Abhishek and Disha are project managers at their respective organizations. As part of their first major projects, Abhishek has to manage the production and delivery of a software program that his organization has been working on for two years, while Disha has to coordinate a project involving multiple celebrities as part of an elaborate corporate outreach campaign.

While both Abhishek and Disha have similar skills as project managers, Disha has an edge as she knows how to apply classical models to execute projects seamlessly. Abhishek, who has no expertise over such models, tries a number of varied approaches to streamline his project and get his associates to work in sync. But he doesn’t try the one approach that would’ve made his task easiest—the waterfall model.

Disha, unlike Abhishek, is well-versed with the waterfall model and uses it to sail through her project. Abhishek also manages to complete his project, but only after requesting an extension of two months and struggling his way past the finish line.

The fact that the waterfall model makes Disha’s project flow seamlessly is no surprise. For decades, this model has been at the heart of project management, during which countless organizations have used it (as well as tweaked it) to optimize their performance and ensure timely and efficient project completion.


  1. What Is The Waterfall Model?

  2. Phases Of The Waterfall Model

  3. A Brief History Of The Waterfall Model

  4. How Does The Waterfall Model Help In Project Management?

  5. Perfect Your Project Planning

What Is The Waterfall Model?

The waterfall model is a classical model that’s used to break down project activities into linear sequential phases. It’s termed “waterfall” because the model progresses systematically from one phase to another in a downward fashion. The model has several phases, where the output of one phase is used as the input for the next phase. In order to familiarize yourself with the waterfall methodology, you’ll need to know how each phase corresponds to a set of specialized tasks that have to be completed before the next phase can begin. This is to ensure that phases don’t overlap.

The waterfall model is extremely popular in engineering design, software development and other sectors that involve project management on a large scale. The model originated in the manufacturing and construction industries in order to reduce expenses for design changes in highly structured physical environments.

You may have noticed that these days the waterfall model is most frequently used for event management or for software development. A number of software applications are built into or used in sync with the waterfall model to make its operation smooth and swift. Even though other models for project management have come up in recent times, the waterfall model remains a go-to option for most organizations that deal with complicated projects lasting months or even a few years.

Over time, a number of variations have been added to the waterfall model. These variations include returning to the previous cycle after flaws have been detected downstream or moving all the way to the first phase if downstream phases do not function properly.

Phases Of The Waterfall Model

The sequential phases you must understand in order to realize how the waterfall model works are described as follows:

  1. Requirement Gathering

In this opening phase, all possible requirements for the waterfall methodology are identified, located and captured in product requirement documents.

  1. Analysis

This phase involves analyzing all the requirements documented in the previous phase and using that analysis to define schemas, models and business rules.

  1. System Design

Relying on the analysis obtained in the second phase, this phase develops the system or software architecture that’s  supposed to drive the entire project.

  1. Implementation

Once the software or system architecture is in place, comes development of that architecture through small units with the help of functional testing.

  1. Integration And Testing

This phase has two components. As part of the first one, you have to ensure that small units developed in the previous phase are integrated into the overall working of the project. As part of the second one, post-integration, your job as project manager is to check whether the entire system or software architecture has any faults or loopholes.

  1. Deployment Of System

This phase is used to make the product live in the production environment after all functional and nonfunctional testing has been completed.

  1. Maintenance Or Fixing Issues

This is the final phase as part of the waterfall model and is concerned with releasing new versions of the model with all issues (as detected in the original model) patched up as required.

Once you’re familiar with these phases, you can begin to implement the model for your project management needs.

A Brief History Of The Waterfall Model

The first time something resembling the waterfall model came up in software engineering and was implemented was in June 1956 by Herbert Benington at the Symposium on Advanced Programming Methods for Digital Computers.

The earliest use of the term “waterfall” is believed to have been in a 1976 paper by Thomas Bell and Thomas Thayer. In 1983, Bennington’s aforementioned paper was republished with a foreword explaining that the phases were deliberately organized according to the specialization of tasks. Bennington further pointed out that the process wasn’t actually performed in a strict top-down fashion, but relied on a prototype.

The first formal and detailed diagram that was used to explain waterfall model usage is often cited to be in a 1970 article by Winston Royce. However, Royce felt that the model suffered from major flaws, largely because testing was only possible at the end of the process, which he termed as being “risky and [something that] invites failure”. The rest of Royce’s paper introduced five steps which he felt were required to “eliminate most of the development risks” associated with the waterfall methodology.

Royce’s five additional steps (which involved writing complete documentation at various stages of development) failed to receive mainstream acceptance, but his diagram of what he considered a flawed process became the originating point when describing a waterfall method.

In 1985, the United States’ Department of Defense standardized the waterfall methodology as part of working with software development contractors. This led to the standardization of the following six phases as part of the waterfall model:

  • Software requirement analysis

  • Preliminary design

  • Detailed design

  • Coding and unit testing

  • Integration

  • Testing

How Does The Waterfall Model Help In Project Management?

As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that products are delivered on time without any compromise on quantity or quality. Waterfall project management is one of the most popular and straightforward ways of managing projects, which adds discipline, structure and rigor to different elements of a project.

As a linear project management approach, the waterfall model takes into account stakeholder and customer requirements at the start of the project, after which a sequential project plan is created to incorporate those requirements through the phases..

The waterfall method usually works best for projects with long, detailed plans that can be completed through a single timeline. Changes, if any, are discouraged, as they can be costly to carry out as part of the waterfall method. In opposition to the waterfall model, there’s  also the agile project management approach that’s  more suited for shorter project cycles that require constant testing and adaptation or even overlapping work by multiple departments involved in a project.

The main advantages of using the waterfall model for project management are as follows:

  • It’s an easy model to understand in terms of management as each phase is neatly separated from the other

  • Specific outputs and review processes for each phase means that there’s  unlikely to be confusion between you and your associates regarding the purpose of each phase

  • Clearly defined stages are extremely beneficial for projects that are complex or those that take a long time to execute

  • The waterfall model is best suited to projects where requirements are precise and not subject to a great deal of change

At the same time, the waterfall model also suffers from a few shortcomings that are important to note in order to use it efficiently:

  • To explain waterfall model to your associates who are not aware of it can be a quite a task

  • For extremely large projects, the waterfall model can be taxing, especially when it comes to entering all the data that is required for one phase to be completed and for the next to begin

  • When a product is in the testing phase, it’s extremely difficult and inconvenient for you to go back and make alterations to something in any of the preceding phases

The disadvantages of the waterfall model, however, shouldn’t discourage you from adopting it. Instead, these shortcomings should be seen as points of caution when following the waterfall model.

Perfect Your Project Planning

Applying something like the waterfall model to project management requires experience and expertise. At Harappa, we provide both, through the Executing Solutions course, which is designed to help you become a master planner when it comes to conceiving and executing projects of all kinds.

This course not only helps you understand how to execute projects   with other theoretical approaches such as the Bifocal Approach—strategy to monitor projects both in the short and long term—but also provides you with toolkits and real-time scenarios that allow you to delegate work, monitor progress and navigate crises. Employees from leading organizations like Uber, Standard Chartered, Airtel, etc. have already honed their project planning skills with the help of this course. It’s your turn next!

Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics such as 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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