Anjali works at a technology firm where she’s been assigned to lead a team to deliver an elaborate software program within a very tight schedule. At first, Anjali tries to coordinate with her associates and create her own model. But as the pressure mounts, her model crumbles and the entire team is rattled.

Anjali spends a couple of days researching solutions and discovers the waterfall model. She goes through the waterfall model in detail and distributes the responsibilities for the project among several departments, based on the different phases of the model.

As the project requires utmost stability, Anjali creates a blueprint and a timeline that aren’t subject to change and feeds them into the waterfall model. Thereafter, the model takes care of everything. With a strict schedule for delivery in place and all departmental roles neatly assigned, the waterfall model brings the project to a close one week ahead of time and in the smoothest manner possible.

Anjali’s success becomes another excellent example of the waterfall model doing what it does best.

  1. What Is The Waterfall Model?

  2. When Is The Waterfall Model Used?

  3. How To Explain The Waterfall Model With Examples

  4. Solutions At Your Fingertips

What Is The Waterfall Model?

Before proceeding to explain the waterfall model with examples, let’s go over the basics of the waterfall model and what exactly it’s supposed to achieve.

The waterfall model was one of the first models to be introduced in project management. As a linear or sequential model, the waterfall model has a number of phases, each of which must be completed before moving onto the next one. This is why the model is known as the waterfall model because its movement from one phase to another in a downward manner similar to  a waterfall.

For smooth functioning, the waterfall model uses the output from one phase as input for the next phase. At the end of each phase, you’re supposed to carry out a review to find out if the project is on the right path or whether it needs to be discarded and restarted.

The term “waterfall” was used for the first time in a 1976 paper co-authored by Thomas Bell and Thomas Thayer to describe their model. However, the first formal and detailed diagram of the model had been published before, in an article in 1970 written by Winston Royce. Royce’s article was largely critical of the waterfall model, particularly on how testing of the model could only be performed at the end of the process.

The waterfall model that you’re likely to come across today includes seven phases, which are listed as follows:

  • Recruitment Gathering

  • Analysis

  • System Design

  • Implementation

  • Integration And Testing

  • Deployment Of System

  • Maintenance Or Fixing Issues

Nowadays, the waterfall model is one of several models that are frequently used for project management. Other models include iterative and agile models, which are much more flexible as compared to the waterfall approach.

When Is The Waterfall Model Used?

In order to understand a real-life example of the waterfall model, let’s familiarize ourselves with situations when the waterfall model is usually used:

  • When the project requirements are laid down at the outset and remain more or less fixed throughout the entire process

  • When the product definition is stable and a lot of information is required before completing each phase

  • In cases where a strict timeline needs to be prepared and followed, without alterations

  • In sectors involving engineering design and software development that generally demand project management on a large scale

  • In manufacturing and construction industries, where design changes are usually very costly

How To Explain The Waterfall Model With Examples

In the closing decades of the 20th century, the waterfall model was used primarily to develop enterprise applications like Human Resource Management Systems (HRMS), Supply Chain Management Systems, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, Inventory Management Systems, Point of Sales (POS) systems for retail chains, etc. The model was also extremely popular in software development.

With the evolution of technology, there were cases where large-scale enterprise systems, with the waterfall model as the default choice, were developed over a period of two to three years but became redundant by the time they were completed. Slowly, these enterprise systems switched over to more flexible and less expensive models, but the waterfall model continued to be preferred in systems where:

  • A human life is at stake and a system failure could result in fatalities

  • Money and time are secondary factors and what matters more is the safety and stability of a project

  • Military and aircraft programs where requirements are declared early on and remain constant

  • Projects with an extremely high degree of oversight and/or accountability such as those in the sectors of banking, healthcare and control systems for nuclear facilities

Now that you’ve grasped the several sectors in which the waterfall model used to be and is still deployed, here is a real-life example of the waterfall model at work.

Here, the waterfall model is used to manufacture a tractor, with each of its phases outlining the work that needs to be done. Before moving to the phases, however, the organization manufacturing the tractor would need to carry out a feasibility study, including planning the budget and adding new features to the tractor that’ll put it ahead of other tractors in the market.

Thereafter, the following phases (only including the most important ones) take over:

  1. Analysis:

This phase of the waterfall model is used to determine the speed, mileage, engine specifications, color and seat requirements of the tractor to be manufactured.

  1. Design:

This phase is concerned with developing and designing the frame material, the exterior and interior body quality and material as well as the tyre quality for the tractor.

  1. Implementation:

This phase brings together the two previous phases by combining all the pre-decided features and actually manufacturing the tractor.

  1. Testing:

This phase is all about trying out the tractor under various circumstances and conditions, from evaluating its performance on different types of roads and weather conditions to checking its durability, fuel consumption and the amount of heat it produces.

  1. Maintenance:

The final phase is about offering regular services to preserve the quality of the tractor and make whatever repairs or adjustments are necessary.

Let’s look at another real-life example of the waterfall model, where the different phases have been used to manufacture and deliver a software program that relies on university rankings and student scores to determine which universities and courses are best suited for students opting for an undergraduate degree.

As with the previous example of the waterfall model, the organization designing the software program needs to perform a feasibility study to find out what kind of programs are already present in the market that can achieve similar tasks in academia. Following this, the most important phases of the waterfall model can start functioning as follows:

  1. Analysis:

This phase will be tasked with gathering all the information available on student scores and university rankings and devising the different parameters that’ll be used for determining a university’s suitability for a student.

  1. Design:

In this example of the waterfall model, the design phase is all about fine-tuning the parameters established in the analysis phase and making sure that the structure of the software program is precise enough to avoid any manipulation of or confusion over large volumes of data.

  1. Implementation:

This all-important phase involves doing dummy runs of the software program with a provisional set of data to see the accuracy with which the program can suggest appropriate universities for students. These suggestions should then be matched with results obtained from academic counselors who have arrived at the suggestions through their years of professional expertise.

  1. Testing:

As with any example of the waterfall model, the testing phase is about ensuring that all features of the software program function smoothly and that there are no glitches that can derail the utility of the overall program.

  1. Maintenance:

In the final phase, the software program should be checked for any necessary updates or alterations that may be required, besides the expected inclusion of new data, including a greater volume of student scores and a fresh set of university rankings.

Solutions At Your Fingertips

The waterfall model is just one example of the many approaches adopted in project management. At Harappa, the Executing Solutions course is tailor-made for you to master several approaches, such as the Branding, Leadership And Selling Techniques (BLAST) approach (on how to develop a mindset for devising responsible solutions), the Bifocal Approach (a strategy that balances short-term and long-term views).

With the help of a world-class faculty, this course will allow you to closely monitor your progress, navigate crises, scrutinize frameworks and develop a holistic approach to managing all kinds of projects. Sign up for the Executing Solutions course today and join employees from organizations like NASSCOM, Uber and Standard Chartered in elevating your management skills.


Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics such as  How Does The Waterfall Model Help In Project Management, Advantages & Disadvantages Of Waterfall Model, What Is Project Management, Introduction To Operations Management & How To Do A PERT Analysis and monitor your projects efficiently.

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