Waterfall and Agile Methodologies: What are They and When to Use Them

Posted Nov 9th, 2020


As the testing industry has grown since its conception, different transformations of testing best practices have occurred. One of those transformations is the transformation from manual to automated testing. While manual testing still has its use cases, moving to automated testing has made testing more efficient and is typically considered the best practice for development and testing. Manual and automated testing practices also lend themselves to different kinds of methodologies The two main kinds of overall testing methodologies are the agile methodology and the waterfall methodology. With this motion from manual to automated testing, moving from waterfall testing structures to agile testing structures has also been considered a better practice for more efficient and continuous testing.

What is the Waterfall Methodology?

The waterfall methodology is one of the original methodologies of testing. It is also known as the Linear Sequential Life Cycle Model. It is a project development methodology that runs in sequential order. Each section of the applications tests are tested until they are successful, then the testers move onto the next phase. 

What is the Agile Methodology?

Agile Methodology is a practice that helps continuous iteration of development and testing in the software development process. The development and the testing of the actual application are done concurrently in this model, which allows for greater communication between customers, developers, managers, and testers.

Agile vs Waterfall

Strengths and Weaknesses

There are strengths and weaknesses of each testing methodology, while Agile is considered more up to date, there are still situations where Waterfall could be the best option.

Strengths of Waterfall

For example, Waterfall methodology is one of the easiest models to manage and allows teams to have specific deliverables and review processes. It also is a good starting point for teams who are trying to get started in testing organizations. This also allows for faster delivery and is easily adaptable for shifting teams.

Strengths of Agile

The strengths of the Agile methodology is that it is a focused client process. Agile teams are typically considered motivated and self-organized so it will usually provide a better result from the development projects. The Agile software development assures that quality of the development is maintained. It is also completely based on the incremental progress so team members know exactly what is completed and what is not which limits the risk in the development process. 

Limitations of Agile and Waterfall

While there are the different benefits of each methodology, there are also limitations for both as well.

Limitations of Waterfall

The limitations for the waterfall model are around the inability for it to scale up for larger projects or teams, the lack of flexibility in making changes throughout the process, and the requirements not being clear from the beginning. All of these aspects set up the Waterfall methodology to also have the issue of finding issues later in the pipeline which causes issues to be expensive to fix. 

Limitations of Agile

On the flip side, there are limitations for agile as well. The Agile methodology is not very useful for small teams and can be difficult for beginners as there typically needs to be an expert at the process for making decisions. Agile can also be expensive and the project can get off track if the project manager is not clear with expectation setting. 

When to Use Waterfall or Agile

While most test automation experts would say that the agile methodology is the best option for companies to adopt, there can be a time and place for waterfall methodology as companies begin to scale and grow. What is important to note when thinking about these methodologies is that different experience levels and company or team size make a difference in which methodology is best.

Written by

Abigail Kurtzman


Agile DevelopmentAutomated testing