The simplest and oldest of all project management methodologies is named Waterfall project management. In the 20th century, especially before the invention of Agile project management, IT, healthcare, and other industries used this method vastly. But in this fast-paced world, the relevance of this method has reduced in most of the sectors.
Waterfall methodology is traditional and linear- it means only when one task is finished in this method, we can proceed to the next one. But in this method, we can hardly implement any new changes in the project. So the plan has to be detailed from the very beginning. In the meantime, if there is another cheaper or new product becomes available in the market, the whole process will not bring any profit from the market.
» So, what is waterfall project management?
If we are to put it in a sentence, waterfall project management is a linear project management methodology that requires mapping the process into separate and sequential phases.
Here, the stakeholders know what they can expect from the very first of the project, and the team plans out a detailed guideline with a single timeline so they can have all the deliverables. Also known as the linear sequential life cycle model, waterfall project management methodology provides distinct and clear roles to all its team members.
» What are the phases of the waterfall model?
Though the number of waterfall project management phases varies from 5-7 depending upon the type of project, experts made the primary division according to the frame provided by the inventor of Waterfall methodology, Winston W. Royce. Here are the main stages:
1. Requirements: The requirement is the first of all waterfall project management stages where the project team brainstorms deliverables, and the project is approved. It is consist of a few steps-
• Scope: The Company calculates the outcome means the final product or service in this phase.
• Stakeholder expectation: Detailed meeting with the stakeholders is done to ensure the companies and their expectations from these projects are on the same page. As a non-iterative process, the deliverables have to be well-visualized, detailed, and final.
• Research: A literature survey is done in this phase, where the company researches all the similar products and services to find out the relevance and USP of this project.
• Kickoff: In a final meeting, the company and stakeholder finalize all the project specifications and assign the team members to start the project. This is where the project team starts the actual work for the project.
2. System design: In this phase, the whole project planning takes place. It has two sub-phases-logical design- where the team brainstorms the outline, and the physical design- where they put the theoretical solution to use in steps.
Here two main works are done:
• Collecting tasks: where the team enlists all the small tasks required throughout,
• Scheduling: All the tasks are given a deadline and scheduled sequentially. Scheduling those tasks is done using a Gantt chart.
3. Implementation: Here the team does the actual work. This phase is for-
• Assigning task: The Company assigns the tasks to the individual team members according to their capability and availability.
• Monitoring and tracking: Closely tracking and monitoring all the steps are needed as delaying one single task may result in missing the deadline of the entire project for the tight scheduling.
• Managing resources: The team gathers all the resources for the project are, and makes sure that the supplies remain continuous throughout the project.
• Reporting to stakeholders: The project team report to the stakeholders about the progress and outcome of the project.
• Testing: The product or service is tested and checked if it meets the final deliverables wanted. If the clients ask for any change of deliverables at this moment, the company will need to repeat the whole planning and implementation steps.
• Delivering: The clients get the final product or service.
4. Verification: Even after completion of the working part of the project, they have to deal with the paper works before closing the project.
• Pay contracts: The management checks and duly pay all the agreements for human resources and product components made over the process of the project.
• Create a template: In case another work of a similar kind is required to take up by the company, the template is created and preserved.
• Closing paperwork: By meeting all the requirements, the team closes all the contracts. And the final and detailed report is submitted.
• Celebrate: The project is now said to be completed by the team.
5. Maintainance: Even after completion, some ongoing works are to continue, like updating the services or products from time to time. This upkeep is necessary for the product to remain relevant to the market and keep gaining profits.
Some people or companies make 5 to 7 phases of this method too. Like, some prefer to divide the verification step as-
• Testing phase: where the company tests service or product to check it meets all the primary expectations,
• Deployment: (if the final deliverable is a service)/ deliver (if the deliverable is a product) phase- where the company officially launches the project.
» What are the advantages of the waterfall model?
There are certain advantages of this thoroughly planned waterfall project management methodology, for which so many industries used this method in the previous century.
• Replication: It is one of the main waterfall project management benefits, as it makes the initiation easy for any similar project in the future.
• Documentation: Waterfall methodology requires extreme documentation of all the steps. The documents also come in handy when they want any revise or for any future references. As the process is non-repetitive, not documenting in the right way may lead to confusion and delays.
• Measure progress: To be able to know how much a project has progressed is one of the greatest advantages of waterfalls. The team members update their progress from time to time in the Gantt chart for the authority to track the progress.
• Clarity: The Company plans all the processes and deliverables at the very beginning. So the clients and the project team know what to do and what to expect from this project. The whole process is simple as the team completes it in one go and does the planning when all the solutions to the probable problems are thought up.
