What is the Waterfall Model?

Behind every significant development, there lies a core idea, one that kicks off its deserved popularity. When it comes to project management and software engineering, that idea was the Waterfall Methodology.

Before Agile and its frameworks, the development process used for any software was the Waterfall Methodology. However, with new, more efficient frameworks introduced in the market, this methodology has eventually become a legacy.
Even though its use is entirely non-existent at this point, it still helps to know what the method is and how it works.
We have already established that Waterfall Methodology is a development process, but it uses a sequence to complete a project. Every step of the development needs to be completed and wrapped up before the next comes into focus. For example, you cannot start designing until the analysis is complete. There is no going back to analysis once designing is on the way. Not unless you want to start all over again.

Waterfall Methodology follows the old proverb: ‘measure twice, cut once’.

The methodology’s success is all in the hands of the amount and quality of the work done, including interface documentation, stories, and feature variations. When you do this upfront, the time required for each process is more accurate. Hence the release date is more accurate as well.
If you think this sounds too strict, then we are on the same page. Since the origins of the methodology are from the construction and manufacturing industries, the process is quite precise. In these industries, projects should advance one step at a time. You cannot paint a house if there are no walls, and that kind of makes sense.

However, applying the same method to software engineering was due to a lack of research or better frameworks. Most expert project planners recognize Waterfall as the traditional software development approach. Because software development was a completely new concept, the earliest programmers adapted a standard hardware development technique to the newborn sector. The outcome was highly effective, so Waterfall comes as a gold standard of software development.

Winston W. Royce first used the Waterfall Methodology in the 1970s in the software industry, but the term bears its origin from a paper written by T.E. Bell and T.A. Thayer six years later.
Now that the method rolled into action, it soon turned into a general five-phase process where each process needed a full completion before the next.

The first phase – Gathering requirements

This phase clearly defines all subsequent processes. In this method, we believe that any project requirement can be gathered and understood upfront. The job of the product manager is to fully grasp what the client wants, put it down in writing, and describe the project in meticulous detail. This description includes timelines, costs, assumptions, success rates, any risks to be taken, and more.

Here is the step fragmented into

  • Project Scope: Possibly the most important file in your project since it specifies the objectives of developing the software, including requirement specifications, deliverables, services, timelines, expenses, and so on.
  • Stakeholder Expectations: You can conduct interviews to understand the people’s expectations of investing in your software development. The expectations have to match the project scope to ensure happy stakeholders.
  • Research: Market research will let you know your competition, the market niche, and the way customers’ needs translate into product development specifications.
  • Assemble Team: Now, you gather your team. It should include the people who will work on the project and the required resources for an outstanding product.
  • Kick-Off: This will be the first meeting that you have with your stakeholders and your team. This meeting will be all about setting expectations and explaining the product development process to be followed.

Developers come in after all this has gone through successfully.

Second Phase: Designing the Project

This phase is where things get technical because the developers are supposed to figure out everything regarding the product requirements, including scenarios to tackle, layouts, and data models. The process is usually handled by a logical designer who also figures out the purpose of the project, its scope, the general traffic flow, and integration points. Once the design is complete, it is turned into a physical model to follow. And on goes the process.
So, the two main steps:

  • Collect Tasks: This will mean breaking down the project and making a list of every task that needs completion. These tasks will lead to the final product deliveries before the deadline.
  • Create A Schedule: With your tasks in order, you must now estimate how long each task will take. Once you have determined that, plot them onto a chart and meticulously make links between interdependent tasks. You may also start constructing a budget by adding costs to that chart.

Third Phase: Implementation

Implementation is quite possibly the shortest phase. Since the research and designing are completed, this phase only includes the programmers implementing the product requirements that come as instructions. It may take a little bit of testing, but if anything needs changing at this step, it means the designers must start all over again.
Here is the step breakdown:

  • Assign Team Tasks: Team members will take responsibility for their duties and be accountable for accomplishing them and communicating with the rest of the team. You may create these tasks using a chart and include descriptions, priorities, and so forth.
  • Monitor & Track: While the team is working on their assigned tasks, you can monitor their progress to ensure it is on par with the set schedule.
  • Manage Resources & Workload: Since you will be managing the project, you will know about any resources or assigned tasks issues. It will help you tackle the problem before it gets out of hand.
  • Report To Stakeholders: It will be competent to meet with the stakeholders and update them on progress. It will keep them involved and satisfied.
  • Test: Little testing comes here to check for any bugs or issues.
  • Delivery: Once the bugs are gone, the software or product is ready to be delivered to stakeholders or the market.

Fourth Phase: Verification and Testing

This step is crucial because any problems, errors, or mistakes in the product come to light. Before the product producer – for example, the eCommerce agency – hands the product to the client, it tests it to ensure that everything runs smoothly. This way, the client will enjoy a pleasant experience without witnessing any overlooked issues or unnoticed bugs. To test out the product, the team will use the project development documents to create appropriate tests.
When the product passes all tests, the product deploys to the market. Now it is essential to focus on its maintenance. If there is any customer complaint, a whole team must be ready to jump in, take care of the matter, and make timely updates.
At the end of each project, it is suggested and essential to take a few steps to wrap it up effectively.

