Selecting the right project management methodology is critical to your team’s ability to develop and deliver projects on time and within budget. There’s a vast array of methodologies available, each with unique advantages and drawbacks.
The traditional approach is called waterfall project management. It is a structured and linear plan, where everything is mapped out at the beginning of the project. You can only move to the next phase of development after completing the current phase. Once you’ve moved forward, you can no longer go back to the previous stages.
But what is the waterfall methodology, really? More importantly, how does it compare to other methods?
Below, you’ll learn more about the most popular methodologies available. You’ll also find out how to choose the most ideal approach for your project. To manage your projects even more effectively, you may need to use one of the best project management software solutions.
What Is the Waterfall Project Management Methodology?
A waterfall model refers to a linear and sequential approach to project management that prioritizes extensive planning and documentation. You have to determine all of the client’s requirements at the very beginning of a waterfall project. Then, you create a sequential plan to accomplish those requirements.
Using this approach, a project is divided into various waterfall methodology phases. You have to complete a phase before you can move on to the next one. Since the methodology came from the construction and manufacturing industries, it isn’t as flexible as other project management models such as the agile approach.
Due to its rigid structure, the waterfall methodology can’t accommodate change once you’ve started the project. You can’t move back a step. Thus, you need to make sure that every phase is nearly perfect before moving forward. This enables you to minimize costly errors later on.
Documentation is also important to this methodology. All of the requirements have to be documented and shared with the entire team, making the development process a lot smoother for everyone. At the same time, it ensures that the entire team is on the same page.
The Different Phases of Waterfall Project Management
There are about five to seven waterfall methodology phases. Each phase is dependent on the preceding one. As mentioned, you only move to the next phase once the current phase has been completed. You can’t redo the preceding phases. If you want to redo them, you need to start from the very beginning.
Here are the different phases of waterfall project management:
Everything starts with an idea. During the initial phase, you perform a baseline assessment of your project. That includes the costs and the benefits of the project.
After exploring your client’s proposals, you can hire your project team. The project manager can define the scope, purpose, and deliverables.
This phase is arguably the most critical part of the waterfall methodology. Gathering all the requirements at the beginning of the project enables you to plan every phase without customer correspondence until the completion of the project.
After gathering the requirements, you can proceed to the design phase. No coding happens during this phase. The team brainstorms concrete specs such as programming language and hardware requirements.
Coding takes place after the logical and physical design phases. At this point, you can begin to build your product. You can either integrate them at the end of this phase or the beginning of the next phase. A free project management tool can come in handy to keep all your tasks under control.
Following the coding phase, you can initiate product testing. During this phase, your testers will identify all the problems they can find. If they encounter serious issues, you might have to go back to square one to address them.
Once you complete the product successfully, you can submit the deliverables to the client. The client can then review the product to make sure that it meets all their requirements.
Issues might arise once the product has been deployed. To optimize its performance, you’ll have to make patches and updates to fix them. If there are serious issues, you might have to redo everything.
The Advantages of Waterfall Project Management
The detailed and structured methodology comes with many benefits. Below, you’ll find some of the advantages of using the traditional project management approach.
Easy to use
This methodology is fairly easy to understand and use. You don’t need prior knowledge of the stages to get things done. Plus, you can follow the same sequential stages for every project.
Lets you manage resources efficiently
You can determine the costs of development in advance and manage your resources as this methodology lets you know everything from start to finish.
Extensive documentation prevents developer turnover from disrupting the process. If you have new members on the team, you can get them up to speed by giving them copies of the documents.
Although the waterfall method’s rigidity can be a drawback, it can also be a strength, especially when you’re applying it to the right projects. The clear distinction between every phase enables your teams to organize and divide the work.
Thanks to comprehensive documentation throughout all the phases, your team can see and share your progress. You can also determine missed deadlines.
Helps you meet deadlines
For projects that require specific beginning and end dates, a waterfall methodology will be very reassuring. Its structure lets you deliver the desired outputs on their specified dates.
The Disadvantages of Waterfall Project Management
Despite its many advantages, the waterfall model has its limitations. Here are some of the drawbacks of using a linear and sequential methodology such as the waterfall approach.
One of the biggest disadvantages of a waterfall approach is that it does not support flexibility. Since the processes are laid out in great detail before they are carried out in a linear sequence, there is barely any room for change.
If, say, stakeholders change their minds at some point in the development cycle, it will disrupt the original plan. Hence, it will require a complete redesign. The costs can be too exorbitant that your customer might end up scrapping the project altogether.
Expensive and time-consuming
Changes to your initial plan can be costly and time-consuming. The waterfall methodology entails long delivery times. Product development usually takes a lot more time than it would using other approaches.
If you redo your plans, you’ll have a harder time maintaining strict timelines. You might even have to push back the deployment time.
Testing happens after development
Testing takes place after the development process. You are highly likely to identify bugs later in development. Not only that, fixing these bugs is going to cost more and take more time.
To meet deadlines, testing might be cut short. This could prevent you from seeing bugs in the software, leaving the customer to discover it after deploying the product.
Before proceeding to the next phase, you must always make sure that the current phase is perfect or close enough. That’s because significant errors can be costly and time-consuming. As mentioned, you might have to start over if there are serious problems.
When to Use the Waterfall Project Management Methodology
The waterfall model is ideal for short and simple projects that require long and thorough plans, where one phase has to be accomplished before another can start.
Keep the following terms in mind when you’re determining if the waterfall method makes a suitable approach for your next project.
