There is no single method that can be crowned as the best project development tool as projects differ from each other in scope, capability, and design. As a result, team leaders take the help of specific tools to develop their projects based on their objectives, timeframe, budget, and additional factors.
In today’s world of software development, Agile and Waterfall are the two most often used processes. Waterfall methodology gained its universal popularity due to its easy-to-use nature and wide applicability in a variety of software development cases. The method offers a structured and sequential process that can be followed by team members quite easily. Waterfall methodology has its own share of advantages and disadvantages. This article aims to explore the benefits and drawbacks of the waterfall methodology while explaining its core functions. It will help you to determine whether to use this in project management or software development.
We will also explain how the methodology helps teams to streamline processes, ensure quality and accountability, and complete projects within a limited timeframe and well-within budget constraints. We will also highlight some of its limitations ranging from rigidity, lack of flexibility, and poor handling of changes in projects. Whether you’re a project manager, developer, or just curious about the many approaches to project management, this post will give you an in-depth look at the waterfall technique and help you decide if it’s the best fit for your project.
What is the Waterfall Model?
The waterfall methodology is regarded as a linear project management or software development approach, where stakeholder and customer requirements are collected before starting to develop the projects, and a sequential project plan is created to carry out those requirements. This approach is called the waterfall model because the tasks are completed one by one, sequentially comparable to the steady flow of a waterfall.
This method has been around for quite some time because it is effective; it is comprehensive and well-structured. The construction, information technology, and software development industries are just a few that frequently employ the waterfall methodology. To manage software engineering projects, one common method is the waterfall software development life cycle (SDLC).
Where Can You Use the Waterfall Model?
Now that we know what is the waterfall model, naturally, a question arises of who should use it and why. Project development teams and project managers implement this method to achieve their objectives depending on the type of businesses they run. Its application is widespread and can be observed in various project management contexts, construction-related firms, manufacturing, IT, and most importantly software development. However, you must choose the best approach for managing software projects properly.
As previously mentioned, the model is a sequential or linear approach. As a result, each step is a direct outcome of the result of the previous step. For this reason, this method is highly applicable in projects where linear progression is expected. For example, a manufacturing a product, these sequential steps must be followed:
✸ A product’s design and qualities are determined before the product comes to life
✸ Raw materials are collected and processed to manufacture the product
✸ All parts are assembled to develop the final product
The client or user of a project is not given as much consideration in the waterfall model as in other approaches. Hence changes in the project midway can create some issues while following this methodology. Client feedback is incorporated once initial needs have been gathered and defined based on input from users. Project managers take notes of these inputs and start working to fulfill these requirements. The client is not involved in the bulk of the waterfall process, which allows the development team to proceed swiftly through the stages of a project.
It is apparent that the waterfall model is specifically useful for teams that want to develop a project which does not require many alterations. It is an excellent method for development projects that are based on fixed and definite requirements. The waterfall model is also a brilliant choice if the project is limited by time and cost. You can calculate the cost of software development to fix a budget and work accordingly. Projects based on the waterfall model are usually well-defined, formulaic, and have specific documentation. Some characteristics of such projects are:
✸ Unchanging specifications
✸ Sufficient resources
✸ A predetermined schedule
✸ Familiar technology
✸ Unanticipated modifications are unlikely
The waterfall method is an excellent approach for teams who are developing a project that needs to run on the first try for their clients. Sometimes businesses risk losing clients by selecting the wrong development methodology. For example, the agile method requires ongoing reiterations, which cannot be suitable if your client requires complete working software on their first try. The waterfall methodology supersedes any other methodology in such cases.
Waterfall Methodology and Its Working Phases
Preliminary investigation allows for more precise projections of the time needed to fulfill each requirement, which in turn allows for a more predictable release date. Waterfall projects make it harder to switch gears than Agile projects if project specifications alter midway through. The waterfall methodology follows specific and sequential protocols that allow it to showcase its features. Let’s discuss the working phases of the model:
This is the first step in executing the waterfall approach where potential requirements, deadlines, budget constraints, guidelines, etc. for the project are gathered and made into formal documentation, often called functional specification. In this phase of development, the project is defined and planned without going into detail about the processes that will be used to build the software of the project.
