November 15, 2019

The Beginners Guide to Waterfall Project Management

Waterfall Project Management Methodology

Where software development is concerned, Waterfall was the first project management methodology. It stems from the construction industry, where changes are very difficult - once you’ve built a large bridge, for example, it’s very difficult to turn back and improve the structures. This inability to respond easily to repeated change leaves some feeling that Waterfall project management is not well suited to software development. For any project manager, Waterfall can be a somewhat risky strategy – but it definitely has its advantages.


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Waterfall Project Management

What Does Waterfall Project Management Entail?

Waterfall always follows the same steps (although the names can differ): 
  • Feasibility 
  • Plan
  • Design
  • Build
  • Test
  • Production
  • Support
This project management method relies on any design work or planning being done before the coding takes place. Firstly, requirements are gathered, and these are normally recorded in a product requirements document. Next, the analysis is performed which produces business rules and schema. 

Next is the design phase, in which the software architecture is created. After this, the development phase is carried out and the software is integrated. Testing comes almost at the end of the entire process, in which developers will test their product and complete the debugging process. Finally, the project is put into production and there are migration and support of the system that has been built. 

It is incredibly important to note that each phase must be completed independently – this method demands that each is completed before a team begins the next. There are some variations of Waterfall project management, in which teams can decide to move backwards to make changes in previous phases. In its truest form, however, Waterfall is incredibly linear and somewhat inflexible. 

The Gantt chart is without a doubt the most critical tool for Waterfall project management, and it creates a timeline of every phase of your project. Project managers can see at a glance each section of work as it descends down the timeline (hence the name Waterfall). There is a wide variety of online tools for project managers who are looking to implement Waterfall into their projects, and this method has its own number of principles and practices which they should be aware of.

Benefits of Waterfall Project Management

  • One of the great benefits of this methodology is that the extensive planning and gathering phases can highlight any issues before design work has even begun. In the instance that problems arise needing an alternative solution, this can all be organized in the first stages of the project. 
  • This process also means that teams end up collating substantial documentation from the start, with every possible requirement recorded. This is useful not just for training purposes, as new staff members can learn quickly by reading the documentation, but it also means that this knowledge won’t leave the business if a staff member does. 
  • Team members will also be aware of which part of the project they will be working on and when, and they’ll know this in advance. Any work will also be separated into understandable, clear sections which makes life easy for the project manager and any non-developer staff members. 
  • Once the requirements have been given to the team, client input is very much on a minimal basis. This can be a huge time-saver for teams and clients because neither side has to synchronize their schedules with one another. 
  • Because teams can plan to set aside a good deal of time in the software development phase, any problems found early on will be far more cost-effective to fix than later down the line.

Problems with Waterfall Project Management

  • All the planning in the world won’t be of benefit in this method when clients aren’t sure of what they want exactly. If there is any uncertainty over what the available technology can produce, then goals can change with time and this method struggles with that. 
  • Because going back to improve work is very difficult with this method, any unforeseen problems that are caused by design are hard to deal with. Remember, this isn’t a fluid project management tool.
  • A backlog can be caused if one piece of work is late because subsequent pieces of work will also become late. This can cause teams to need to work past the project deadline.
  • Testing, in Waterfall project management, is carried out at the end of a project. This means that this phase can tend to be rushed, as teams hurry to try and meet the project deadline. Whilst this can save time initially, poor testing can lead to long-term issues with the software. 
  • Some would argue that this method Is redundant, due to the many perceived problems with it which have led to a number of variations of the model (such as the Sashimi model).  

When Should You Use Waterfall Project Management?

This method is great for fixed projects in terms of budgets, estimations, and needs. If it won’t need reiterating, this is a fitting process for project managers to implement. If the work needing to be completed is low-risk, such as when a team is cloning a project that has proven already successful, this is also a suitable process. 

When Shouldn’t You Use Waterfall Project Management?

It is advisable not to use this method if the project involves work for a field with quickly-changing standards. Also, if you think you’ll need to gather and work with user feedback, this isn’t going to be the best method for you. 

Conclusion

Every project manager should understand exactly what their aims and goals are for the projects they are working on and look to find a method that suits each one. If your organization is needing a product that requires thorough documentation and a solid structure, this could well be a great fit for your team. If not, you might want to look into other methods, such as Agile – which respond well to change. It is recommended to read up on as many methods as possible because choosing the right one can make all the difference in the success of your project. 

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