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Introduction to Agile Scrum

Agile development is a common umbrella term used for today’s highly iterative and incremental approaches to software development.  The term was first used in 2001 when the Agile Manifesto was published as a unifying charter by many of the leading visionaries in the software field at the time who were fed up with traditional approaches to software development.  Unlike traditional software development practices, agile development methodologies such as Scrum, Extreme Programming, Dynamic System Development Method (DSDM), Lean Development, Feature-Driven Development (FDD), Crystal, Adaptive Software Development (ASD), and others incorporate close, cross-functional collaboration and frequent planning and feedback as fundamental tenets inherent to the evolution of a software system​.

There are a number of competing project management methodologies and philosophies in the modern business world. We’ve taken a comprehensive, in-depth look at four of the most popular project management methodologies: Agile, Waterfall, Scrum, and Kanban. For a full look at the competing strategies, we encourage you to read the full post.

Although there are plenty of ways to approach the nuts and bolts of project management, there are two primary overarching philosophies: Agile and Waterfall. Let’s take a closer look at these two philosophies, what they mean, and which is right for your team.

What is Waterfall project management?

Waterfall is perhaps more accurately described as the “traditional” philosophy of project management. It refers to a system with a very linear progression: all of phase 1 is completed, checked, and signed off on before the team moves on to phase 2, phase 3, and so on.

The Waterfall system’s primary benefit is that it’s well disciplined and familiar to both managers and employees. Waterfall philosophy has defined start and end dates, and mandates comprehensive documentation that is easy to track. Stakeholders get a chance to see progress at the end of every phase.

Waterfall is not without drawbacks, however. Its linear-minded progression makes it difficult to accommodate changes mid-project. Plus, the rigid nature usually means that there isn’t a complete, working version of the project until the last few phases. Compare a Waterfall project with the building of a car. Phase 1 might be designing blueprints, phase 2 building out a life-sized model, and phase 3 building out a final working vehicle. While each phase may work without a problem, you won’t have a driveable car until much further down the line.

What is Agile project management?

Compared with Waterfall, Agile is exactly what it sounds like: more agile and responsive. Agile development is characterized by a series of iterative “sprints,” each of which is like a mini project unto itself. The objective of an Agile project is to quickly produce an extremely rough version of the final goal and to refine it over time. It was first defined in the Agile Manifesto, published in 2001.

If you’re building a car using the Agile process, you might first build a complete engine, then a chassis and wheels, then the interior, and finally a working car. Both the Waterfall and Agile projects arrive at the same end goal, but the Agile method produces something that you can use and evaluate every step of the way.

Because Agile development revolves around these sprints and is highly iterative, it handles changes in requirements and feedback extremely well. Agile philosophy accommodates projects with unclear or changing end goals, and produces results very quickly.

The downside to Agile project management is that documentation and tracking can be very light, plans are often less concrete, finish dates aren’t known until very close to the end of the project, and it requires a fully dedicated and self-disciplined team of employees.

Should your team use Agile or Waterfall?

While Agile is most closely associated with software development — automobile designers don’t often start with an engine — it’s still widely applicable as a project management philosophy. Agile project management for a marketing team, for instance, might look something like this

  • Define a vision for your product, client, or team.

  • Create a roadmap with a holistic view of where your plan needs to go.

  • Continue refining the roadmap, developing individual facets of it one by one.

  • Review each sprint when you’re finished, and retarget for the next iteration.

The defining quality of an Agile project isn’t the code; it’s the constant iteration in sprints. This can be applied to nearly anything, from product development and finance to architecture — or even your family. So when should your team adopt an Agile philosophy?

The primary benefit of an Agile philosophy is how well it handles uncertainty and changing or unclear requirements. Consider adopting an Agile framework if you expect the project’s end goals to change, or if you don’t know exactly where they’ll be at the beginning. Constantly iterating means that you can quickly and reliably adapt.

Waterfall, in contrast, is best suited for projects with clearly defined end goals, especially ones where you don’t expect requirements or final goals to change. If you or your client knows exactly what the desired end product is in advance, a Waterfall style will work well. Waterfall is also very effective on shorter and simpler projects that you and your team have done before, like writing a newsletter.

Project management is a complex business, and this is barely scratching the surface. There are also differing methodologies within the overarching umbrella of Agile philosophy, such as Scrum and Kanban. You can find a more in-depth look at Waterfall, Agile, Scrum, and Kanban in our full comparison.

The intention of Agile is to align development with business needs, and the success of Agile is apparent. Agile projects are customer focused and encourage customer guidance and participation. As a result, Agile has grown to be an overarching view of software development throughout the software industry and an industry all by itself.


Smartsheet is a spreadsheet-inspired task and project management tool with powerful collaboration and communication features that are crucial for Agile project management. You can make real-time updates and alert your team about the new changes, and share your plan with internal and external stakeholders to increase transparency and keep everyone on the same page.

Since Smartsheet is cloud-based you can track project requirements, access documents, create timelines, and send alerts from virtually anywhere. Choose from broad range of smart views – Grid, Calendar, Gantt, Dashboards – to manage projects the way you want. Plus, with our newest view, Card View, teams have a more visual way to work, communicate, and collaborate in Smartsheet. Card View enables you to focus attention with rich cards, give perspective with flexible views, and prioritize and adjust work more visually. Act on tasks and change status of work by dragging and dropping cards through lanes to immediately share decisions with the entire team.

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