8 best software development methodologies: Expert analysis

13 min read
May 20, 2024

After 12+ years in software development, we’ve realized one simple truth – no two projects are the same and you can’t approach them in the same way.

And the software development methodology you choose can be the difference between success and failure – that’s how important they are.

So, what are software development methodologies, exactly? And how do you choose the right one for your project?

Here, we’ll answer these questions (and more!) and give you a detailed rundown of the top methodologies out there.

Let’s dive in!

What are software development methodologies?

We’ll cover the basics first – what are software development methodologies?

Software development methodologies are processes you use to plan and manage software development from start to finish.

They’re structured frameworks that help you organize roles, tasks, and deliverables for each stage in the software development life cycle.

Software development life-cycle

Software development methodologies are key to successful development because using the right methodology can:

  • Speed up development
  • Lower costs
  • Deliver quality results

There’s a lot of different methodologies out there, but there are 2 main types you should know – Agile and Waterfall.

We’ll cover both in detail, starting with Agile development and the top Agile methodologies out there.

What is Agile development?

Agile development is a set of development methodologies and practices that emphasize iteration, collaboration, and flexibility.

In Agile development, the focus is on quick, iterative processes and continuous improvement in order to deliver high-quality software, quickly.

It works, too – Agile projects are 28% more successful than projects using traditional development methodologies.

And a huge reason for that are the 4 core Agile values, outlined in the Agile Manifesto:

The 4 Agile values

Agile methodologies focus on speed, collaboration, and adaptability – so, if you use them, you’ll get your product to market faster.

Some of the top Agile methodologies out there are:

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Lean Software Development
  • Extreme Programming (XP)
  • Feature-Driven Development (FDD)

Also, using Agile methodologies doesn’t just speed up development, it improves the quality of your projects, too.

Quality assurance (QA) is a key part of Agile at every stage of development, so with Agile methodologies you get high-quality software, quickly.

And that’s why they’re a good choice.

Agile development methodologies

Now, let’s cover the top Agile development methodologies we’ve mentioned in more detail.


Scrum is by far the most popular Agile methodology out there – 81% of Agile teams use Scrum or a Scrum hybrid.

And there’s a good reason for that – Scrum emphasizes collaboration, transparency, and quick iteration, so your team can work faster without compromising quality.

So, how does it work, exactly?

Scrum breaks down your software development cycle into smaller (2-4 week) iterations called sprints.

Scrum sprints

Each sprint is like a mini development cycle, starting with planning all the way through to launch.

And at the end of each sprint, you have a sprint retrospective, where your team discusses the previous sprint to find areas of improvement for the next sprint.

So, with Scrum, your team isn’t just more productive, they also continuously improve after every sprint.

“In the first few sprints, you want to get the feel of what your team is capable of doing. After that, you’ll be able to assign tasks per sprint more accurately.”

Marko Strizic, DECODE co-founder and CEO

Scrum is best suited for smaller teams (3-9 members), working on complex and dynamic projects with changing requirements.

It’s also the best choice if you want to get your product to market faster, especially as a startup.

Pros and cons of Scrum


  • Flexibility
  • Transparency
  • Improved collaboration


  • Needs discipline
  • Not suitable for all projects


Kanban is an Agile visual workflow management methodology, meant to help your team maximize efficiency and productivity.

And it works, too – 87% of teams that use Kanban report that it’s more effective than the methodologies they used previously.

Kanban uses a board where each column represents different stages of the workflow, while individual tasks are represented by cards that move through those stages.

Here’s what a typical Kanban board looks like:

Kanban board

Kanban is ideal for ongoing, long-term projects with a continuous flow of work that don’t have a fixed deadline.

It’s also a great fit for QA teams handling maintenance and support and other teams handling operational tasks.

Pros and cons of Kanban


  • Continuous delivery
  • Flexibility
  • Visual management


  • Less structure
  • Can become overwhelming

Lean Software Development

Lean Software Development is an Agile methodology that eliminates waste and optimizes efficiency.

As the name suggests, it’s derived from Lean manufacturing principles.

And Lean principles work across a number of different industries and software development is no exception – 80% of businesses that implemented them reported reduced costs.

Here are the main principles behind Lean Software Development:

Agile Lean Software Development

So, when should it be your top choice?

Lean Software Development is the best choice if you’re working on a tight budget and with limited resources.

