This article will unpack what the waterfall methodology is, its benefits, drawbacks, and how it compares to other methods.
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What is the waterfall methodology?
The waterfall methodology is a linear project management approach where each project phase is completed before moving on to the next one.
It follows a rigid and structured process with well-defined steps. It has little or no room for change or flexibility once a phase has been completed.
For example, when using the waterfall method, teams break projects into specific steps that must be completed before moving on to the next.
First, they gather all requirements at the beginning of the project.
Then, they use this information to create a detailed plan. Each phase of this plan flows into the next, hence the “waterfall” name.
An essential aspect of the waterfall method is that you can’t go back and tweak the building’s foundation when you’re several steps down in the process.
You have to do everything right the first time and check to ensure you’re hitting the right marks, so strategic planning is a must.
If you have developed and optimized your processes, you’ll find that everything flows as it should.
Who uses the waterfall methodology?
The waterfall methodology is commonly used in software development, engineering, construction, and manufacturing industries.
The following professionals, roles, departments, and businesses typically utilize the waterfall methodology:
- Project managers: Project managers play a crucial role in implementing the waterfall methodology. They oversee the entire project, coordinate tasks, set timelines, and ensure each phase is completed before moving on to the next. Their goal is to deliver the project on time and within budget.
- Developers and engineers: Professionals involved in technical aspects, such as software developers and engineers, often use the waterfall methodology. They follow a linear process, completing one phase of the project before moving on to the next. This allows them to focus on specific tasks and minimize errors.
- Designers: Designers often use the waterfall methodology, especially in software development and construction industries. They create the initial designs and specifications, which are then handed to the development team for implementation.
- Large organizations: Waterfall is commonly used in large organizations where structure and workflow are essential. The linear nature of the methodology allows for better planning and coordination between different departments and teams.
When to use the waterfall model
The waterfall methodology is best used when you have a well-defined project from the beginning and is unlikely to change in scope.
Generally, this means those with short timelines.
The less certain you are about what will be involved, the more problems you will experience with the waterfall method.
If, for example, you are working with a new client that uses systems you are not familiar with, agile’s learn-as-you-go approach will offer a better experience.
For projects with more familiarity and simplicity, such as template-built websites or products you specialize in, waterfall is the ideal choice.
This step-by-step approach allows you to plan accurately, capitalizing on your knowledge and experience.
As you sketch out your process and requirements, your team can easily wow clients.
5 phases of waterfall project management methodology
The waterfall methodology is broken into five phases.
- Collecting and documenting stakeholder requirements
Let’s dive into each phase and see exactly how the waterfall methodology works.
1. Collect and document stakeholder requirements
Every project using this method starts by meeting with stakeholders (usually the client and your team) to determine what will be involved.
Remember, you will use this information to create a step-by-step plan, so you must get as many details as possible.
You won’t get any more client feedback until the end of the project, so give this step your full attention.
You will also need to clearly document the information you receive. Your team will use this documentation to guide their work throughout the project, so it needs to be accurate and comprehensive.
If you work in software development, you will use this step to design the system you will create. For those in other industries, this is your team brainstorming phase.
Now that you have the product requirements, decide how to complete the project. Make a list of the tools and resources you will need. If you need help from another employee or subcontractor who isn’t on the team, determine who you will work with and how the partnership will go.
Once your team is equipped to do their best work, decide how you will complete the project. Outline the steps you will take and assign tasks to every team member. This plan should guide the entire project, so create it with care.
At this point, you should be fully prepared to complete the work itself. Using the required documentation, work together to develop the product or service you’ve been tasked to create.
After completing the product, you can move to the verification phase. Though you’ve likely been testing the product as you go, use this step to see how it performs. You should be testing for functionality to ensure there aren’t any bugs or issues that need fixing.
Use the verification phase to check the product against your stakeholders’ requirements. Go through the product piece by piece to ensure total client satisfaction when you deliver it. You can deliver the product to your client once you’ve found and fixed any problems.
No matter how thorough your testing, there will likely be issues that your clients will discover as they use the finished product. Before closing the project, you must address and resolve these issues to achieve full customer satisfaction.
4 benefits of waterfall methodology
The waterfall method has numerous benefits, so it remains a popular choice for project teams worldwide.
You will also be introduced to one of the essential tools for effective waterfall project management – the Gantt chart.
Using a Gantt chart lets you visually plan, schedule, and manage tasks throughout your project, ensuring smooth execution and timely delivery.
1. It simplifies project management
Following a step-by-step process allows you to track progress with ease. By simply checking which phase the project is in, you’ll know if you are on track with your timeline and what your team should be doing.
You will always have the client requirements to use as a guide without worrying about mid-project changes.
2. It is easy to implement
Some project management methods require specific training, complicating each addition to the team. The first phase’s detailed requirements documentation eliminates difficulties using the waterfall method.
Your project plan shows exactly what your new team members will do and how you expect them to do it.
3. It saves time and money
One of the best things about this project management method is that it allows you to accurately budget for the project before you begin work. You can determine the costs and time involved initially based on the client’s wishes.
These comprehensive requirements also empower your team to do everything right the first time, saving time on any changes or fixes later on.
4. It makes it easy to track your project
As mentioned, the waterfall methodology is a linear approach to project management, where each project phase is completed before moving on to the next. A Gantt chart is a tool often used in waterfall project management.
It allows teams to plan and schedule tasks, assign resources, and set dependencies in a visually organized manner. A Gantt chart is a benefit of the waterfall methodology because it helps to visualize and track project progress.
What is agile vs. waterfall project planning?
Agile and waterfall are two different project management methodologies.
Waterfall is a linear project approach, where each phase is completed sequentially, with a clear plan and limited flexibility for changes.
Agile project planning is an approach where projects are broken down into smaller deliverables and completed in short iterations.
Agile allows for flexibility, adaptability, and collaboration, while waterfall focuses on detailed planning and execution with little wiggle room for error.
Waterfall project management simplifies project complexity
Don’t let your projects drown in complexity. Use waterfall project management to simplify and enhance your projects.
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