The Difference Between Agile and Waterfall: Explaining to a Non Techie

Ben Staples
6 min readOct 20, 2020

Originally published at

Agile is the bees’ knees. But some people don’t understand.

Why is it important to be able to explain the difference between waterfall and agile to people?

At any company, many of your co workers will be on non technical teams. Stakeholders, upper management, customer service. Critical parts of the operation like marketing, operations etc. have often not yet been onboarded to an agile way of working. But when the tech part of an organization is running agile, it is important to onboard your stakeholders so that the approach your team takes isn’t misunderstood, and team velocity isn’t slowed.

Often times when a company wants to start to use agile methodologies to deliver customer value, they will transform individual parts of the organization at a time instead of trying to transform the whole organization (this in itself is quite agile). Oftentimes, while tech may already be running agile, other parts of the organization are not; making the ability to convey the importance of agile even more important.

You could also be in an organization where there is a shift to tech from a traditional industry. Caterpillar (the construction machinery company) for example has been around forever but is really leaning in to applying internet technologies to their construction equipment. Especially with COVID, the shift to connectivity is being sped up in many traditional industries.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

OR maybe you just want to be able to explain what you do to your parents, or relatives.

In general if you are working in tech, at some point you are going to have to explain the value of agile. If nothing else, this is driven by how long agile as a methodology has been around, versus the waterfall methodology. While agile has been around since 2000, Waterfall has been around since the 1970s! No wonder why it has been so prevalent, especially in more traditional industries.

We can compare these two ways of delivering a project with a popular agile analogy:

Ben Staples

Ben Staples has over 7 years of product management and PMM eCommerce experience from at Nordstrom, Trunk Club, and Vistaprint . Currently based in Chicago IL