blueprint. This blueprint may include system architecture, user interfaces, and technical specifications.
  3. Development: With a finalized design in hand, the development team translates the blueprint into a functional product. This stage involves coding, building, and unit testing individual components.
  4. Testing: Once development is complete, the entire product undergoes rigorous testing to identify and rectify bugs and ensure it meets the initial requirements.
  5. Deployment: The final, tested product is deployed to the intended environment, making it accessible to end-users.
  6. Maintenance: Even after deployment, ongoing maintenance is necessary to address bugs, implement security patches, and potentially incorporate new features based on user feedback.
The Typical Stages in a Waterfall Project

Advantages of Waterfall

Waterfall is used for simple, less complex projects with predictable outcomes.

This structured approach offers several advantages:

  • Clear Project Scope: Waterfall excels at defining project scope upfront, minimizing the risk of scope creep – uncontrolled growth in project requirements.
  • Detailed Documentation: Each development phase generates comprehensive documentation, providing a clear audit trail and facilitating knowledge transfer within the team.
  • Predictable Resource Allocation: By following a pre-defined plan, resource allocation (e.g., personnel, budget) becomes more predictable, streamlining project management.

Disadvantages of Waterfall

A significant limitation of the Waterfall methodology is its inflexibility regarding change. It is a linear and sequential approach that doesn't accommodate moving back and forth between stages to address unforeseen modifications. Once a phase is completed, there is no going back.

Here are the limitations to consider of Waterfall methodology:

  • Inflexibility to Change: Adapting to changes in requirements or market demands can be challenging in Waterfall projects due to their rigid structure.
  • Limited Customer Feedback: Customer feedback is typically incorporated at the beginning and end of the development process, potentially leading to missed opportunities for improvement throughout the project lifecycle.
  • Potential for Bottlenecks: Delays in one phase can ripple through the entire project, causing delays in subsequent stages.

The Scrum Framework

Scrum is an Agile project management framework designed for teams to collaborate on complex projects. This iterative approach helps teams deliver value to customers faster and with fewer headaches.

It involves breaking down the work into smaller, manageable tasks, known as Sprints, which usually last between 1 to 4 weeks. The Scrum framework is particularly popular in software development but has also been successfully applied to other fields due to its flexibility and focus on continuous improvement.

Core Scrum Roles

  • Product Owner: Responsible for defining the project vision and prioritizing the backlog, a list of features and functionalities that represent the overall product vision. The product owner ensures the team works on the most valuable tasks. The product owner collaborates with stakeholders and ensures the backlog reflects their needs.
  • Scrum Master: The facilitator and coach who ensures the scrum process is followed and removes roadblocks for the team. The Scrum Master is not a project manager; they don't dictate tasks but guide the team towards self-organization.
  • Development Team: A cross-functional team with the skills necessary to build the product. This team estimates effort, completes tasks within Sprints, and holds themselves accountable for delivering high-quality work.

Elements of Scrum Framework

Scrum Framework at a Glance

Here are the core elements of the Scrum framework:

  1. Scrum Team: A dedicated, cross-functional team empowered to deliver project work. The Scrum team typically consists of a Product Owner (who represents stakeholder needs), a Scrum Master (who facilitates the process), and Developers (who are responsible for building the product).
  2. Product Backlog: A prioritized list of features and functionalities representing the overall product vision. The Product Owner manages and refines the backlog throughout the project.
  3. Sprint Backlog: A subset of items from the Product Backlog selected for development during a specific Sprint. The Scrum team collaboratively estimates the effort required for each item in the Sprint backlog.
  4. Sprint Planning: A meeting at the beginning of each Sprint where the Scrum team selects items from the Product Backlog and commits to delivering them within the Sprint timeframe.
  5. Daily Scrum: A brief, daily stand-up meeting where team members discuss progress, identify roadblocks, and plan for the upcoming day.
  6. Sprint Review: A meeting at the end of each Sprint where the Scrum team showcases the completed work to stakeholders and gathers feedback.
  7. Sprint Retrospective: A meeting after each Sprint where the Scrum team reflects on their processes, identifies areas for improvement, and plans for the upcoming Sprint.
  8. Backlog Grooming: After each Sprint, the team and Product Owner meet to refine the backlog for the next Sprint. They eliminate irrelevant stories, add new ones, adjust priorities, and split complex stories into simpler tasks. This session ensures the backlog remains relevant and aligned with project goals.

