Project Management Methodologies: Agile, Scrum, Waterfall, Kanban

9 min read

A project management methodology, or framework, is a set of guidelines and practices for workload distribution and progress management.

These methodologies help to organize product development projects, such as the software development process, which can quickly balloon in cost if not closely managed.

Here are 4 popular project management methodologies:

  • Agile is a structured, transparent framework that requires strong, focused leadership but can lead to lower cost, more efficient timeline, and higher quality end product. Best for projects which require adaptation.

  • Scrum is an Agile-based approach but with extra rules. For each period of a month or shorter, the workload for the next period is determined and cannot be altered until the period is finished. Best for highly complex products and small team sizes.

  • Kanban is a less structured, more flexible, and transparent Agile-based approach. Every to-do task is on a large board, so every team member knows what everyone else is doing and what needs to be done. No one starts something new until they’ve finished their previous task. Best for team transparency and process improvement.

  • Waterfall is a more traditional methodology where one big task is followed by the next big task. Managing Waterfall projects is simple. Planning is effective but inflexible. Best for linear projects that don’t have to revisit prior phases.

Let’s compare and contrast these project management methodologies below, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their ideal use cases.

Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Kanban vs. Scrum


Agile: Benefits, Downsides, & What Makes It Unique

Agile is a project management framework that has influenced multiple other methodologies. The Agile methodology is adaptive, iterative, collaborative, transparent, and not as strict as other methodologies. First described in 2000 in the Agile Manifesto, about 85% of professional developers use this Agile methodology.

Managers set team goals as the project develops. Unlike Waterfall, Agile team goals are numerous, smaller, incremental, and changeable. Agile software development teams can achieve simultaneous work and deliverableworking software at regular intervals.

Every 1-4 weeks, Agile teams will meet for a “sprint” to evaluate the previous period and set goals for the next period based on the previous period’s findings. This way, the team can incrementally optimize their process as they do more work, gain more info, learn about team members’ strengths, and keep making progress.

Benefits of Agile principles:

  • Simultaneous workflow for more efficient time usage

  • Incremental goals which allow for testing and revision

  • Adaptability to team’s strengths and other factors

Downsides of Agile methods:

  • Too complex for simple projects

  • Restrictive team size (3-11 members)

  • Fewer guidelines than methodologies built off of Agile, like Scrum and Kanban

  • Frequent “sprints” which may become a counterproductive waste of time if your team is not focused and concise

The Agile approach requires a skilled project manager who can keep the team focused during the frequent sprint retrospectives, lest that valuable time becomes counterproductive.

Read more about how to become a sought-after project manager: Project Management Courses

Scrum: Benefits, Downsides, & What Makes It Unique

Scrum is a project management methodology that builds off the Agile philosophy. About two-thirds of professional developers use Scrum principles.

Scrum adds extra guidelines and checkpoints to facilitate highly complicated projects and high-qualityteamwork. This added complexity means a steeper learning curve for employees and managers. 

The Scrum methodology calls for 3 roles on a self-organizing team:

  • Scrum Master: A Scrum Master makes sure their team follows Scrum values and practices. They facilitate Daily Standups, lead other meetings, conduct reviews, gather feedback, and empower team members.

  • Product Owner: The Product Owner must fully understand the product both functionally and within the scope of the bigger picture. The Product Owner ensures the team’s actions align product goals, speaks for product managers, manages the product backlog, and advocates for user stories (an Extreme Programming practice of describing desired features in a narrative way from the end user’s perspective).

  • Development Team Members: The cross-functional team members work on product development, testing, data analysis, and collaborative sprint planning. Individual responsibilities vary based on company and project goals.

The Scrum master keeps the Scrum team on track by running the 2 repeating Scrum stages:

  1. Scrum sprint — A Scrum sprint period is typically 2 weeks long, sometimes one week, and sometimes one month (similar to sprints in the Agile framework). At the start of each sprint period, the Scrum master leads the team in a time-boxed sprint meeting. They look at the sprint backlog from the previous period and set goals for the following period, all while considering various Scrum artifacts.

  2. Daily Scrum standups — Scrum teams typically meet for 15 minutes every workday for each member to update everyone on their progress towards sprint goals. Standups help ensure the workload is appropriate for every member.

At the end of the sprint period, the Scrum team proceeds with the next sprint review — evaluating the completed work, putting unfinished work in the Scrum project backlog, and setting goals and assignments for the following sprint period.

