Traditional vs Agile Project Management Method: Which One is Right for Your Project?

Traditional vs agile project management

In recent years, agile has taken the world of project management and software development by storm. Everyone seems to be talking about this project management methodology. The business world is changing rapidly, and that’s why businesses are looking for processes, approaches, and methods that could help them run a business without any glitches.

While there are tens of different project management approaches, the final choice should be made keeping the nature of the business and its requirements in mind. Out of all the methods, traditional (Waterfall) and agile methodologies are often pitted against each other.

If you’d like to know how both approaches differ from each other and which one should you choose for your next project, you’ve come to the right place. Mentioned below is the detailed differentiation of both project management approaches.

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Let’s move forward and check them out:

What is traditional project management?

Traditional project management

Traditional project management is an established methodology where projects are run in a sequential cycle: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closure. The traditional project management approach emphasizes linear processes, documentation, upfront planning, and prioritization. As per the conventional method, time and budget are variable, and requirements are fixed, due to which it often faces budget and timeline issues. The standard methodology PMBOK® defines tools and techniques that project managers follow for every step.

Interestingly, it also includes other methodologies such as PRINCE2, followed by various organizations under the UK government and private companies like Vodafone, Siemens, and others. It is also called the Waterfall model.

Benefits of traditional methodology

Clearly defined objectives

As everything is planned in traditional project management, it provides a clear and well-defined project scope. Detailed planning helps identify and document project requirements, milestones, and deliverables, leaving little room for ambiguity. Additionally, the linear nature of traditional project management allows for better predictability in terms of timelines and project costs. 

Ultimate control

The structured phasic approach of traditional project management provides better control over the project. Each phase has specific processes and checkpoints to ensure projects do not deviate from the original course. It allows stakeholders to anticipate outcomes and gives project managers the tools to maintain order and manage risks effectively throughout the project lifecycle.

Detailed documentation

Traditional project management encourages a lot of documentation. The project plan, requirements, design specs, and everything must be noted in detail. By putting everything in writing, the team gets a clear set of instructions. Everyone knows what needs to be done, how to do it, and when it should be finished. It helps avoid confusion and ensures the project doesn’t deviate from the predicted timeline.  

More accountability

In traditional project management, roles and responsibilities are typically well-defined from the beginning. With detailed milestones and deliverables laid out at the start, holding individuals and teams accountable for their contributions becomes easier. Each team member knows what is expected of them, and there is clarity about who is responsible for which tasks. This clear delineation of roles contributes to better accountability.

Also Read: Kanban vs Scrum: Which One Is the Better Approach to Use in 2019?

What is Agile project management?

agile project management

While Agile is a general approach used for software development, it relies heavily on teamwork, collaboration, timeboxing tasks, and the flexibility to respond to change as quickly as possible.

The agile manifesto has four essential values:

  1. More focus on individuals and interactions than processes and tools
  2. Working software is more important than comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration is more vital than negotiation
  4. The process should respond to change rather than blindly following a plan

Benefits of Agile project management


Agile is designed to be adaptive and flexible to changes. Modern markets are volatile. Customer demands change more often. Agile project management’s short and iterative nature allows teams to respond to the change quickly. Instead of resisting changes to project requirements, agile teams incorporate them into their workflow, fostering a more responsive and adaptive project environment.

Reduced risk

In Agile, the project is divided into small parts called “Sprints.” After each Sprint, you get to see a part of the project. If there’s anything you want to tweak or change, it’s easier and less risky to do it at this stage. Agile reduces the risk of investing time and money in a project that might not turn out as expected. It does this by allowing frequent check-ins, quick adjustments, and continual development, ensuring the end product aligns closely with your vision and customers’ needs. 

Continuous delivery

Continuous delivery is a fundamental aspect of Agile project management. After each Sprint, a working and usable portion of the project is delivered to the customer. This iterative approach ensures that there is regular and consistent progress throughout the project timeline. With continuous delivery, functionalities are developed and showcased incrementally, allowing stakeholders to witness tangible results at the end of each iteration. This not only provides transparency but also facilitates the adaptation of changes and improvements as the project evolves.

Higher customer satisfaction

Agile focuses on customer collaboration and feedback. The iterative and incremental nature of Agile projects keeps customers actively involved throughout the development process. Regular feedback loops allow customers to offer insights, suggestions, and changes at various stages of the project. This continuous involvement ensures that the final product aligns closely with the customer’s vision and expectations. As a result, the customer is more satisfied with the end product, leading to a positive overall project experience.

Agile follows an iterative process where projects are divided into sprints of a shorter span. Unlike the traditional approach, less time is spent on upfront planning and prioritization as agile is more flexible in changes and specifications developments.

Difference between traditional and agile project methodology

The table down below shows the major differences between the traditional and agile project methodology.