Pro tip: With Wudpecker, you can centralize the necessary information from all your meetings (Daily Scrum, Sprint Review & Sprint Retrospective) in one place with automated meeting notes.

Advantages of Scrum

Scrum is well-suited for projects with evolving requirements, a need for rapid feedback, and a focus on early and continuous delivery of value.

Here are some of the advantages of the Scrum framework:

  • Enhanced Flexibility: The iterative nature of Sprints allows for continuous adaptation to changing requirements or market needs.
  • Increased Visibility: Daily Scrums and Sprint Reviews promote transparency and keep stakeholders informed of progress.
  • Improved Team Productivity: Scrum fosters a collaborative environment that empowers teams to self-organize and deliver high-quality work in short iterations.
  • Faster Time to Market: Scrum's focus on delivering working functionality in each Sprint allows for earlier product releases and feedback.
  • Improved Team Morale: The regular feedback loops and focus on collaboration can lead to higher team morale and motivation.

Disadvantages of Scrum

Scrum brings clear advantages but also comes with challenges. It demands significant expertise and dedication from the team, and there's a risk of projects expanding beyond their original scope.

The challenges of Scrum include:

  • Team Experience: Scrum requires a team with a strong understanding of Agile principles and a commitment to collaboration.
  • Project Complexity: Highly complex projects may require additional structure or planning beyond the core Scrum framework.
  • Stakeholder Management: Scrum's iterative nature can be challenging for stakeholders who expect a fixed deadline and scope. Proactive communication and managing expectations are crucial.

The Kanban Method

The Kanban method, another cornerstone of Agile methodologies, thrives on visual organization and continuous workflow optimization.

Unlike Scrum's structured Sprints, Kanban employs a pull-based system, allowing for a more fluid and adaptable approach to project management.

Imagine a Kanban board – a visual representation of the workflow, with columns depicting different work stages. Tasks move across the board as they progress, providing a clear picture of ongoing work and potential bottlenecks.

Core Principles of Kanban

  • Visualize Work: All work items are represented on a Kanban board, typically using cards or sticky notes. This visual representation enhances transparency and facilitates collaboration.
  • Limit Work in Progress (WIP): Kanban emphasizes limiting the number of tasks actively being worked on (WIP) to prevent multitasking and improve focus. WIP limits are set for each workflow stage, ensuring a smooth workflow.
  • Focus on Flow: Kanban aims to optimize the flow of work items through the workflow stages. The goal is to minimize lead times and maximize efficiency.
  • Continuous Improvement: Kanban encourages continuous improvement by regularly reviewing the workflow and identifying areas for optimization. Metrics such as cycle time (average time to complete a task) are used to track progress.

Elements of a Kanban Board

  • Kanban Board: A physical or digital board containing vertical columns representing different workflow stages (e.g., To Do, In Progress, Done).
  • Kanban Cards: Represent individual work items, typically containing a brief description, estimated effort, and any relevant details.
  • WIP Limits: Defined maximum number of tasks allowed in each workflow stage.
Kanban Board at a Glance

Advantages of Kanban

Kanban stands out in Agile implementation due to its visual approach. The Kanban board, which is straightforward to comprehend and adopt, enhances work progression and reduces the time to complete a cycle.

Kanban is well-suited for projects with ongoing work, unpredictable task arrival, and a need for flexibility.

The benefits of Kanban are:

  • Increased Visibility: The Kanban board provides a clear visual representation of work progress, fostering transparency and communication.
  • Improved Focus: Limiting WIP helps teams focus on completing tasks before starting new ones, reducing context switching and improving efficiency.
  • Flexibility: Kanban is highly adaptable to changing priorities and can be easily scaled to fit the needs of different teams.
  • Gradual Improvement: Kanban encourages continuous improvement, enabling teams to make incremental changes that lead to significant results over time.

