Two approaches to project management that have been well honed in the IT world are now driving more marketing programs as well. The Waterfall and Agile marketing approaches have developed into distinct methodologies that are typically chosen according to how suited they are to the nature of the project, the nature of the business, and the time-frame in which completion is needed, among other measures.

Waterfall Marketing is a model for marketing planning and execution that follows more traditional lines. Linear and sequential, the process flows steadily downward, waterfall fashion, through set phases. These phases include conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, production/implementation and maintenance.

Originally described in 1956 as an approach for software engineering, waterfall marketing is considered ideal for organizations with highly structured environments and situations, where changes after-the-fact would be cost prohibitive.

Agile Marketing, on the other hand, involves responding to change more than following a plan. It is geared toward helping the enterprise better address and respond to fast-changing marketing conditions with campaigns that can be adapted accordingly. It shortens planning cycles to days or weeks from months and years, promoting an iterative and more responsive approach to marketing.

There’s been considerable debate among marketing technologists as to the relative merits of one approach over the other, particularly given the pace of change affecting the marketplace. A 2013 report by Forrester Research, for example, stated, “The traditional annual planning routine is ripe for extinction, as 69% of our B2B marketing leaders say that conditions change too quickly to keep plans current. Accelerating the test, revise, and run cycle on campaigns can help marketing compare planned activity with actual results better.”

The reality, however, is that each methodology has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, which marketers must weigh against their current circumstances.

Pros and cons of each approach are described below:

Waterfall Marketing Pros

As the saying goes, there’s a lot to be said for a thorough plan. The Waterfall’s emphasis on this concept results in a plan and a vision that are comprehensive and clear in steering the course.  That extensive, upfront planning enables faster program launches and a higher degree of accuracy in estimating timetables and budgets, which definitely helps please clients and senior management.

Another advantage of the Waterfall planning focus is how it can help facilitate departmentalization and managerial control. Further, it allows schedules to be set with deadlines for each stage of development so that a product can proceed through the development process.

Waterfall Marketing Cons

The orchestrated nature of the Waterfall methodology creates an approach that is rigid and inflexible. It leaves little room for revision in the event that requirements or needs were not well thought out or anticipated during the conceptualization stage. This drawback is compounded by the fact that feedback and testing are typically deferred to later stages of the project. 

Given the fact that the planning phase is longer with this methodology, it doesn’t make Waterfall the best choice for projects where needs are likely to be evolving. Nor is it ideal for dynamic companies that are adept and nimble at responding to a rapid pace of change. 

Agile Marketing Pros

The Agile process is less systematized, where the people and collaboration, rather than the processes, drive the process. It is flexible in its approach, emphasizing adaptive planning and evolutionary development. This makes it ideal for projects where the end-goals are not clearly defined or are a work in progress.

The agile team, which minimizes efforts expended on unnecessary things, such as excessive meetings and superfluous documentation, concentrates on refining and expanding iterations of programs, which allows their faster production at a lower cost. It’s ideal for dynamic businesses.

Agile Marketing Cons

There are drawbacks to the lack of formal structure that characterizes the Waterfall process. Without the same structure in place, projects are more difficult to predict.  There’s also the risk of a never-ending loop of testing being created on the project. Moreover, because of the lack of definition and planning, the end result may end up being completely different than what was originally anticipated. And budgets can run over if not properly managed.

In the end, what should matter to marketers as they examine the possibilities with the Waterfall and Agile approaches should not be which methodology is better, but in which situations each works better.

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