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Agile vs. waterfall

When a company is about to embark on an important project, one of the first decisions it needs to make is which model is the most appropriate to manage the project. In other words: which project or development methodology is most suitable? The two most commonly used approaches are: agile and waterfall.


The first thing to keep in mind is that both methodologies represent two different approaches in the management and development of the project. Agile is more collaborative and change-focused as it is based on a philosophy that entails a different way of looking at the organization and way of working; while waterfall is much more sequential, controlled, and strict, with much more emphasis on the beginning part of the project and its planning.

Both approaches can be used in a wide variety of projects, although the flexibility of the agile approach ends up being essential for companies that are forced to adapt to an ever-changing environment. This also results in a competitive advantage compared to projects that are deployed using traditional, waterfall methodologies.

Adaptive capacity

In the “cascade” or waterfall approach, the project phases – requirements capture, design, development, testing, bug fixes, and go-live – are treated as clearly defined, separate phases. Each preceding phase must end for the next phase to start. This results in a lengthy process where a long time elapses before the customers receive any output, leaving very little margin for improvement or for solving problems that may arise. Hence, in many cases the project delivers a final product that is not exactly what the customer needs.

On the contrary, the agile approach implies continuous improvement because it promotes the delivery of early and regular value to the customer from the onset of the project. The final goal aims to deliver value to internal and external customers from day one. To this end, customer feedback is requested after each deliverable, so the product/service can be adapted as necessary and as changes may arise.

Agile advantages

Teams of individuals are the epicenter of all agile transformations. Their importance is vital because they have to work in parallel, providing deliverables in short time windows.

The success of an agile approach can boast four main benefits: quality improvement, minimizing errors; greater engagement with the work to be done; an early assessment of the output, because reaction and decision-making times are reduced; and it increases team productivity, better allocating resources.

Prior to the advent of agile, when companies embarked on new projects, they followed a linear – or waterfall – process which suffered both poor productivity and an extended time period before seeing results, giving the organization little flexibility and effectiveness.

In the agile approach to project management scrum teams and, consequently, the scrum master are essential in order for goals to become a reality.

Agile methodologies were first used by companies dedicated to software development, but they have gradually broadened their reach to all industries, especially those that who have a strong technical or digital slant. This is the context where BBVA finds itself. The bank has adopted agile frameworks in a venture that has allowed it to fulfill its strategy of launching digital products on a global scale.

In fact, 2018 was a year of achievement for BBVA, the year when its digital transformation translated into tangible results especially vis-à-vis project implementations, such as the global mobile development platform. A technological advance that has been accompanied by a change to the organizational landscape and in new, agile ways of working. These two changes – the cultural and the technological – have facilitated the bank's transition from a closed model to an open, more collaborative model.