What Is The Waterfall Model? Waterfall Model In A Nutshell

The waterfall model was first described by Herbert D. Benington in 1956 during a presentation about the software used in radar imaging during the Cold War. Since there were no knowledge-based, creative software development strategies at the time, the waterfall method became standard practice. The waterfall model is a linear and sequential project management framework. 

Understanding the waterfall model

Fourteen years later, American computer scientist Winston Walker Royce published the first formal diagram of the process which would later become known as the waterfall model. Royce suggested that Benington’s model was flawed because testing only happened at the end of the process. To address potential sources of failure and mitigate risk, he introduced five steps where progress flows from the top to the bottom like a waterfall.

As significant as the contributions of Bennington and Royce were, it is important to note that neither used the term waterfall to describe their work. That distinction goes to Bell and Thayer, who mentioned the term in a 1976 paper titled Software Requirements: Are They Really A Problem?

Despite the recent popularity of more iterative agile methods, the waterfall method is still relevant today – particularly for large internal projects that do not benefit from rapid customer feedback or the strict control of materials or distribution. Furthermore, the model is relatively easy to implement and manage and follows the same sequential steps for each project. With start and end points clearly defined, project risks, deadlines, and progress are easily communicated to the relevant stakeholders. 

The seven phases of the waterfall model

The number and indeed the nature of waterfall model phases varies according to the particular interpretation, business, or industry.

Regardless of the context, each phase in the model is completely dependent on the previous one and must be completed, reviewed, and approved before the next phase can begin.

The seven phases, with a particular focus on software development, include:

  1. Conception – the first phase starts with an idea and a baseline assessment of the project and its costs and benefits.
  2. Initiation – with the project defined, the objectives, purpose, scope, and deliverables must also be defined by assembling the project team.
  3. Requirement analysis – here, the team identifies project requirements and stakeholder expectations by gathering information from surveys, questionnaires, and brainstorming, among other methods. Before moving to the next phase, project requirements must be documented and distributed to each member of the team.
  4. System design – requirements are then analyzed and a system design is prepared, with many companies using a Gantt chart to create a schedule. Some businesses choose to divide system design into two phases: logical design and physical design. Logical design involves brainstorming possible solutions, while physical design involves transforming the brainstormed ideas into concrete specifications. While no coding should occur during software development, the team may establish hardware requirements or a programming language.
  5. Implementation – here, programmers use the requirements and specifications to create a functional product. Team members are assigned specific tasks which are monitored and tracked to avoid bottlenecks. Progress is also regularly reported to stakeholders. Lastly, code is typically written in small pieces in preparation for the next phase.
  6. Testing – the code is then tested methodically for errors before the product is delivered to the customer. User acceptance tests can be incorporated during this phase, where users try the product before it is released to the general public. During the latter stages of the testing phase, any freelance contractors are paid out and a project template is created for use in similar future projects. 
  7. Maintenance – in the final phase, customers report additional, real-world usage issues. Based on this feedback, the core project team works to solve problems and modify the software where necessary. Significant issues may force the team to return to phase three and repeat the process.

Key takeaways:

  • The waterfall model is a linear and sequential project management framework. The waterfall model concept was first described by Herbert D. Benington during a presentation about the software used in radar imaging.
  • The waterfall model is still relevant today and is particularly useful for large internal projects that do not benefit from rapid customer feedback or the strict control of materials.
  • The waterfall model is comprised of seven phases: conception, initiation, requirements analysis, system design, implementation, testing, and maintenance. Each phase must be completed, reviewed, and approved before the next phase can begin.

Other Management Frameworks

Change is an important and necessary fact of life for all organizations. But change is often unsuccessful because the people within organizations are resistant to change. Change management is a systematic approach to managing the transformation of organizational goals, values, technologies, or processes.
An effective risk management framework is crucial for any organization. The framework endeavors to protect the organization’s capital base and revenue generation capability without hindering growth. A risk management framework (RMF) allows businesses to strike a balance between taking risks and reducing them.
Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.
Herzberg’s two-factor theory argues that certain workplace factors cause job satisfaction while others cause job dissatisfaction. The theory was developed by American psychologist and business management analyst Frederick Herzberg. Until his death in 2000, Herzberg was widely regarded as a pioneering thinker in motivational theory.
The Kepner-Tregoe matrix was created by management consultants Charles H. Kepner and Benjamin B. Tregoe in the 1960s, developed to help businesses navigate the decisions they make daily, the Kepner-Tregoe matrix is a root cause analysis used in organizational decision making.
The ADKAR model is a management tool designed to assist employees and businesses in transitioning through organizational change. To maximize the chances of employees embracing change, the ADKAR model was developed by author and engineer Jeff Hiatt in 2003. The model seeks to guide people through the change process and importantly, ensure that people do not revert to habitual ways of operating after some time has passed.
The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.
Agile project management (APM) is a strategy that breaks large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. In the APM methodology, each project is completed in small sections – often referred to as iterations. Each iteration is completed according to its project life cycle, beginning with the initial design and progressing to testing and then quality assurance.
A holacracy is a management strategy and an organizational structure where the power to make important decisions is distributed throughout an organization. It differs from conventional management hierarchies where power is in the hands of a select few. The core principle of a holacracy is self-organization where employees organize into several teams and then work in a self-directed fashion toward a common goal.
The CAGE Distance Framework was developed by management strategist Pankaj Ghemawat as a way for businesses to evaluate the differences between countries when developing international strategies. Therefore, be able to better execute a business strategy at the international level.
First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.
Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.
Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.
The Pomodoro Technique was created by Italian business consultant Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system where work is performed in 25-minute intervals.
Andy Grove, helped Intel become among the most valuable companies by 1997. In his years at Intel, he conceived a management and goal-setting system, called OKR, standing for “objectives and key results.” Venture capitalist and early investor in Google, John Doerr, systematized in the book “Measure What Matters.”

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