September 23, 2015

Combining Agile and Waterfall Methodologies: Overkill or Genius Idea?

What testing managers should know about hybrid management

Waterfall? Are we allowed to use the W-word anymore?

Waterfall? Are we allowed to use the W-word any more?

Traditional methodology has received a serious thrashing from agile devotees in the recent past, mainly because they consider it to be too slow and unwieldy to be used in today’s rapidly-changing environment.

Adding to these legitimate concerns however, are also the heavily skewed opinions of agile teams who have nearly been brainwashed to accept only one methodology to the exclusion of everything else.

These testers cling to the beliefs about the superiority of their methodology of choice over “the  opposition” as if they were sacred; a fact which blinds them to the usefulness of certain aspects of waterfall practices to their work.

Waterfall methodology is still appreciated for its ability to produce rigorous documentation and a reliable governance that encourages accountability at work.

So with all that being said, we turn to the crux of today’s blog post: is a hybrid management approach that mixes agile and waterfall methodologies the best way forward for the organisation?

When two can be better than one for your team

I’ll go against the grain here and suggest that demonising waterfall methods, while presenting agile as a panacea for testing teams everywhere, is definitely not the smartest position.

It’s not even the most practical position either.

In fact, the majority of organisations merge agile with waterfall in their daily activities, and—whether intentionally or not—this combination of the two methods is what’s standard for most teams.

And it makes sense too.

When you depend on only one perspective or approach, the limitations of that viewpoint will be your creative limitations as well. Like they say, if all you have in your toolbox is a hammer then every problem will look like a nail.

However, when you have two methodologies to draw ideas and practices from, then you and your team can start reaping more benefits in terms of greater flexibility in the way you tackle projects and organise your workflow.

On that note, let’s take a look at the main benefits and the issues of incorporating agile and waterfall methodologies into a hybrid methodology.


A software solution that works with Agile, Waterfall, and hybrid teams

ReQtest is our very own testing and requirements management solution that has been designed specifically to help any team be better at what they do.

Whether you choose to work agile, following traditional method, or even experiment with a hybrid mix as described in this blog post, ReQtest gives you all the tools you need to centralise your work and manage time and resources more effectively.


The main benefits of blending Agile and Waterfall methodologies

Undoubtedly, waterfall doesn’t hold a candle to agile’s ability to quickly and effectively adapt to changing requirements and respond to the new feedback as it comes in.

But agile runs into some issues of its own when it’s applied to projects that demand stricter governance and compliance. As a matter of fact, a 2014 study (link triggers PDF download) concluded that mixing agile and waterfall methodologies produces higher quality code, leading to more robust and secure software.

The most important benefits of a hybrid management approach come as a result of the cross-pollination between the strengths of waterfall and agile methodologies, and include:

  1. Improving predictability
  2. Improving the ability to respond in a timely manner to feedback from users, team members, and management

To make this marriage of methodologies work, it is vital that there are open and active channels of communication between all stakeholders—just like in a real relationship!

In fact, as we shall note in the next section, most of the issues that teams face with a hybrid approach typically begin when communication breaks down.

Issues with hybrid management approaches

So what can go wrong when using a hybrid approach?

Well, since waterfall reinforces the chain of command in an organisation it’s common to see management becoming more vocal in expressing their views about decisions that should be taken by the team.

This effectively kills the agile half of the relationship, so we return to plain-old waterfall.

On the other hand, team members who have grown accustomed to the higher levels of autonomy and flexibility that agile affords them can begin to resist listening to the suits. This threatens to split the organisation, especially if testers and developers start working according to their own agenda instead of following the broader company goals.

The simplest way to avoid running into these issues, admittedly, is to emphasise the collaborative aspect of agile and its incremental approach. Indeed, hybrid needn’t necessary mean a 50-50 mix of agile and waterfall methodologies.

I actually think an 80-20 ratio, leaning more towards agile, is probably the best approach. But ultimately, integrating two conflicting methodologies like agile and waterfall methodologies involves paying attention to nurturing the company culture, keeping an eye on KPIs, and using management software like ReQtest that makes it easier to report metrics, and document and prioritise requirements.


  • Waterfall methodology can produce rigorous documentation and a reliable governance
  • The majority of organisations use a combination of agile and waterfall in their activities
  • The most important benefits of a hybrid management approach are improving predictability and responding in a timely manner to feedback
  • An 80-20 ratio, leaning more towards agile, is probably the best way to combine methods
  • ReQtest is a management software that adapts to needs of agile, waterfall, and hybrid teams


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