Teams analyze the prepared functional specification and generate product models and feasibility of business profitability and strategy. Typically, all of the project’s requirements are laid out in a single document. This includes explanations of the project’s budget, assumptions, risks, dependencies, success measures, and deadlines. The most important component of this phase is to figure out the financial feasibility of the product.
After collecting requirements, this step involves developing a plan for how the system will be built. System architecture, modules, interfaces, and data are all described in great depth in the design phase. This phase is often broken down into further two subphases: logical design and physical design. The logical phase deals with the theoretical aspects of the product’s specifications and the physical design phase work toward making the ideas come to life through concrete specifications.
Implementation and Integration
The coding process is where the system is built. Code is written in the chosen programming language, using the chosen tools, in the chosen development environment, per the design requirements. So, a well-documented and designed phase will ensure the success of the implementation phase. Generally, teams try to build smaller units or components and assemble them to make the final product.
At this point, problems are revealed by the quality assurance team and beta tests. The coding phase may need to be restarted in order to fix the issue. So, developers can identify and correct mistakes along the process. Assuming the system has been successfully integrated and tested in this phase, the waterfall method will proceed. Diagnosis or testing is a crucial phase in the model.
Even the best developers will make mistakes when building a product. Hence, this step should be carefully executed.
The system is put into a live setting at this point. Installation, configuration, and production-ready setup are all part of the deployment process. The client examines the deliverable to ensure it satisfies their initial set of requirements. The final step is to hand over the product to the buyer.
After the software has been released to the public, the maintenance period can begin. A group will be created to deal with updates and the distribution of new versions of the program as issues are found and user requests for modifications are received. There are a number of issues that crop up in client environments that need fixing.
The development of software is not a one-time process. Products of such category require timely updates as technology advances. If the software is connected to the internet and faces security risks, then it must be patched in newer versions to minimize such vulnerabilities. So, maintenance is a continuous process as long as the software is deemed operational.
Advantages of the Waterfall Model
Teams using the Waterfall methodology go on only when all preceding steps have been finished. This layout works best for less extensive projects whose outcomes can be clearly articulated from the outset. Nevertheless, there are various advantages of this method such as:
Clear and Well-Structured
The Waterfall Model is a method of software development that relies heavily on planning and organization. Each phase includes clearly defined objectives, deliverables, and completion criteria. This facilitates straightforward project administration and monitoring throughout its duration. Hence, software development phases are well maintained and developers can implement their techniques quite easily.
Easy to Understand and Use
Unlike other development methods, the waterfall methodology is much easier to grasp. As a result, people from non-technical backgrounds can also easily understand its features. The development process not only includes coders but also management, customers, and other stakeholders. The methodology’s easy-to-understand feature makes it a popular choice, especially for small-scale software development projects.
Emphasis on Documentation
All project requirements, design specifications, and testing outcomes are meticulously recorded because of the Waterfall Model’s emphasis on documentation. This facilitates future system upgrades and maintenance. It provides an additional benefit if some of the members of the development team are changed. New members of the team can easily understand the requirements and progress of the product so that they can catch up with the development process without facing many difficulties.
Minimal Customer Involvement
In projects where the client does not have the time or resources to engage actively, the Waterfall Model might be advantageous because it demands minimal involvement from the client. Another benefit it offers is seamless progress of the work. The requirements of the product are discussed in the first phase and customer requirements are documented. As a result, developers can fully concentrate on building the project without any hiccups and deliver the final product as per the required documentation.
Determines Final Objectives Early in the Process
One of the major features of the waterfall model is that the end goal or the final outcome of the product is determined in the initial stages of the development process. As a result, developers have a clear objective in their minds when they start working on the project.
It poses less chance of getting lost in the details as the project moves forward. Unlike other methodologies like Scrum, which divides the development process into separate sprints, the waterfall model sets the focus on the end goal throughout the development process. With a concrete objective in mind, the waterfall methodology eliminates other risks.
