Is the Waterfall Model Right for You?

Photo by Startaê Team

While time is linear, not much else involved in project management is. As projects continue to increase in complexity, it can turn a project manager’s job into a nightmare. A team may take two steps forward, and then a setback occurs that forces them to move five steps back. A linear model that can work for some teams is the waterfall model, which uses a sequence of steps that moves onto the next step after completing the previous one. While this model works for smaller projects with a clear objective, it might not work for projects entailing more complex tasks. The information below explains the waterfall model and why it might not be the best option for your team. Later, a suitable alternative for many projects will be introduced called the agile model.

What Is the Waterfall Model?

The waterfall model is a type of process model, which means it is a graphical representation of processes for understanding function interactions. The waterfall model is also known as a linear-sequential model. It is a relatively simple model since each phase is completed in order until the end of the project, and no phases overlap.

The waterfall model is commonly used to ensure a software development project’s success. It’s possible to apply the model to projects in other fields. However, this article’s scope will focus on the model as applied to software projects. When the model is applied to such a project, each of the six phases represents a component of the development process.

The Six Phases of the Waterfall Model

  • Requirement Analysis: The model’s initial stage involves defining all the project’s function and nonfunctional requirements. Functional requirements pertain to the project’s external fulfillments, such as obtaining credit-card validation for activating a free trial. On the other hand, nonfunctional requirements involve technicalities, such as measuring performance.
  • System Design: After the requirements have been analyzed, they can be transformed into a design or flow chart. The project specifications are created and studied to determine what the final project will look like, along with the required actions to get there.
  • Implementation: In software development, this stage is where the actual coding begins. All the work compiled in the previous steps is applied to this stage to start implementing the project findings.
  • Integration and Testing: After the coding is completed, testing rounds begin. The product is not prepared to be delivered to the customer until all bugs have been sorted out. An optional user acceptance test (UAT) might be performed at this stage, which involves a small group of initial users testing the product.
  • Deployment: The deployment stage involves the release of the software. The product is complete, and the development team releases the deliverables.
  • Maintenance: After the product has been released to the public, new issues may be brought to the developer’s attention. The development team remains responsible for providing solutions to the problems and updating the software based on the feedback.

The Main Advantage of the Waterfall Model

The waterfall model is straightforward compared to other methodologies. The structure is simple, with each step well-defined. The process is easy to follow since each step must be fully completed before moving on to the next. No phases overlap, avoiding any backpedaling on the project. It can be especially challenging for teams to be motivated to continue moving forward when it feels like they cannot get ahead.

The waterfall model is useful for smaller, predictable projects that benefit from well-documented and fixed milestones. For example, projects that might benefit from this model include projects that develop on a type of technology that has already been mastered, since there will likely be less risk involved. This project might involve a subgroup working on a clear objective where the team is confident that the objective will not require much of their time and will not experience many hiccups along the way.

The Main Disadvantage of the Waterfall Model

While the waterfall model is a straightforward, chronological process, the majority of projects do not realistically fit into this model. Unfortunately, many projects do not always work this way, especially software development projects. Today, the waterfall model is regarded as weak since project managers begin to develop less traditional management approaches.

The fixed approach makes implementing any sort of change difficult. For example, projects launching new software for the first time might not benefit from this model as the team might have to rely on outside resources beyond those described in their analysis stage. In this case, the team might have a better chance of succeeding with another model, such as the agile process described below.

The Agile Process

Arguably the more common model of the two, the agile process describes an alternative method that relies on the product, its people, and communications. Agile development is much more flexible in nature compared to the waterfall model. It combines a variety of tools to create a more efficient software development process.

At its core, the work completed in an agile process still closely resembles the waterfall model. The model still requires designs, requirements, development, and the integration of other products. Finally, the product is tested and modified according to the testing results until it is ready to use. The main difference between the two models is that the agile model uses an empirical control method, which means there is more focus on evaluating and continuing based on the current observations. Rather than moving through clear-cut stages, the agile process adapts depending on the actual project’s status.

Whether your team decides to opt for the waterfall model or the agile model, they could benefit from using project management software. actiTIME is an intuitive app for managers to plan their waterfall- or agile-based projects. It allows them to create tasks, assign them accordingly, and keep a close look at task progress. actiTIME can help you detect any problems hindering team performance in a waterfall or agile-based project.

Originally posted at

Your ultimate guide to productivity and time management