Disadvantages of Kanban

Several drawbacks of Kanban arise from incorrect usage or poor management of the Kanban board. A board that's not up-to-date or too complex can cause misunderstandings, mistakes, or communication issues.

The following highlights the drawbacks of Kanban:

  • Discipline: Kanban requires team discipline to adhere to WIP limits and continuously improve the process.
  • Maturity: Kanban works best with teams that understand their workflow well and can manage their workload effectively.
  • Metrics: While Kanban emphasizes flow, establishing metrics to track lead times and identify bottlenecks can further enhance its effectiveness.

Agile vs. Waterfall

The fundamental difference between these two project management methodologies lies in their approach to project execution. Waterfall follows a linear, sequential flow – each stage is completed before moving on to the next.

Imagine climbing a waterfall – you must conquer each tier in succession to reach the top. Agile, on the other hand, embraces an iterative and flexible approach. Think of scaling a mountain – you can adjust your path based on the terrain and weather conditions.

Agile vs. Waterfall

Agile or Waterfall?

The best methodology depends on your project's specific characteristics. Consider these factors when making your decision:

  • Project Requirements: Waterfall might be suitable if requirements are well-defined and unlikely to change. If requirements are expected to evolve, Agile's flexibility is advantageous.
  • Project Scope: Waterfall's structured approach can be effective for projects with a fixed scope. If the scope is likely to change, Agile's iterative nature allows for adjustments.
  • Project Timeline: Waterfall provides a clearer roadmap if a rigid deadline is essential. Agile can deliver working functionality faster through iterations, but overall project timelines may be less predictable.
  • Team Experience: Waterfall often requires well-defined roles and expertise. Agile thrives on self-organizing teams with strong communication and collaboration skills.
  • Customer Involvement: If close customer collaboration is desired throughout the project, Agile fosters this interaction. Waterfall limits customer involvement after the initial phases.

Scrum vs. Kanban

Agile project management methodologies offer a flexible and adaptable approach to project management, emphasizing collaboration, continuous improvement, and rapid value delivery.

However, within the Agile umbrella, two popular frameworks – Scrum and Kanban – take slightly different approaches. Choosing between them depends on your project's specific characteristics and team preferences.

Core Differences

  • Structure: Scrum provides a more structured framework with defined roles (Product Owner, Scrum Master, Developers), ceremonies (Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, Sprint Retrospective), and time-boxed iterations (Sprints). Kanban, on the other hand, is less structured. It focuses on visualizing workflow stages on a Kanban board and continuously optimizing flow.
  • Planning: Scrum involves upfront planning for each Sprint, defining the work items the team commits to deliver. Kanban is more flexible, allowing for ongoing task prioritization and addition as needed.
  • Change Management: Scrum works in fixed-length Sprints, so changes are typically introduced during the planning phase for the next Sprint. Kanban is more adaptable to change, allowing new tasks to be added to the board as needed.
  • Suitability: Scrum excels in projects with well-defined goals that can be broken down into deliverables within a set timeframe. Kanban is ideal for ongoing work with unpredictable task arrival or a need for continuous flow and delivery.
Scrum vs. Kanban

Scrum or Kanban?

Consider these factors when deciding between Scrum and Kanban for your project:

  • Project Predictability: If your project has clear goals and predictable task arrival, Scrum's structured approach can be beneficial. For unpredictable project environments, Kanban's flexibility is a better fit.
  • Team Preferences: Scrum requires a team that is comfortable with a structured framework and fixed-length Sprints. Kanban thrives with teams that value continuous flow and adaptation.
  • Project Scope: Scrum works well for projects with a defined scope that can be broken down into Sprints. Kanban is better suited for projects with an evolving scope or ongoing work streams.

Choosing the Right Methodology

Selecting the most suitable project management methodology is crucial in ensuring project success.

