Agile vs Scrum vs Kanban vs Lean vs Waterfall – which approach is right for you?

Hi, welcome to another episode of Family Feud. I am Steve Harvey, and let’s get this going.

We asked 100 people, “what is your favorite approach in project management?”

Agile – It’s on the list!

Scrum – Again, it’s on the list!

Kanban – ding!

Lean – You have one more to go!

Waterfall – Bravo, you did a great job!

agile vs waterfall vs scrum

You seem like you know all of them, but do you know which one to choose?

Or what are the differences between Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Scrum?

Don’t worry.

I am Steve Harvey, and I got your back.

In all seriousness, I am not Steve Harvey. I am just a writer who roleplays as Steve Harvey.

What do All These Names Mean?

To start with the basics, we can define what they mean collectively. These five are the most used models in any project management process, especially in software development. They tell you how to use your time, whether or not there will be roles, when to correct your mistakes, etc.

Now, it is high time we talked about them and showed the pros and cons.

Waterfall Approach

Waterfall Approach – or model, if you will – is a development model that works in sequences. You define every stage of the development, and you can’t pass to the next stage of development without accomplishing the one before. Founded by Winston Royce in 1970, each phase of this method has been specifically designed for a task.

what is waterfall approach

Phases of Waterfall Approach

Do you wonder about the stages? Naturally! So let’s learn them.

  • Gathering Phase: It is the phase that you get the required details or set them.
  • Design Phase: Where you choose the programming language, the database you will use, and project great technical details.
  • Building Phase: You just simply code, lots of coding.
  • Test Phase: You, now, show this program to the people who will use it and see if that meets the needs.
  • Deployment Phase: Launch the program in the asked environment.
  • Maintenance Phase: According to your customer’s needs or the audience, you make changes to the program and make it better.

These are the six stages of the Waterfall Approach. Pretty straightforward, right?

Who can Use This Method Effectively?

With this method of development, you can work on a project that requires little to nothing extra. If your environment is stable, all the requirements are set and done, the project is short, and everyone knows what they are doing, this is your option to go.

Pros and Cons of the Waterfall Method

What makes the Waterfall Method one of the most used ones? It has to have advantages to it, of course. These are;

  • Linearity. Every phase has to be completed in this method, so you don’t face problems later.
  • Suitable for small projects. If your project will not take too much time, this method works best.
  • Verification and Validation. Before each phase, you run a quality test.
  • Elaborate Documentation. This way, you keep track of all the stages.
  • Minimum client intervention. The projects you carry heavily rely on your team.
  • All the necessary changes are done in the stage of development—no nasty surprises after launching.

Then, why do people choose other options? That’s why;

  • No extra time to fix errors. You have to fix errors while developing.
  • No room for change. If your requirements change frequently, you can’t carry a project with this method.
  • Time of the testing. The testing phase is relatively late in the process of development.
  • Documentation takes too much time. Your developers and employees have to spend some time on documentation.
  • Little to no client feedback. A client’s insights might be useful, but in this method, you are alone.
  • After errors. They can cause too much trouble for your project.

So, this is the Waterfall Method explained. Now let’s hop on to the next one.

Agile Approach

Essentially, the Agile Approach dictates that you have to work incrementally. This happens in sprint planning cycles. After you finish the first cycle, you test the project and then optionally deploy it if everything is according to the needs.

agile development

Who Should Use the Agile Method?

If you work in an environment that is prone to change or want to bring new ideas to your project whenever it comes to your mind, the Agile Method is the right choice for you. It gives you the freedom that might be invaluable for you.

Pros and Cons of the Agile Method

If you ever are to use this method in your next project – or your current one, that’s up to you – you have to know the pros and cons of this method.

First off, we can start with the pros. They are;

  • Customer Satisfaction. Since you are constantly coming up with an “end result,” your customers will see the improvement.
  • People-centered. The main motivation of this method is the people who are carrying the project instead of tools and other processes.
  • Frequency. You can see the working software in a short period of time.
  • Adaptation. Even if the circumstances change, you can easily adapt to them.
  • Communication. People and customers can interact with each other instantly.
  • Room for changes. Even after you deploy the project, you can easily make changes.

Nothing is perfect, nor this method. So, here comes the cons;

  • Assessment of the labor. If you are working on a rather large project, there is a chance that you can not assess the time and effort a cycle needs.
  • Less emphasis on documentation and design. This can hinder tracking what has been done on the project.
  • Customers. If they are not clear and don’t know what to do, the project might end up something else.
  • Experience and sources. Some decisions have to be taken by senior programmers. Otherwise, you will need sources for newbies.

As you can see, the Agile Method is for those who love freedom, communication and are restless. This method comes in handy if you have a team like that.

Kanban Approach

Kanban Approach…  It Sounds Japanese, doesn’t it? Because it is Japanese for “a card you can see.” It has been used since the 40s when Toyota first used it. In this method, you visualize your work in cards or stickers. This way, you aim to maximize efficiency and improve continuously.

Among these five, the Kanban Method stands out with its principles. Now, it is time to see them.

The Principles of Kanban Method

There are six principles of the Kanban Method in total. They can be listed under two groups. The first group of principles is called change management. The principles of this group are;

  • Start with what you regularly do. The Kanban Method offers you flexibility. So, you can implement the Kanban Method to your existing workflow, and after a time, you can solve the important issues.
  • Incremental change. This method likes changes that somewhat resemble evolution, i.e., there are no significant changes over one night. You have to work your way through there slowly.
  • Leadership at all levels. This way, people can learn from others’ insights and work better.