- Your customer’s objectives are well-defined and not likely to change.
- Stakeholders have a clear idea of what they want.
- You don’t need to perform continuous tests.
- You don’t have to constantly adapt to feedback at various phases of development.
- Your client doesn’t want or demand to be involved in product development.
If your project is bound to change, then the waterfall approach isn’t an ideal project management methodology for you. The same goes if you lack a clear understanding of your customer’s requirements before you launch your project.
Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Scrum Project Management: Which Methodology Is Right for You?
If your project requires a high degree of customer involvement, an agile approach is more ideal than a waterfall methodology. Its flexible approach to project management enables you to carry out changes throughout the development process without restarting the entire project.
The agile methodology is suitable if you’re working on a project where the clients are unsure of their desired outcome. With this approach, you can accommodate changes whenever the client requests them.
Let’s say you’ve decided that an agile approach is suitable for your project. You’ll have to determine the right agile methodology to use. Is scrum right for your project? Or do you need another methodology?
Scrum makes a great choice for projects that don’t have clear requirements, especially ones that are most likely to change throughout the development process.
Ideally, if you have a project with clear and fixed requirements and objectives, the waterfall method is a fitting choice. However, you can also use it when your resources such as time and money are variable, as long as the requirements are well-defined and not likely to change.
Just remember that this linear approach isn’t suitable for projects where clients only have a general idea of the end product. It isn’t designed for discovery and experimentation. Without specific requirements, carrying out a project using the waterfall method will be very challenging.
Waterfall Project Management - Frequently Asked Questions
What is agile project management?
The agile method is customer-centric. It welcomes changes, enabling teams to focus on quality by constantly improving their processes and deliverables. Unlike the waterfall method, your clients have the opportunity to make changes throughout the project’s development.
There is, however, a downside to this. It can be cumbersome for some clients who don’t have the time or interest to participate in the development process.
You can test your software as you’re building it, enabling you to minimize costly errors and bugs. You can even perform fixes without having to redo everything.
These are the benefits of an agile method:
- Fast product development lifecycles
- Supports efficient communication between team members
- Allows heavy customer involvement
- Promotes accountability
- Requires small but fully committed teams
Scrum is one of the frameworks of this project management methodology. Others include Kanban, Adaptive Project Framework, and Extreme Programming.
What is scrum project management?
Scrum is a specific agile methodology that promotes effective team collaboration for complex products. However, take note that not all agile methods use the scrum project management approach.
It gets its name from the rugby term scrum, where players huddle closely together to get the ball. When it comes to project management, the term scrum refers to the brief meetings that teams conduct to discuss their progress, anticipate future challenges, and determine their next game plan.
The scrum methodology entails organizing work into manageable pieces called sprints, which may take anywhere from two to four weeks to accomplish. A scrum master leads these sprints. After each sprint, they review their performance and adopt the necessary changes before proceeding to the next sprint. We'd recommend you to use special software for these purposes. Choose one for any operating system: iOS, Android, Windows, or even project management tool for Mac.
Scrum masters aren’t like project managers in that they don’t need to give the team directions or daily assignments. Part of their responsibility is addressing issues that might hamper the team’s progress.
Agile vs. waterfall project management: What’s the difference?
Both agile and waterfall project management methods enable development teams to build high-quality software. However, their methodologies vary greatly. Knowing the difference between the two approaches can help you choose the most ideal processes and methods to accomplish your projects.
For starters, waterfall project management is linear and sequential, while the agile model is incremental and iterative. That means development and testing activities can be done at the same time using an agile approach. But in a waterfall model, development teams can only proceed to the next phase of development or testing once the current phase has been completed.
Just to be clear: agile project management involves some sort of sequence, too. However, it uses much shorter sequences than the waterfall method. For instance, you still have to do requirements analysis before beginning the project, which you have to complete so that you can start coding. Until you can write and test the code, you can’t deliver it.
The waterfall methodology entails a slow development process. You can probably release working software once or twice a year using this method. An agile approach, on the other hand, lets you deliver working software about once every week.
Here are the main differences between agile vs. waterfall methodologies.
- The agile methodology is flexible, while the waterfall methodology is unadaptable to change.
- In an agile approach, planning and execution take place simultaneously. Testing happens after the build phase in a waterfall method.
- Requirement changes are acceptable in an agile method. But in a waterfall approach, they are prohibited once the project starts.
- Projects can be managed by the entire team with the agile method, which means a project manager is not necessary. On the other hand, a project manager is essential to every phase of the waterfall methodology.
Agile vs. scrum vs. waterfall project management: When to use them?
If your project requires a rapid delivery time and constant revision, you should choose agile project management over the waterfall method. In particular, you can use scrum, which is a specific agile methodology, when your project doesn’t have clear and fixed requirements. Since scrum supports collaboration and communication, it is preferable for projects where clients demand greater involvement.
Waterfall project management, on the other hand, suits projects that require less client involvement. More importantly, it’s designed for projects with well-defined objectives and requirements. However, it requires more time than the agile method.
Simply put, if speed is more important than quality, then an agile methodology will do.
Which projects require the waterfall methodology?
A waterfall approach is suitable for less complex projects that require detailed plans. Take a look at this list. If your project meets the following conditions, you can utilize a waterfall approach.
- Your customer’s requirements, budget, and scope are clear and not likely to change.
- Your project has strict deadlines.
- The development teams aren’t very experienced.
- The project isn’t high-risk.
- The customer doesn’t require huge involvement in the development process.
- You have a longer time for building and testing software.