This section provides a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the strengths and weaknesses of various methodologies, ultimately leading you to the optimal choice for your specific project needs.

Comparison of Project Management Methodologies

The four primary project management methodologies we've explored – Waterfall, Scrum, Kanban, and their Agile umbrella – cater to diverse project landscapes. 

A Table Summarizing the Key Characteristics to Aid Initial Selection

Decision-Making Framework

Having explored the methodologies, here's a framework to guide you in selecting the best fit for your project:

Step 1: Analyze Your Project Characteristics

  • Project Requirements: How well-defined are your project requirements? Are they likely to change throughout the project lifecycle?
  • Project Scope: Is the scope well-defined and fixed, or is it likely to evolve as the project progresses?
  • Project Timeline: Is a rigid deadline essential, or is there more flexibility in terms of project duration?
  • Team Experience and Preferences: Does your team have experience with specific methodologies? What are their preferences regarding structure and flexibility?
  • Customer Involvement: How much customer involvement is desired throughout the project lifecycle?

Step 2: Align Project Needs with Methodology Strengths

  • Waterfall: A strong contender if your project has well-defined requirements, a fixed scope, and a predictable timeline. Consider Waterfall if your team thrives in a structured environment with clearly defined roles.
  • Scrum: An Agile methodology that shines when you have well-defined goals that can be broken down into deliverables within set timeframes (Sprints). Scrum is a good choice if your team is comfortable with a structured framework and fixed-length Sprints.
  • Kanban: An ideal choice for ongoing work with unpredictable task arrival or a need for continuous flow and delivery. Kanban is well-suited for teams that value continuous improvement and adaptation.

Step 3: Consider Hybrid Approaches

In some cases, a hybrid approach combining elements from different methodologies might be the most effective solution. For instance, you might leverage Scrum's Sprint planning for specific project phases while utilizing a Kanban board for ongoing maintenance tasks.

Adapting Methodologies for Hybrid Approaches

In today's dynamic project landscape, a single methodology might not always perfectly capture your project's unique needs. Hybrid approaches, combining elements from different methodologies, can offer the flexibility and structure required for success.

This section explores strategies for effectively adapting methodologies within a hybrid approach.

Core Considerations for Hybrid Approaches

  • Identify Synergies: Carefully analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each methodology you plan to combine. Look for complementary aspects that can create a well-rounded approach to your project.
  • Define the Blend: Determine which aspects of each methodology will be most beneficial for your project. Clearly define how these elements will be integrated and managed.
  • Establish Communication and Collaboration: A hybrid approach often involves teams familiar with different methodologies. Ensure clear communication and collaboration to bridge potential knowledge gaps and foster a unified approach.
  • Monitor and Adapt: The beauty of a hybrid approach lies in its flexibility. Regularly monitor your project's progress and be prepared to adapt the methodology blend as needed.

Adapting Scrum and Kanban for Hybrid Approaches

  • Scrumban: This popular hybrid blends Scrum's structured Sprint planning and ceremonies with Kanban's visual workflow management. Scrumban is ideal for projects with well-defined goals that require ongoing work alongside Sprint-based development cycles. Imagine a hybrid board with Sprint backlogs feeding into ongoing Kanban workflow columns.
  • Kanban with Sprint Planning: Here, you can leverage Scrum's Sprint planning process to define work items for a specific timeframe within an ongoing Kanban workflow. This approach is beneficial for projects with a mix of predictable and unpredictable tasks.

Adapting Waterfall for Hybrid Approaches

  • Waterfall with Agile Practices: While Waterfall thrives on a linear approach, you can integrate elements like daily stand-up meetings or user story creation to enhance communication and early feedback. This can be particularly useful for Waterfall projects with some degree of requirement uncertainty.
  • Phased Agile Delivery: This hybrid approach breaks down a large project into smaller phases, each potentially managed with a different Agile methodology like Scrum or Kanban. This is suitable for complex projects with well-defined phases but also requires iterative development within those phases.