The second group of principles is called service delivery. It consists of the following;

  • Listen to your customer. Focusing on your customer’s needs and expectations should be your main aim. This way, your product can attract the attention of customers.
  • Managing the work. Thanks to this principle, you can really focus on what is going on without the interruption from minor noises.
  • Improve. After you deploy the project, you have to keep an eye on the reviews and complaints. You should maintain the quality of the project.

Who Should Use the Kanban Method?

Workflow might be the most important thing in the Kanban Method. You can implement this method into your workflow if you want it. Also, as long as you are willing to work continuously, you can use Kanban. Finally, it is the best choice for you if you and your team do not desire to spend too much time on the meetings.

Pros and Cons of the Kanban Method

Now, let’s see what made a method that originated in the 40s age like a fine wine.

  • Flexible. Kanban does not limit the phases of development. So, you have time and room to do your job at your finest.
  • Continuity. With Kanban, you deliver small portions of the project continuously. So, this makes room for adjusting to the changes.
  • Efficient. You focus on the key aspects of the project, and you work on the important details—no waste of time.
  • Low response time. Your team can just rearrange the notes when a phase is finished. This way, your employees can work on the next thing instantly.

Okay, it is time to see what made Kanban age like milk.

  • Dependency. Kanban requires other frameworks to be used properly. An autonomous connection is not possible.
  • Dynamicity. Kanban still assumes that there are certain stable points. If your environment is highly dynamic, that is a problem.
  • Iterations. They are not inside the Kanban process; you have to deal with them separately.
  • Timing. No definition of timing can be a problem for some people.

It is one of the oldest ways to carry out a project. But, old does not mean useless. Endurance to time is one of the proofs that the Kanban Method still works. However, you should watch out for the disadvantages that might ruin your work.

Lean Approach

Lean is an approach that centers around the mentality and set of tools trying to minimize waste by adding customer-defined value to the product. Therefore, it can be defined as a minimalist approach to project management.

what is lean approach

This approach also defines 8 types of waste.

These are;

  • Motion: Needless motion of employees and equipment.
  • Transportation: Transportation of unrequired items to the location.
  • Waiting: Time wasted while waiting for necessary things to come.
  • Overproduction: Producing more than what is needed.
  • Defects: Faulty products that require sources to correct
  • Inventory: Storing more information or fullness of the inventory due to miscommunication.
  • Unrecognized talent: Not understanding how talented your employees are
  • Extra processing: Not required or non-valuable activity.

The Lean Method, essentially, tries to eliminate this waste.

Who Should Use the Lean Method?

If you are a small team that aspires to be more effective than you might initially seem, the Lean Method might be right for you. Also, it is a great methodology for short-term projects.

Pros and Cons of the Lean Method

The Lean Method has some features that will make you lean on it – sorry, I had to. These are;

  • Eliminating waste. As stated above, this method’s primary focus is on how to eliminate waste.
  • Satisfy your employees. Since you have to include your employees in the waste management processes, your employees will appreciate you.
  • Just in time. Purchase and bring the materials just when you need them.
  • Competitive Advantage. The places or the money you are now saving can be used for other projects.

There should be cons, as everything has at least one downside. These are;

  • Overusing. If you are to over-apply this method, you can face new inefficiencies.
  • Just in time. This can be your curse, too. You have little room for errors. In case of a time management issue, you fail badly.
  • Employee dissatisfaction. Again, in the case of over-applying, your employees might start to get frustrated with how you economize everything.

The Lean Method comes clean. No room for waste, lots of room for improvement. However, it is a method that has to be applied carefully. Otherwise, the consequences will be harsh.

Scrum Approach

Finally, we have the Scrum Method. Think of Scrum as an improvement on the Agile Method. Most of the Agile principles are also valid on this method. However, Scrum is more planned and has roles that guide the way a project goes. 

These roles are;

  • Product Owner (PO): Represents the customers and the stakeholders, focuses on business parts and return-on-investment.
  • Scrum Master: Guides team to comply with the criteria of the scrum, works with PO to maximize ROI.
  • Team: A group of professionals that carry out the project.

Since this method is so similar to Agile, showing only the different pros and cons would be sufficient.

Meetings are the first thing to point out. At the end of every day, there are meetings held. These meetings can be helpful for other roles to see what is going on with the project. However, in the long run, they can be annoying.

The second thing is the involvement of the customers. Getting immediate feedback from PO can be quite insightful. On the other hand, if they are not cooperative, the project might take lots of time to complete.

Scrum vs. Waterfall is a comparison that generally takes place everywhere. The Scrum Method is adapted to modern times and the hustle and bustle of life. Roles and meetings also provide a great advantage, as well as they can be detrimental.

Finally, you know what your answers mean. Steve Harvey would be proud. All you have to do now is elaborate on your circumstances and find the best one that will suit your expertise level, size of the team, and sources.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is Lean and Agile the same?

No, Lean and Agile are not the same. Lean focuses on the fact that we should minimize waste, whereas Agile’s primary focus is to develop incrementally.


Is Scrum Agile or Waterfall?

Scrum is an improvement of the Agile Method. Unlike Agile, Scrum has roles, meetings, and customer representation.


Is Kanban Agile or Lean?

Kanban is considered as a way of Lean. What they have in common is that both point out the importance of workflow and efficiency.

agile vs scrum kanban lean waterfall approach

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agile vs scrum kanban lean waterfall approach

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Serhat Erdem

Serhat is the Creative Content Writer of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that 2000+ companies trust in their user onboarding.

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