Before you launch yourself into the management of a project, it is essential to define the method that you will follow. There is a wide variety of methods, from the newer agile approach to the older and more traditional waterfall method, you are spoiled for choice.
Here is a quick guide to help you understand the functionality of the Waterfall Method, along with its advantages and disadvantages.
The Waterfall method, or ‘cascading’, involves managing a project by following linear and sequential phases. Every phase is focused on and devoted to a particular task and depends on the results of a previous phase.
In the same way that water coming down a waterfall cannot rise, the project team cannot (or can hardly) go back. After each completed step, you must move on to the next. The project follows a specific direction and achieves its final objective by following each step, one after another.
Origin of the Waterfall method
In June 1956, Herbert D. Benington presented a phase model for software development for the first time. However, the first description of the waterfall model is attributed to Winston W. Royce, in an article published in 1970. The term “cascade” is used for the first time in 1976 in an article by Bell and Thayer which credits Royce for the term (source: Wikipedia).
Thanks to its logical sequence and ease of implementation, the waterfall method is quickly adopted by many industries, including construction and computer software development.
How does it work?
The waterfall method of project management follows a succession of six phases in a precise and strict linear order. A phase cannot start until the previous phase is completed.
Requirements: All the needs and requirements of the client are identified at the start of the project, which enables the planning the following phases without the involvement of the client until the delivery of the project.
Analysis: the team analyzes the client’s requests in order to define precise specifications.
Design: this phase consists of planning all the steps necessary for the realization of the project.
Implementation: the team enters the product realization phase by precisely following the customer’s specifications.
Validation: the team delivers the completed project to the client who tests it and checks whether it meets all their requirements before validating it. If there are any errors or problems, the team fixes them until the client is completely satisfied with the project.
Commissioning: the finished product can finally be installed and used.
A phase does not begin until the results of the previous phase are validated. No return is possible unless a major problem was discovered during the verification phase.
The project team works alone, carefully following the specifications and requirements defined during the first phase. The client is no longer involved throughout the duration of the project until the validation phase. It is therefore essential that nothing is forgotten during the first phase.
Advantages and disadvantages
Like all working methodologies, the waterfall approach has its own advantages and disadvantages.
If the objectives of your project are clearly identified, the waterfall method is perfectly suited because it is simultaneously simple, easy to set up, logical and very structured. It is also ideal for projects where quality is more important than cost and time.
Since everything must be planned upstream, the cascade method allows you to have a precise idea of the budget necessary for the realization of the project. It also makes it possible to precisely plan the necessary time and resources for the smooth running of the project. No phase overlaps and we know precisely when the project should be delivered.
It is easier to measure the progress of the project with this method since all the progress of the project is defined upstream.
After the requirements phase, the presence of the client is not necessary during the course of the project, which is convenient for clients with limited availability.
The main disadvantage of the waterfall method is its lack of flexibility. As it takes place by following precise steps, it leaves no room for unforeseen events and modifications.
With this approach, you are more likely to see your client dissatisfied and disappointed with the end result of the project. Since the client cannot intervene and will only see his project once it is finished, it is possible that it is not in line with his expectations and his needs which may have changed, along with the context of the project (new competitors, new technologies, new markets, etc.).
For any change, the team will have to review the entire project (or the majority of it) because all stages can potentially be affected. This discourages any changes from being made to the project, a change may generate delays and additional costs. It is less practical and more expensive to add an additional option on an almost finished project than on a project in progress.
Finally, this type of waterfall method is not suitable for complex, large-scale projects.
The strict and rigorous organization of the waterfall method is very popular in some industries, however, today, the agile method is often preferred to the waterfall method as it offers greater flexibility and allows the customer to be involved throughout the project. However, it is quite possible to create your own method by combining these two approaches.