Advantages of Hybrid Approaches

  • Increased Flexibility: Hybrid approaches allow you to adapt to changing project requirements or priorities while maintaining a structured framework.
  • Improved Efficiency: By combining strengths from different methodologies, you can optimize workflows and potentially streamline project execution.
  • Team Empowerment: Hybrid approaches can leverage the strengths of different methodologies, potentially empowering teams to work in a way that best suits their skills and preferences.

Disadvantages of Hybrid Approaches

  • Increased Complexity: Managing a blend of methodologies can be more complex than following a single approach. Clear communication and planning are crucial.
  • Potential for Conflict: If not carefully integrated, elements from different methodologies might conflict. Ensure a smooth workflow by defining clear processes for each methodology's application.
  • Team Buy-In: A successful hybrid approach requires team buy-in. Involve team members in discussions and ensure they understand the rationale behind the chosen approach.


The project management landscape offers a diverse toolkit of methodologies, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Throughout this blog, we've delved into the structured efficiency of Waterfall, the iterative adaptability of Agile (Scrum and Kanban), and the potential of hybrid approaches.

The optimal methodology selection depends on a thorough understanding of your project's unique characteristics. Consider factors like project size, complexity, level of change, team structure, and required control.

By carefully analyzing these aspects and aligning them with the strengths of each methodology, you can make an informed decision that sets your project on the path to success.

Remember, the chosen methodology is a guide, not a rigid constraint.

As your project progresses, revisit your initial decision and adapt the approach as needed. Embrace flexibility, foster open communication within your team, and leverage the power of continuous improvement.


What Is the Difference Between Agile, Scrum, Kanban and Waterfall?

Here's a concise explanation of the key differences between Agile (Scrum & Kanban) and Waterfall:

  • Structure: Waterfall is rigid and linear, with phases completed sequentially. Agile (Scrum & Kanban) is flexible and iterative, adapting to change.
  • Planning: Waterfall involves upfront planning for the entire project. Agile focuses on planning for shorter iterations (Sprints in Scrum). Kanban has ongoing task prioritization.
  • Change Management: It is difficult to make changes in Waterfall after the initial phases. Agile embraces change throughout the project lifecycle. Scrum introduces changes during Sprint planning, while Kanban is highly adaptable to new tasks.
  • Scope: Waterfall works best with a fixed scope. Scrum allows for some adaptation within Sprints. Kanban is ideal for evolving scopes.

Is Kanban the Same as Waterfall?

No, Kanban and Waterfall are fundamentally different project management methodologies.

Here's a quick breakdown of their key differences:

  • Structure: Kanban is flexible and visual, using a Kanban board to track workflow stages. Waterfall is rigid and sequential, with clearly defined phases.
  • Planning: Kanban emphasizes ongoing prioritization of tasks. Waterfall involves upfront planning for the entire project.
  • Change Management: Kanban readily adapts to new tasks as they arise. Waterfall makes changes difficult after the initial phases.
  • Scope: Kanban is well-suited for evolving scopes. Waterfall works best with a fixed scope.

Is Kanban Lean or Agile?

Kanban is considered an Agile methodology.

Both Agile and Lean are approaches to process improvement that emphasize efficiency and waste reduction.

However, they have slightly different origins and areas of focus:

  • Agile: Developed in the software development industry, Agile methodologies prioritize flexibility, iterative development, and customer involvement. Scrum and Kanban are two popular Agile frameworks.
  • Lean: Originating in manufacturing with the Toyota Production System (TPS), Lean focuses on eliminating waste, optimizing flow, and continuous improvement. Kanban shares some core principles with Lean, such as limiting work in progress (WIP) and visualizing workflow.

So, Kanban incorporates elements of Lean thinking within an Agile framework. It leverages the visualization and flow optimization aspects of Lean while embracing the iterative and adaptable nature of Agile.

This makes Kanban a well-suited approach for projects requiring both continuous improvement and the ability to adapt to change.

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Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Scrum vs. Kanban: What’s the Difference?
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Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Scrum vs. Kanban: What’s the Difference?
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Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Scrum vs. Kanban: What’s the Difference?
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