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Parallel Worlds: Agile and Waterfall Differences and Similarities

October 2013 Technical Note
Steve Palmquist, Mary Ann Lapham, Suzanne Garcia-Miller, Timothy A. Chick, Ipek Ozkaya

This report helps readers understand Agile. The report assembles terms and concepts from both the traditional world of waterfall-based development and the Agile environment to show the many similarities and differences.


Software Engineering Institute

CMU/SEI Report Number


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This technical note (TN) is part of the Software Engineering Institute’s series on Agile in the Department of Defense (DoD). It primarily addresses what at first seems a small issue on the road to Agile adoption—the confusion of terms. However, this is a much larger issue, as ineffective communications among and between stakeholders is often cited as a significant stumbling block on any project. Confusion over simple terms is a needless hurdle.

Many terms and concepts used by Agile practitioners seem to confound those working in the DoD’s Traditional World of waterfall-based environment, and vice versa. The goal of this paper is to assemble terms and concepts from both environments to show both the similarities (of which there are many) and differences (of which there are also many).

A comprehensive cross dictionary was beyond the scope of this work; the authors strove to select from those terms most commonly encountered when considering Agile adoption. Therefore, the authors selected terms based on suggestions from both inside and outside the SEI, but deliberately limited themselves to 25 terms from each environment.