CharacteristicsAgile approachTraditional approach
Organizational structureIterativeLinear
Scale of projectsSmall and medium scaleLarge-scale
User requirementsInteractive inputClearly defined before implementation
Involvement of clientsHighLow
Development modelEvolutionary deliveryLife cycle
Customer involvementCustomers are involved from the time work is being performedCustomers get involved early in the project but not once the execution has started
Escalation managementWhen problems occur, the entire team works together to resolve itEscalation to managers when problem arise
Model preferenceAgile model favors adaptionTraditional model favors anticipation
Product or processLess focus on formal and directive processesMore serious about processes than the product
Test documentationTests are planned one sprint at a timeComprehensive test planning
Effort estimationScrum master facilitates and the team does the estimationProject manager provides estimates and gets approval from PO for the entire project
Reviews and approvalsReviews are done after each iterationExcessive reviews and approvals by leaders

Why is Agile preferred not traditional PM approach

Many developers and project managers prefer to use the agile methodology for a variety of reasons. Some of them are discussed below:

  • More flexibility

When it comes to making changes in the product or a process, agile methodology is much more flexible than the waterfall methodology. While working, if team members feel that there is a need to experiment and try something different than planned, the agile methodology easily allows them to do so. The best thing about this methodology is that it focuses more on the product than following a rigid structure.

Unlike the traditional approach, agile methodology isn’t linear or follows a top-down approach. This way, all the last-minute changes can be accommodated without affecting the result and disrupting the project schedule.

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  • More Transparency

In agile methodology, everything is out there and transparent. The clients and decision-makers are actively involved in the initiation, planning, review, and testing. Whereas in the traditional approach, the project manager holds the reins of the project, thus others don’t get to make the major decisions.

The agile methodology facilitates team members to view the progress right from the start to the end. This level of transparency plays a significant role to constitute a healthy work environment.

  • Ownership and accountability

One of the striking differences in both project management approaches is the level of ownership and accountability that each provides to team members. In traditional project management, a project manager is the person of the ship, which means that the entire ownership belongs to them. Customers are also involved during the planning phase, but their involvement ends there as soon as the execution starts.

In the agile methodology, every team member shares ownership of the project. Each one of them plays an active role to complete the sprint within the estimated time. Unlike traditional project management, everyone involved in the project can easily see the progress from the beginning to the end.

  • Constructive feedback

In the traditional approach, every single process is clearly defined and planned from the beginning of the project. The project has to be completed within the estimated time and budget. So, any big change or feedback that might push the deadline is skipped. At the same time, agile management allows constant feedback that helps provide better output.

Due to high acceptance for feedback in agile methodology, it has become the first choice for many project managers and software developers. They can respond to customer requests as customers get to validate each iteration to deliver a high-quality product or service within the delivery time.

  • Project completion

Traditional project management methodology is majorly used for small or less complex projects owing to its linear nature. As discussed earlier, this methodology isn’t a fan of sudden changes and avoids them strictly as it would take the team back to square one.

Agile could be your best bet in terms of managing big and complex projects. Whether your project has multiple interconnected phases or one stage is dependent on many others, choose agile as it is a better fit for complex projects.

How to choose between Agile project management vs traditional project management?

In reality, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ methodology suitable for every project or organization. The choice to implement a method primarily depends on factors such as the nature of the project, size, resources involved, among others.

Most of the time, intelligent project managers decide which methodology to adopt during the beginning or initiation of the project. 

He takes the final call in agreement with other project sponsors and people involved in the project planning process. Mentioned below are some factors you can take into consideration while choosing a suitable methodology for your project.

  • Take a look at the project requirements. Are the requirements clear? If project requirements are unclear or tend to change, choose the agile methodology. And, the traditional method fits best in a situation where the conditions are clearly defined and well understood from the first go.
  • Consider the technology involved in the project. The traditional project management methodology is more appropriate if no new technology or tools are applied. Agile methods allow more space for experimentation with the latest technology as it is more flexible than the traditional approach.
  • Is the project prone to unwanted risks and threats? Considering the rigid nature of the traditional methodology, it’s not advisable to go with this methodology. However, risks can be addressed sooner in the agile approach, and it seems like a better option in terms of risk management.
  • Another critical factor is the availability of resources. The traditional approach works best with significant and complex teams and projects. Whereas an agile team usually consists of a limited number of experienced team members.
  • The criticality of an end product depends a lot on the nature of the chosen project management methodology. As the traditional method involves documentation, it is very much suitable for critical products compared to the agile project management methodology.

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In this tussle between the traditional project and agile project management, the latter turns out to be a clear winner. When you involve developers and customers in essential processes, the result for the clients and working experience for everyone involved is much more rewarding than implementing the traditional approach to project management.

Other benefits include high quality, productivity, better business value, lower costs, and quicker time-to-market speeds. Moreover, considering the dynamic nature of businesses these days, where changes happen every moment, sticking to agile methodology will be a better option for companies.

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