The waterfall methodology is a project management strategy for projects that already have a predetermined end result and/or a series of known steps that the project team must take. The methodology resembles a waterfall in its singular flow, which involves reaching and completing one stage before moving to the next.
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What Is Waterfall Methodology in Project Management?
Waterfall methodology, also known as the waterfall model, is an approach to project management in which a series of tasks is completed linearly. In waterfall projects, an entire stage of the larger project must be finished before moving to the next stage. Often, dependencies must be completed to set the proper foundation for the following phase.
The concept of waterfall projects originated in the manufacturing industry. In manufacturing and construction, hardware must be installed in a specific order, and a project typically has a clearly defined outcome or product goal from the outset. Large shifts in these kinds of projects can also be costly and infeasible, such as when new equipment needs to be purchased or partially completed construction must be suddenly redone.
Now, the waterfall model is used in multiple industries for product and solution development life cycles that are clearly defined and mapped. Project management tools track each task in a waterfall project and send notifications to team members when a task is overdue or the next task needs to be completed.
When is Waterfall Methodology useful?
The waterfall methodology is best for highly structured projects that don’t require as much flexibility. Such projects include work sessions that have a specific and predetermined end result or products that have already been built multiple times. In other words, waterfall works well when the business knows exactly what the final product should look like.
Waterfall projects have sequential steps that must be completed in a certain order. Often, the success of the next stage of a project depends on the previous one being fully finished, like the assembly of a mechanical product or construction of a building.
Specific examples of waterfall use cases include:
- Planning and executing an annual marketing event that follows the same schedule each time
- Creating blueprints for a parking garage and building the structure
- Developing a web application for a single business use case, where the team already knows each module or webpage that the web interface needs
- Onboarding new hires and tracking the completion of each sequential stage of training
Also read: Waterfall Software Development & Tools
Differences Between Agile and Waterfall Methodologies
The agile project management method is designed for projects that change, sometimes drastically, throughout their runtime. Often, agile methodologies allow business customers to regularly review the product as it’s developed so the company can tailor the product to the customer’s needs. Agile methods frequently require feedback from business stakeholders outside the project team as well. Agile projects provide more space for creativity and flexibility because they don’t require each step to be completed sequentially. If the team needs to add a step or a new team member, they’re able to make that adjustment.
If a business wants its customers to give input throughout the course of a project, the agile methodology may be a better fit. Products that are reviewed by customers during the development cycle are subject to change, and an agile approach gives the business more flexibility to adjust components of the product. Agile methodologies are also better for teams that are creating a product or completing a project for the first time and may not have identified every detail of the final deliverable.
Waterfall methodology, on the other hand, better fits projects that are highly structured and aiming for very specific results. A waterfall project moves from stage to stage until it reaches a clear finishing point; it is often more suited to projects that have set clear deadlines for tasks. Agile projects follow a more circular path of development and may be reevaluated multiple times as agile teams work to improve the product.
Waterfall Project Management Software
Project management software for waterfall projects allows teams to manage task schedules and dependencies within the project, so organizations can see exactly what has been completed, what tasks are related, and who’s responsible for each task. The following PM products offer tools that help waterfall teams organize their projects and manage each stage.
Zoho Projects features Gantt charts that allow users to create tasks and use the drag and drop functionality to schedule task timelines. With Zoho’s Gantt charts, users have multiple options for dependencies, which they can add to tasks and edit throughout the project lifecycle. The baseline schedule feature allows users to create baseline times for task completion and compare that to actual task progress.
LiquidPlanner‘s Scheduling Engine updates task progress as team members work on tasks and predicts the time a task will be finished based on progress updates. LiquidPlanner allows different teams to flexibly design their projects, creating a format that’s more suitable to either waterfall or agile methodologies. It offers Gantt chart and burndown chart views as well.
Wrike‘s Timeline view reveals connections between tasks, and users have four different types of dependencies they can select. The Conflict Monitor widget reveals when project milestones conflict with task dates. Wrike also sends emails to dependency assignees when a task is complete, alerting them that they can begin the dependent task.
Smartsheet offers free work breakdown structure templates, which are available in Gantt chart format and other formats as well. Users can create subtasks and set relationships between tasks. They’re able to choose between Kanban, Gantt, grid, and chart views. Smartsheet also allows users to design workflows that are automatically triggered by user actions, such as making changes to a certain sheet.
Does Your Team Need Waterfall Software?
Because waterfall methodologies are highly structured, teams that already have predetermined project stages and strict task deadlines will likely benefit from software that guides them through each step. Project management tools that support the waterfall approach have built-in features that companies can customize to develop and complete their waterfall project.
Considering a project management solution for your business? Read Best Project Management Software.