For example, if you’re a startup and you need to iterate quickly, it can speed up your product’s development while also saving you money.

It’s also a good fit if you’re building a user-centric product with quick feedback cycles, because it helps you implement user feedback faster.

Pros and cons of Lean Software Development


  • Efficiency
  • Quality
  • Customer focus


  • Requires a cultural shift
  • Difficult to implement

Extreme Programming (XP)

Extreme Programming (XP) is an Agile methodology that aims to improve software quality and responsiveness to changing project requirements.

XP has 2 main goals – speed and simplicity.

It focuses on quick iterations and short development cycles while avoiding excessive documentation.

And that’s why intense feedback loops are at the heart of XP and make that possible.

XP feedback loops

XP is suited for small teams working on high-risk projects with unclear or rapidly changing requirements.

A good use case is a startup building a minimum viable product (MVP) and refining its product-market fit through user feedback.

Pros and cons of Extreme Programming (XP)


  • High-quality code
  • Frequent releases
  • Promotes teamwork


  • Intensive process
  • Scalability issues

Feature-Driven Development (FDD)

Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an Agile development methodology that, similar to Scrum, focuses on quick iterations and efficient delivery.

The difference is that FDD, as the name suggests, focuses on developing features as the primary task and unit of work.

Here’s how it works: 

Feature-driven development stages

FDD is a good choice for large, well-structured teams working on projects with stable requirements.

A good example is enterprise-level projects where features and requirements can be clearly defined.

FDD’s predictable, feature-based delivery improves the quality of your project and makes it easier to manage complex projects and achieve consistent progress.

Pros and cons of Feature-Driven Development (FDD)


  • Scalability
  • Predictable delivery
  • Clear structure


  • Less flexible
  • Complex planning

Next, we’ll discuss waterfall development methodologies.

What is waterfall development?

Waterfall development was the first ever software development methodology, formalized all the way back in 1970 by Winston W. Royce. 

The key to waterfall methodologies is that they’re linear and sequential, i.e. each stage must be completely finished before the next begins.

They were the dominant approach to software development until the early 2000s, when Agile methodologies took over.

Here are some of their key advantages and disadvantages:

Waterfall advantages and disadvantages

And the top waterfall development methodologies are:

  • Traditional waterfall
  • V-model (validation and verification)
  • Spiral model

Now, we’ll explain them in more detail.

Waterfall development methodologies

Next, we’ll cover the top waterfall development methodologies.

Traditional waterfall

The traditional waterfall methodology is a linear and sequential approach to software development.

It has several distinct phases, with each phase being a step in the development process – from requirements gathering to final delivery.

And each phase has to be finished before the next one starts and the project goes in only one direction, hence the name waterfall.

Waterfall development

The waterfall model, although outdated and largely replaced by Agile methodologies, still has a place.

Waterfall is a good choice if you’re working on a project with stable, well-defined requirements that are unlikely to change.

It’s also a good fit if you’re building a complex, legally-restrictive product where you need to ensure you follow all procedures and protocols.

Pros and cons of Traditional waterfall


  • Clear milestones
  • Detailed documentation
  • Simple to manage


  • Inflexible
  • Higher risk of failure

V-model (validation and verification)

The V-model is a variation and extension of the traditional waterfall model that emphasizes the importance of testing at each stage of development.

It visualizes the relationship between each phase of development and testing, represented in a “V” shape.

Here’s what it looks like:


Just like the waterfall model, it’s meant for projects with stable, well-defined requirements.

It’s ideal if you’re working on mission-critical software in tightly regulated industries, like the aerospace and automotive industries.

Software in those industries needs to be thoroughly tested, validated, and documented before delivery, so the V-model is the perfect fit.

Pros and cons of the V-model (validation and verification)


  • Early testing
  • Clear structure
  • Improved quality


  • Long development time
  • Time-consuming documentation

Spiral model

The spiral model is a waterfall-based development methodology that provides a systematic and iterative approach to software development.

It combines the linear and sequential approach of waterfall with iterative development and focuses on identifying risks early in the development process.

And, like the name suggests, it’s represented as a spiral – each loop consists of 4 main phases which are then repeated in iterations:

Spiral model

The spiral model is ideal for complex, high-risk projects that need early risk identification and management.

It’s a good choice if you’re building a product with new, innovative technologies because the iterative approach helps you more easily refine and improve your product.