• Budgeting and estimation: The team plans out each nitty-gritty detail at the beginning. So the team can estimate the resources, timing, and budget required. This makes the company, project team, and the stakeholders aware of how much to invest in a project to calculate its ROI and profit margin.
• No delay: As there is no last minute or mid-way addition of requirements, the execution can run smoothly as there will be no delay for a change of planning.
• Scheduling beforehand: Each employee gets to know their work schedule ahead of time, and they can adjust their other commitments accordingly. Even the management can easily find out which employee is not working so they can assign sudden emergencies to them without over-burdening any other employees.
• Small projects: This process works great for small projects, as there are limited risks and the timeline require is not that big. The technology, deliverables, and market remain comparatively stable in the small timeframe, and there is hardly any chance of a redo.
» What are the disadvantages of the waterfall model?
But like any other system, waterfall project management methodology has some disadvantages too. In fact, comparing the waterfall model pros and cons, most industries are not taking up projects with this method of management.
• Flexibility: The flexibility of the project is practically null in this case. But nowadays, new and advanced techniques are coming to the market every few months or even days, and the market demand is changing every hour. So the market research done two or more years ago at the beginning of a project might not stay relevant when the product or service finally releases. Lack of flexibility is a major drawback of this system.
• Detailing: The waterfall methodology runs on detailing. The stakeholders as well as the team must fix all the details of the process and outcomes from the very first day in this project, which for most of the time.
• Change in priority: Frequently, the stakeholders cannot visualize the whole project and suggest changes unless the company develops a prototype. But for the changing market and economic situation, the requirements and priorities of the clients are likely to change over time.
• Rejection: But once the prototype is developed in the verification phase, correcting a pat required planning thoroughly one more time and going through the entire implementation step. It becomes costly and time-consuming for the company.
• Articulate needs: According to the feedback of the users or the current market, they might need to make changes to the deliverables, and these changes are hard to foresee from the very first day.
• Not for all types of projects: This method is not suitable for products with high risks, a large budget, and complex processes. Even you should not make any knowledge-based products with waterfall.
So these waterfall model disadvantages make the process difficult to work on in this age and era for most of the industries.
» When to use the waterfall model?
As the simplest to use among all the methodologies, one only needs to master planning to use waterfall project management methodology as an expert. And they have the Gantt chart as a tool for it. The steps of using the waterfall methodology are-
• Uploading documents to the software,
• WBS or work breakdown structure- where the team collects all the tasks associated with it,
• Set up the Gantt chart and the view of the horizontal bar,
• Create the prominent phases and distinguishing that in that chart,
• Creating milestones and marking them,
• Brainstorming all the dependencies and linking them to the tasks correctly,
• Assigning tasks to the members via colouring or mentioning in the comments,
• Managing the resources,
• Tracking the work progress and monitoring each task, and helping out team members if they are stuck somewhere,
• Creating detailed reports on each part of the project,
• Finally duplicating the plan for future references for the new projects.
With these steps, one can easily use waterfall project management for any project.
» Examples of waterfall model
Though sectors like the IT industry do not use the waterfall project management methodology anymore, some of the projects use this method to date. We mainly see the examples of waterfall model nowadays when-
• The risk is lower,
• The budget is lower,
• The time to complete the project is a few months,
• And when some human lives are on the line, so the project needs to be perfect regardless of the time it may take- like constructing a bridge and inventing a vaccine.
Here are the examples of the waterfall model is used:
• In the banking sector,
• Healthcare unit,
• Control system for nuclear facilities,
• Space shuttles,
• And in the development of the Department of Defense (DOD), military and aircraft.
» What is the best project management software for waterfall methodology?
Due to the popularity and simplicity, you can find much suitable software in any project management software list from the internet. Most of them rely on similar methods like the Gantt chart. There you can find two types of software- desktop-based and online.
If you want a short project management software comparison of these two categories, the online software is more in use now. As you can easily share the planning online, and you do not need to go for costly licensing for all the users of the tool via online software. You can use the online software with a nominal subscription fee, and you can work with the tools even when you are in your home or anywhere outside your office facilities. So especially in the time when work from home is in the craze, you should opt for online software.
As the oldest of all methods, waterfall project management has its user base all over the world. While we cannot ignore its significance for some specific industries even now, the overall appeal of waterfall methodology is going downhill.
The name “waterfall” was in use specifically for IT-related projects at first, but later this name became closely associated with the method in all the industries. While there is a tremendous historical significance of this method, we have to rely more on modern methodologies like Agile, Scrum, and other methods for their iterative and cost-effective approach. But still, in some major projects like space-ships or construction industries, the impact of waterfall project management methodology is inevitable.