  • Pay Contracts: Now that you are officially done, it is ideal for letting your first task be to pay the contracts of all your team members. If you have any Freelancers working for you, now will be the time to set the score with them. This move will release both you and them from your mutual contract.
  • Create Template: You have created a template for this project, and it will be wise to keep it stored for future purposes. There might be another project requiring a similar template, which will make the process a lot easier for you.
  • Close Out Paperwork: Look through all your paperwork to ensure that all debts are paid off, all papers stamped, and archived!
  • Celebrate: You’re done! It’s time to celebrate!

Schematic overview of Waterfall Workflow

Waterfall Project Management Methodology often gets a bad reputation, so it is rarely used. However, there are some cases where this method is ideal

Projects with strict deadlines and clearly defined structures best pair with this method. With the project scope and requirements already established, the product is quite solid, and the equipment utilized is fully understood by the project team members.
Because this method offers minimal space for adjustment, it is inappropriate for projects involving uncharted areas and unpredictability. In other words, it is ideal for repeating tasks where the possibility of a surprise during development is low.

Waterfall Methodology requires large teams of more than fifteen people.

This requirement is due to the strict structure of project development. All team members are irreplaceable, and each has their own set of duties to follow and finish, with everyone reporting back to the project manager.

Let us break down the team roles:

  • Developer: The developer is the most crucial person since they develop the code that helps implement the product design. They are the ones that try to tackle and find any bugs since a single bug left unattended could ruin the whole project.
  • Tester: Another vital role is the one played by the tester. They also play a massive role in finding any bugs or defects in the product. After the implementation test, the testers usually find any faults that the developer could not. It is more like double-checking.
  • Business Analyst: This person ensures that the product hits big and gets the popularity it deserves. They are responsible for all business strategies regarding the launch and growth of the product.
  • Product Manager: The primary role in the complete process is the one played by the product manager. A to Z, they are responsible for everything. The project manager must keep a close eye on the project in every step, ensuring that the appropriate requirements are passed. Project managers are also responsible for keeping up with the quality of the final product and dividing the tasks among their team members.

The people who play this role are the backbone of the success of applying the Waterfall Methodology.
Throughout the article, our focus was on how the Waterfall Project Management method is ineffective in today’s project management. However, its benefits are undeniable. Because the project manager appropriately communicates the tasks from the start, each contributor understands their role better and can efficiently organize their time and contribution to the overall project development.

The project’s cost, timeline, and delivery can be easily calculated since all requirements are clearly defined. With the method being this structured, it is also straightforward to measure the progress and celebrate milestones.
It is also beneficial because it stops the customers from constantly making changes, delaying the project, and adding new team members could quickly get on track with the project tasks and requirements. 

These valuable points make it such a success, but that is not the end of it. The Waterfall Methodology helps keep training simple. This statement means that if there are any unforeseen changes, it will be easy to make changes and add new members, as stated before.
Moreover, it helps you save time and money. Whether or not you decide to commit to waterfall project management completely, there is little doubt that some parts of this approach, exceptionally comprehensive conceptualization and precise documentation, will better prepare you to manage a project correctly the first time. Not failing too much and taking the effort to analyze and plan for objectives early on might save you time and money later.

However, with great benefits come some disadvantages as well. This method has plenty of strengths that play a role in its success; few areas require more defining and flexibility.
For starters, unlike Agile methods, once the process initiates, any necessary changes can be extremely costly and timely since every phase needs a revisit. It affects the product’s delivery date – if one step has been delayed or stopped, the rest will follow, but the deadline will remain the same.

Projects completed using the Waterfall Methodology take longer to deliver than Agile methods since instead of all processes going hand-in-hand, the technique arranges tasks in subsequent mode.
Moreover, there are times when you will have to deal with clients that do not know what they want and sometimes want to be part of the designing or implementation process. This condition creates a liability for more work in later revisions.

Of course, like any other methodology, the Agile method carries its own limitations. And it is up to the project manager to choose the best framework.
When it comes to Waterfall Methodology and Agile, their differences are apparent.

  • The Waterfall is a Linear Sequential Life Cycle Model, whereas Agile is a project management approach involving continuous development and testing.
  • Waterfall methods are far stricter than Agile, which shows a lot more flexibility.
  • Waterfall follows a sequence and pre-defined steps, whereas Agile adapts as the project progresses.
  • Team members working using the Waterfall Method complained that they had to face issues because of the constraints in design, lack of customer feedback, delayed testing. However, in Agile, that is not an issue since the process itself includes evolving through cooperative and communicative efforts with both team members and clients.

The following diagram might help clear the differences out more.

Waterfall Model vs. Agile

The use of Waterfall Methodology is a dying art. Where the method has not lost its success rate, the change in requirements and demands of the customers, markets, and shareholders have changed the level of its needs.
Most clients dislike a one-size-fits-all approach, and the same goes for choosing the best methodology. There is no universal method that works for all projects. Therefore, we prefer to carefully examine specific details and adapt the technique that is a perfect fit.


Andreas Maier | CEO

Andreas is a result-oriented CEO who brings nearly 30 years of experience gained in the high-tech industry. His experience ranges up to leading positions in Fortune 100 companies such as rentalcars.com (PCLN) or Intrasoft International, a leading EU based R&D software vendor. He holds a Ph.D. in Neural Networks from the University of Cologne, Germany.
In the past Andreas has successfully founded and co-founded several startups among others XXL Cloud Inc., eShopLeasing Ltd, and WDS Consulting SA. His expertise is strongly focused on modern headless Commerce and the optimization of processes in IT ecosystems.