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Traditional vs Agile Project Management – Which One Fits You?


Over the course of several years, different project management methodologies and frameworks have been developed for different business cases. In project management, it is crucial to understand your budget, scope of the project, and team dynamics and pick the right methodology to ensure that your projects are heading in the right direction.

traditional vs agile approach

When it comes to implementing an effective project management style, the two major categories professionals often feel conflicted about are the Agile and traditional project management. The ‘Traditional vs Agile project management’ debate is not a recent one and both approaches come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Both these frameworks come with their own set of principles, processes, and best practices. What you choose entirely depends on your project and your team’s needs.
Let’s take a detailed look at both of these and see how to find the one that suits your style best.

What’s the difference between Traditional (Waterfall) and Agile Project Management?

traditional vs agile project management

In traditional project management, projects are clearly defined beforehand and it focuses on having formal processes and extensive documentation, with minimum customer involvement.

On the other hand, in the agile methodology, projects are divided into smaller tasks with an interactive input system of continuous delivery and feedback to keep the customer involved in the whole process.

Introduction to Traditional Project Management Methodology

Traditional project management (Waterfall Methodology) is a linear approach where processes occur in a predictable sequence. In this approach, the project follows a preplanned set of stages and assumes that the requirements remain fixed while the budget and project timeline can be changed. This approach is more suitable for projects where the possibility of changes in the scope is negligible.

The office of the Project Manager holds all the responsibility of the project and is accountable for the results. Apart from the project planning process, even the customers have no say during the project’s implementation phase. Similarly, in case of any problems, team members are supposed to escalate the issue to their manager who has the final say.

Since traditional project management heavily relies on proper planning and analysis in the development phase, the resulting development process is quite streamlined. This allows the project manager to focus on different tasks since the project team works without minimum guidance unless an issue is raised.

Project managers use the techniques and tools defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI), a global body for project management professionals that develops standards and frameworks.

Benefits of Traditional Project Management Methodology

Using a sequential approach with pre-planned steps has several benefits for an organization.

Clear Direction

Since everything is pre-planned, every single member of the team knows their responsibilities and the project requirements. This allows them to work efficiently and with minimum supervision.


High level of Control

The office of the project manager holds almost all the power in a traditional setup and even the most trivial change has to be approved by the manager. This prevents deviations from the original project scope.

Single point of Accountability

Since the project managers hold all the power, they will naturally be accountable for the success or failure of the project. Instead of contacting several people, Stakeholders always know who to approach during the project in order to get all the necessary updates.

Clear Documentation

Proper documentation is actually a cornerstone of the traditional project management methodology. The documents not only standardize the whole process but also can be used for guidance during other projects in the future.

Introduction to Agile Project Management Methodology

Agile project management (APM), a fairly recent and flexible approach to project management, is the talk of the town nowadays. According to the pulse of the profession 2017 survey, 71% of organizations used an agile approach for their projects and one of the main reasons behind this is the adaptability of Agile.

It is an iterative approach to project management that primarily focuses on customer feedback, flexibility and effective collaboration between team members. Agile allows project teams to be more flexible and ensure that the final product is according to the customer’s standards.

The agile framework divides the project into smaller time-boxed sprints that commonly last for 2 weeks. These sprints assist project teams in flexibly dealing with changes and developments. Since customer collaboration is an extremely important element of the APM framework, that’s why regular updates are sent to customers and their feedback is immediately taken on board.

Advantages of using the Agile Methodology

There are a number of reasons why project management professionals prefer Agile methodology to traditional frameworks.

Some of them are discussed below:

Enhanced Flexibility

When Agile and Traditional project management are compared, Agile is ‘hands down’ more flexible. Since the entire project is divided into smaller sprints, introducing changes midway gets extremely easy.


Contrary to the traditional approach, the whole team knows about the progress of the project in Agile. In this approach, the whole team decides the plan together and shares the ownership of the project which improves project transparency. Similarly, customers are also involved throughout the project and their feedback is taken into account for an acceptable final product.

Effective Collaboration

All Agile methodologies encourage teams to share information on a regular basis. There is no compartmentalization of information and every single member’s opinion is considered without regard to the position they hold in the company.

For example, in the case of Scrum project management, the most popular Agile methodology, teams have daily ‘stand-up’ meetings and sprint planning where the team discusses their progress, problems, and plans for the day.


Efficient Problem Solving

Since Agile follows an ‘all hands on deck’ approach; the process of solving problems becomes easier and more efficient. Team members also have the autonomy to make trivial changes without getting approval from the project manager which saves a lot of time and stimulates progress.

Reduced Complexities

Popular Agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban methodology require the division of the entire project into much smaller and achievable tasks. This allows the continuous development of the project while ensuring quality.

In the case of the traditional approach, sudden changes or problems sometimes take the team back to ‘square one’.This results in the wastage of both time and money. In 2017 alone, the U.S government lost about $32 billion in failed IT projects due to this reason.

Hybrid Methodology: Combining Agile and Traditional

Hybrid project management is the practice of blending both agile and traditional methodology together in order to create a custom method. This helps teams to use their full potential and plan before starting a project. There are several factors that can influence the performance of a project management approach in an organization.

For example, Agile is proven to be ineffective in traditional organizations where the management is reluctant to let go of control and allow team members to make a decision. However, modern software development teams prefer Agile methodology.

KPMG states that by 2020, Agile projects will outnumber traditional projects in all sectors of Belgium and the Netherlands.

Here’s a handy chart that will help you pick the right Project Management Methodology.

Determining Factor High Low
Initial requirements and regulations Waterfall Agile
Involvement of the product owner Agile Waterfall
Novelty of the project Agile Waterfall
Adherence to the existing organizational structure Waterfall Agile
Flexibility of the timeline Agile Waterfall
Flexibility of the budget Agile Waterfall

What’s right for you?

The Agile framework is more aligned with the ever-changing requirements of the modern industrial environment. However, there are certain instances where the traditional approach can be a better choice.

Consider factors like the nature of your project, existing organizational processes, budget, and the project timeline. There are many project management tools available that can implement any of the methodologies mentioned above. By picking the right framework even before you begin your projects sets you up for success, right from the start.