Predictable and Reliable
The Waterfall Model is a tried and true method of creating software. The development team will have a better idea of how much time and money are needed for each stage of the project once the requirements have been acquired and analyzed. This facilitates better time and cost management throughout the project. Due to the extremely methodical approach of the model, it transfers information clearly in each step of the process. It further enhances the quality of the work, thus making it more reliable.
Disadvantages of the Waterfall Model
Even though the model has numerous advantages, many developers have criticized the model due to its lack of creativity and for being outdated. The scope, nature, and objectives of the project highlight the methodology’s shortcomings. These constraints should be taken into account while deciding whether or not Waterfall is the right methodology for your team. Let’s try to explore some of the major disadvantages of this model.
Lack of Flexibility
When it comes to creating software, the Waterfall Model is about as stiff and inflexible as it gets. It presumes that the design requirements are completely understood at the outset and that no alterations are necessary. This can be problematic if more requirements arise or if the design needs to be altered. Sometimes development process can take a long time and the requirements of clients can change or even new technology can outdate the current version of the software.
The entire schedule can be thrown off if the project’s specifications are suddenly altered, rendering most of the work you’ve done up to that point meaningless. Hence, a lack of flexibility is something you should be cautious of before adopting this model.
Exclusion of Customer’s Perspective in the Development Process
The waterfall is mostly an internal procedure, with minimal regard for the project’s final user or client. The software industry can benefit from its primary goal of facilitating internal team progress through project phases. Outside of the software business, however, customers typically want to provide input and refine their needs as a project develops.
Ultimately, the product you are trying to build has the only purpose to satisfy its buyer or the customer. Even though adopting to the waterfall model makes it quite easy for the development team to swiftly finish their work, the lack of customer involvement can make them unsatisfied in the end. Sometimes, their requirements can vary depending on the scope and timeframe of the project. This can lead to a lack of user adoption and project failure.
Risk of Project Failure
If even one step of a Waterfall Model project is unsuccessful, the whole process may result in failure. A project’s schedule might be severely pushed back if problems are uncovered during the diagnosis phase and require going back to the design or implementation phase. This model is a sequential approach and one step cannot be completed without the successful implementation of the previous one. So, this model is subject to a high risk of project failure.
The waterfall model does not allow testing or receiving feedback until the last half of the project. Such delayed feedback poses a high risk and can significantly impact the quality of the project. Costs may rise and completion time may be extended as a result. Sometimes feedback may suggest changing the core elements of the software. If such cases occur, the development process can severely suffer as the team might have to go back to the design phase to implement such changes.
Difficulty in Alterations
The Waterfall Model’s inflexibility might be a disadvantage on projects when needs are prone to changes. There may be delays and cost overruns in the project if modifications cannot be made to the model without extensive rework. As a result, changes are very hard to implement if you choose to follow the waterfall model for your product development.
In conclusion, the waterfall model is a widely used software development methodology that follows a sequential process for software development. While the waterfall model may not be ideal for every project, it can be a useful strategy for projects with well-defined needs and well-defined scope. This model works best if you have a small team and clear objectives in mind for your product. The model can be an excellent tool to keep your team focused and organized.
Ultimately, the choice of development approach depends on the individual needs of each project, and developers should carefully analyze the advantages and downsides of the waterfall model before adopting it. It’s best practice to choose the most appropriate approach based on the project’s characteristics instead of making tweaks to adopt a preferred development approach.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do people still use the waterfall model for project development?
Ans: Yes, it is one of the most widely used development approaches.
In which industry waterfall model is preferred?
Ans: The model is particularly popular in industries with strict regulatory requirements for example finance or the healthcare industry.
What is the most common reason for project failure when adopting the waterfall model?
Ans: Difficulty to implement changes in the later stages is one of the main reasons for project failure while implementing the waterfall model.
What is the main advantage of the waterfall model?
Ans: The main advantage of the waterfall mode is its well-structured and easy-to-understand nature.
Can the waterfall model be combined with other development methodologies?
Ans: Yes, many companies combine the waterfall model with other approaches such as DevOps or Agile.