Benefits of the Scrum framework:

  • Goal-making in increments, breaking down complex deliverables into manageable tasks

  • Clear time frames (sprint period), which promotes efficiency, prioritization of work, collaboration, team equality, and short-term goals that are easy to celebrate

  • Full utility as a framework to run your team for the lifecycle of the project, whereas Kanban is more of a visual tool

Downsides of the Scrum process:

  • High complexity

  • Steep learning curve

  • Restrictive team size (3-9 members)

What is the difference between Agile and Scrum? The difference between Agile and Scrum is that Scrum is a more complex methodology building off the Agile project management framework. Scrum is harder to learn than Agile and better for highly complicated projects.

Kanban: Benefits, Downsides, & What Makes It Unique

Literally meaning “visual sign,” Kanban is another Agile-based methodology that uses a large, visible board of tasks broken up into 3 columns:

  • To-Do (also called Requested or Backlog)

  • Doing (also called or divided into In-Progress, Testing, and Validate columns)

  • Done (also called Complete)

This large Kanban board can be physically in your team’s space or on a shared online software like Notion or Asana. Teams often need to break up the 3 columns into subcategories or new ones. For example, the to-do column can be broken into Backlog and Priority categories.

Kanban teams avoid bottlenecks by limiting how many works-in-progress (WIP) exist simultaneously. The WIP Limit is typically 2 to 4.

You can customize your Kanban board based on task assignees, due dates, or priority. Add a “swimlane” to separate the workload into different categories within a column: for instance, hardware versus software.

Benefits of Kanban:

  • Adaptability of the process due to seeing the process play out at regular intervals

  • Transparency of process for all team members, managers, and external stakeholders

  • Less restrictive team size

Downsides of Kanban:

  • The need to break goals into very small tasks since sizable tasks can bottleneck the whole process

  • Lack of time representation for each task

  • Reliance on team members being helpful and non-judgmental about other members bottlenecking the process

Recommended resource: Kanban template from

Waterfall: Benefits, Downsides, & What Makes It Unique

Waterfall is the oldest methodology we’re comparing. With this project management framework, you plan everything linearly before you do anything else. You can’t change the plan or review a previous phase of the plan without completely restarting everything.

Waterfall is not flexible, but it is simple. Some projects require simplicity.

Benefits of Waterfall:

  • Simple, linear progress

  • Ability to withstand changes in personnel or size of workforce

  • Expectations that are set early on and clear to workers and management

Downsides of Waterfall:

  • Inflexibility

  • A lot of upfront planning

  • A lot of upfront documentation

What is the difference between Scrum and Waterfall? The difference is that Scrum is an Agile-based framework that prioritizes adaptability, team communication, and continuous improvements to the process. Waterfall planning is strict and linear.

Which project management methodology is best for my team?

Agile is a great project management methodology to measure team progress and real business value. It’s adaptive, incremental, and structured. However, it requires strong, focused leadership to keep the team and the Agile process on track.

Scrum is a methodology for team sizes of 3-9 members (ideally 7), which builds on the Agile framework. Implementing many extra rules, Scrum can be the most challenging methodology to learn or teach, but it is generally effective for complex projects.

Kanban is also based on the Agile framework. Utilizing a highly visible board of small tasks that everyone can see, team members work together to complete projects without stalling the entire team with a pesky work-in-progress. About one-third of professional developers use Kanban.

Waterfall is the oldest and most traditional project management framework. First, you design, then implement, then test — all in a linear fashion that does not allow for adaptation without massively inflating your budget. But it’s simple, and some projects don’t require complexity. Waterfall is also good for large teams or teams which expect employee turnover.

How MVP Match Can Help

If you’re looking for freelancers who understand all these project management frameworks, use MVP Match’s 48-hour expert matching, which boasts a 95% success rate by connecting you with the top 3% of MVP applicants.

Apply to join MVP Match as an expert freelancer. Now you can put on your resume that you understand Agile, Scrum, Kanban, and Waterfall methodologies strengthening your CV and increasing your chances of landing that job you’ve always wanted.

About the Author

Kate manages content marketing for talent acquisition at MVP Match. Her job? Attracting the best and brightest tech talent into our community where they are matched with rewarding roles they deserve. She's a copywriter at heart, and has spent over 10 years in marketing for tech, healthcare, and consulting firms. An avid traveler and workation pro, Kate both embraces and advocates for a future where everyone is empowered to define work on their terms.