Pros and cons of the Spiral model


  • Risk management
  • Flexibility
  • Customer involvement


  • Time-consuming
  • Complexity

Agile vs waterfall: a comparison

Here’s a comparison of Agile and waterfall in key categories:





Highly flexible and easy to adapt to changes

Inflexible, difficult

Customer involvement

Continuous involvement and feedback

Limited customer involvement

Development approach

Iterative and incremental

Linear and sequential

Risk management

Early and continuous risk management

Risks are identified and managed late in the process

Delivery time

Faster delivery in several iterations

Delivery at the end of the project


Continuous testing at every stage of the development cycle

Testing happens only after the build phase

Now, let’s discuss how you should choose the right methodology for your project.

How to choose the right software development methodology?

The software development methodology you choose can make or break your project.

Picking the wrong methodology can seriously delay your project – and if you’re building a product targeting a competitive market, delays can be disastrous.

So, how do you make the right choice?

Here’s a quick rundown:

How to choose the right software development methodology

In general, there’s several key factors you should always consider when choosing a development methodology:

  • Your project’s requirements – Waterfall methodologies are best suited for projects with well-defined requirements that won’t change mid-development, while Agile is better suited for projects with changing requirements
  • The project timeline – Agile is a better choice if you need quick delivery, especially if you’re a startup, while waterfall is better suited for projects that are on a longer timeline
  • Team size and expertise – Waterfall methodologies are a good choice if you have a large team with clearly defined roles, while Agile methodologies work better for smaller teams – still, a good practice is picking a methodology your team is already familiar with
  • Customer involvement – Agile methodologies are the better choice if you need continuous feedback from your customer

Next, we’ll discuss what our team thinks

Expert take on the best software development methodologies

We recently surveyed our 70+ engineers and asked them a simple question – in your experience, which software development methodology is the best? 

And the results are in:

  • Scrum – 65%
  • Kanban – 25%
  • Other methodologies – 10%

So, Scrum, and Agile in general, is the clear winner – but, why is that the case?

Here’s our Android team lead, Ivan Trogrlic, explaining why he prefers Agile methodologies:

“In my experience, requirements always change during development. Clients almost always ask for new features and various changes, so that’s why Agile is the better choice.”

Ivan Trogrlic, Android Team Lead at DECODE

And here’s what DECODE co-founder and CEO, Marko Strizic, had to say about why Agile is a better choice from a business perspective:

“Scrum, for example, is proven to detect defects faster than any waterfall methodology. Detecting problems early translates into money saved.”

Marko Strizic, DECODE co-founder and CEO

And if you want to dive even deeper, Marko spoke about Agile methodologies in-depth on his recent appearance on our podcast, The Roadmap:

So, there you have it – according to our experts, Agile is the way to go!

Best software development methodologies: FAQs

What are the main software development methodologies?

The two main types of software development methodologies are Agile and waterfall.

The top Agile methodologies are:

  • Scrum
  • Kanban
  • Lean Software Development
  • Extreme Programming (XP)
  • Feature-Driven Development

And the top waterfall development methodologies are:

  • Traditional waterfall
  • V-model (validation and verification)
  • Spiral model

What is the difference between waterfall and agile?

Agile development methodologies focus on rapid iteration, quick delivery, and flexibility so they’re more suited to dynamic projects with changing requirements. 

On the other hand, waterfall methodologies are more structured and predictable.

How do you pick the right software development methodology?

Your choice of development methodology depends on a number of factors, like:

  • Your project’s requirements
  • The project timeline
  • Team size and expertise
  • Customer involvement

Need help with your software development project?

Are you starting a cool new project but need help getting it over the finish line?

No worries, we’ve got you covered.

We can help you build your product from the ground up, all the way from validating your idea to post-launch updates and support.

And we can help if you only need a couple of extra hands, too.

If you want to learn more, feel free to get in touch with us and we’ll set up a quick chat to discuss your needs in more detail.

Written by

Ante Baus


Ante is a true expert. Another graduate from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, he’s been a DECODEr from the very beginning. Ante is an experienced software engineer with an admirably wide knowledge of tech. But his superpower lies in iOS development, having gained valuable experience on projects in the fintech and telco industries. Ante is a man of many hobbies, but his top three are fishing, hunting, and again, fishing. He is also the state champ in curling, and represents Croatia on the national team. Impressive, right?

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