Difference Between Waterfall, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile

Waterfall methodology is an ancient software development methodology, serving as an essential and structured approach. But with the evolution of Internet technology, it became inefficient for increasing dynamic and sophisticated software development. Consequently, new software development approaches start emerging to remove impediments appearing during different development stages.

Most app owners, techie & non-techie, feel confused about which approach to secure their software development cycle. Hot approaches making entrepreneurs nervous are Waterfall, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile. Each technique, however, is designed to solve specific problems and bring ease, making your end product development highly efficient.

You would be surprised to know that it’s tools and expertise that make the difference between Waterfall, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile.

A computer scientist invented the Waterfall Approach to follow a sequential process, making project management seamless.

Designers discovered design Thinking to solve general design problems, so they chose design methods as their tools of choice.

Entrepreneurs invented Lean Startup Methodology to address risky business problems, so they opted for business evaluation methods as their tools of choice.

Software developers invented the Agile approach to decode typical engineering problems, so they took software methods as their tools of choice.

Employing a combination of Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile methodology is recommended to make your end product humanely effective. As in a traditional Waterfall model, one step must be completed before the next begins, which opposes the other three processes. And you don’t want to merge a stiff approach with mutable strategies.

To leverage the power of every method in a combo, first, you must know each of them closely. Bonus, you will know when Waterfall is optimum to choose.

Waterfall vs Design Thinking vs Lean Startup vs Agile

Waterfall vs. Design Thinking vs. Lean Startup vs. Agile


If you practice Waterfall, your project scope, requirements, and the estimated outcome must be fully documented. These documents heavily govern functional specifications, user interfaces, architecture, data structures. Basically, the Waterfall software development structure is broken down into six phases:

- Requirements and analysis. During this phase, you collect requirements about the product and validate the product ideas as well. Further, this information lets developers understand the purpose of product development, and product owners gauge budget, risks, dependencies, and success metrics.

- Design. At this stage, which programming language, specific design elements, front-end, and back-end technologies are decided and documented. The documentation further serves as the framework for the implementation phase.

- Implementation. Here, project requirements and design documents are implemented and turned into a software product as estimated.

- Testing. The software undergoes quality tests to be bug-free and check if it meets the goal set at the beginning.

- Deployment. After testing, the product is ready to be public.

- Maintenance. Once the product is live, the organization needs to fix any errors found and maintain it bug-free.

When is the best to use Waterfall

When your product definition is stable.

When Technology is understood and determined.

Your project requirements are immutable.

You have ample resources, and the required expertise is available freely.

It is a short project.

Design Thinking

Despite the user interface of the application, Design is a process as well—it’s a verb and a noun. Design Thinking is a human-centered approach, a set of principles used by designers to resonate with users and understand their real problems. Thereby iterate a potential solution to solve those problems effectively.

The Core Stages Of Design Thinking:

- Empathize user problems by exploring and in-depth analysis from a user’s POV.

- Define the problems based on the insight gained during the first stage to generate a human-centered problem statement.

- Ideate the most effective solution with the help of the past two stages, analyzing it from alternative angles.

- Prototype the solution by creating a model replicating the end solution based on perceived problems and ideas.

- Test the prototype thoroughly to iterate and refine the solution to its best.

Why is Design Thinking Important?

- Helps in understanding the end-users;

- Clear your assumptions about user problems;

- It helps you create an innovative solution by learning more about the users and their problems.

Lean Startup

A Lean Startup is a data-driven approach that collects user data and iteratively refines the product. The methodology is rooted in startup development and can be employed for different contexts, including Software Development. At the core of the process, every idea is a hypothesis. You must validate throughout the process.

The validation is carried out by building small prototypes— minimal viable products (MVPs)— around each assumption. After testing and measuring prototypes’ success through user feedback loops, you will know what to apply in the next iteration.

Waterfall vs Design Thinking vs Lean Startup vs Agile

The Main Assumptions Of The Lean Startup Methodology:

Understand your target audience and their problems

Create a series of meaningful product releases

Measure and Focus on metrics

Learn, change, and iterate the working product to better address user needs

The Lean Startup approach empowers businesses to release the product faster and obtain the necessary insights to improve it. As an owner, you can steer your product development according to actual user data and feedback. While in the combination process, Lean Startup helps you stain working elements and eliminate not-working features that could increase risk and cost.

Agile Software Development

Unlike Waterfall, Agile is a non-linear methodology to make software development more resilient and efficient. Once your product idea and business model is validated through real user feedback, Agile helps you add structure to your process. During Agile software development, project requirements are broken down into small “sprints” and given to the development team to schedule and execute each.

From developing to testing happen concurrently, every sprint is created and launched and gathers feedback from users rapidly. Consequently, Agile development eradicates potential uncertainty, smoothly sailing the product development.

The Core assumptions of Agile development:

Clear Communication within teams to align on goals and seek improvements based on the past tasks.

The Adaptive approach lets you tackle unexpected changes in the project and apply them swiftly, steering the product toward end-users.

Frequent Collaboration with customers helps find areas for improvement in the end-product.

Software development becomes easy as a working product version is delivered early and enhanced continuously.

Self-regulating Agile teams take ownership of the project context and time to establish a working environment as per their skill set.

Cross-functional developer teams ensure from coding, designing to test, they have all the necessary skills to develop software products to deliver customer value.

Continuous inspection and adaptation make Agile distinct from other methodologies that improve workflows and processes within a team.

Waterfall vs. Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile

The Waterfall Model doesn’t work well for all types of software development as it’s stiff and reliant on documentation. Furthermore, it’s challenging to adapt to the changes as per market or user requirements. Whenever imperative changes are required, the project goes through the requirement gathering to testing phases. Now, you can imagine, if your project development is highly based on keeping emerging user feedback, how hard would it be with Waterfall.

Why opt for the Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile Combination approach?

First of all, they are not based on linear structure but highly flexible to adapt to ever-changing user requirements and market trends.

- Design Thinking is used to Understand the end customers and explore their real problems;

- During Lean Startup business model, innovations are evolved;

- Agile methodology is to bring the working product to real users faster and carry out modifications continuously.

Looking at artifacts that easy process delivers:

- Design Thinking leads to building UI mockups, sketches, and other visual artifacts.

- Lean Modeling favors anything from a customer-friendly service or a website landing page.

- The Agile approach favors building working software.

Looking at different types of value each of three methods focuses on:

- The Design Thinking Process focuses on value discovery, deciphering what customers actually want.

- The Lean Startup Model focuses on value validation, determining market demand for your idea.

- The Agile Methodology focuses on value delivery, building a working software product that customers can use, gain benefit immediately, and provide feedback.

By combining these three mighty approaches, you can reap many benefits. It helps you put users and their problems at the center, develop a solution around them, and measure user satisfaction. You can also use the combination for various purposes as well.

For example, Agile to build a new feature in your software: Design Thinking to ensure it empathizes with users; and Lean Startup to road-test it with potential customers to validate whether they would buy it; Thereby, you maximize your business value without splurging on time and money.

Hope this Comparison Between Waterfall, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile helps you decide the right fit approach for your business.

blog author - kodytechnolab

Sanjay Kidecha