What Is Waterfall Methodology?

Waterfall methodology is a linear project management approach, where stakeholder and customer requirements are gathered at the beginning of the project, and then a sequential project plan is created to accommodate those requirements. The waterfall method is so named because each phase of the project cascades into the next, following steadily down like a waterfall.

It’s a thorough, structured methodology and one that’s been around for a long time, because it works. Some of the industries that regularly use the waterfall method include construction, IT and software development. However, the term “waterfall” is usually used in a software context.

Gantt charts are the preferred tool for project managers working in waterfall. Using a Gantt chart allows you to map subtasks, dependencies and each phase of the project as it moves through the project life cycle. ProjectManager.com’s Gantt chart software offers these features and more.

A screenshot of the gantt chart interface in ProjectManager.com. A button is superimposed on the top right, saying “click here to start your free trial.”

The Phases of the Waterfall Model

The waterfall model has, at least, five to seven phases that follow in strict linear order, where a phase can’t begin until the previous phase has been completed. The specific names of the phases vary, but they were originally defined by its inventor, Winston W. Royce, in the following way:

Requirements: The key aspect of waterfall is that all customer requirements are gathered at the beginning of the project, allowing every other phase to be planned without further customer correspondence until the product is complete. It is assumed that all requirements can be gathered at this phase.

Design: The design phase is best broken up into two subphases: logical design and physical design. The logical design subphase is when possible solutions are brainstormed and theorized. The physical design subphase is when those theoretical ideas and schemas are made into concrete specifications.

Implementation: The implementation phase is when programmers assimilate the requirements and specifications from the previous phases and produce actual code.

Verification: This phase is when the customer reviews the product to make sure that it meets the requirements laid out at the beginning of the project. This is done by releasing the completed product to the customer.

Maintenance: The customer is regularly using the product during the maintenance phase, discovering bugs, inadequate features and other errors that occurred during production. The production team applies these fixes as necessary until the customer is satisfied.

Waterfall Model Example

Let’s hypothesize a simple project, then plan and execute it with the waterfall phases that you just learned. For our example, we’ll say that you’re building an app for a client. The following are the steps you’d take to reach the final deliverable.

Requirements & Documents

First, you must gather all the requirements and documentation you need to get started on the app.

  • Project Scope: This is one of the most important documents in your project, where you determine what the goals associated with building your app are: deliverables, features, deadlines, costs, and so on.
  • Stakeholder Expectations: In order to align the project scope with the expectations of your stakeholders—the people who have a vested interest in the development of the app—you want to conduct interviews and get a clear idea of exactly what they want.
  • Research: To better serve your plan, do some market research about competing apps, the current market, customer needs and anything else that will help you find the unserved niche your app can serve.
  • Assemble Team: Now, you need to get the people and resources together who will create the app, from programmers to designers.
  • Kickoff: The kickoff meeting is the first meeting with your team and stakeholders where you cover the information you’ve gathered and set expectations.

Design

Next, you can begin planning the project proper. You’ve done the research, and you know what’s expected from your stakeholders. Now, you have to figure out how you’re going to get to the final deliverable.

  • Collect Tasks: Use a work breakdown structure to list all of the tasks that are necessary to get to the final deliverable.
  • Create Schedule: With your tasks in place, you now need to estimate the time each task will take. Once you’ve figured that out, map them onto a Gantt chart, and diligently link dependencies. You can also add costs to the Gantt, and start building a budget.

Implementation

Now you’re ready to get started in earnest. This is the phase in which the app will be built and tested.

  • Assign Team Tasks: Team members will own their tasks and be responsible for completing them, and for collaborating with the rest of the team. You can make these tasks from a Gantt chart and add descriptions, priority, etc.
  • Monitor & Track: While the team is executing the tasks, you need to monitor and track their progress in order to make sure that the project is moving forward per your schedule.
  • Manage Resources & Workload: As you monitor, you’ll discover issues and will need to reallocate resources and balance workload to avoid bottlenecks.
  • Report to Stakeholders: Throughout the project, stakeholders need updates to show them progress. Meet with them and discuss a regular schedule for presentations.
  • Test: Once the team has delivered the working app, it must go through extensive testing to make sure everything is working as designed.
  • Deliver App: After all the bugs have been worked out, you’re ready to give the finished app to the stakeholders.

Verification

Though the app has been delivered, the project is not quite over until you’ve done some administrative tasks to tie everything up. This is technically the final step.

  • Pay Contracts: Fulfil your contractual obligations to your team and any freelance contractors. This releases them from the project.
  • Create Template: In software like ProjectManager.com, you can create a template from your project, so you have a head start when beginning another, similar one.
  • Close Out Paperwork: Make sure all paperwork has been rubber stamped and archived.
  • Celebrate: Get everyone together, and enjoy the conclusion of a successful project!

Maintenance

Of course, the nature of any software project is that, through use by customers, new bugs will arise and must be squashed. So, past the verification stage, it’s typically expected that you will provide maintenance beyond launch. This is an ongoing, post-launch phase that extends for as long as your contract dictates.

Using ProjectManager.com for Waterfall Management

ProjectManager.com is an award-winning software that organizes teams and projects. With features such as online Gantt charts, task lists, reporting tools and more, it’s an ideal tool to control your project management.

Sign up for a free 30-day trial and follow along to make a waterfall project in just a few easy steps. You’ll have that Gantt chart built in no time!

1. Upload Requirements & Documents

Waterfall project management guarantees one thing: a lot of paperwork. All the documentation and requirements needed to address for the project can quickly become overwhelming.

You can attach all documentation and relevant files to our software, or directly on a task. Now, all of your files are collected in one place and are easy to find. Don’t worry about running out of space—we have unlimited file storage.

2. Use WBS to Collect Tasks

Getting to your final deliverable will require many tasks. Planning the project means knowing every one of those tasks, no matter how small, and how they lead to your final deliverable. A work breakdown structure is a tool to help you figure out all those steps.

To start, use a work breakdown structure (WBS) to collect every task that is necessary to create your final deliverable. You can download a free WBS template here. Then, upload the task list to our software.

A screenshot of a task list on ProjectManager.com

3. Open in Gantt Project View

Gantt charts are essential project management tools used for planning and scheduling. They collect your tasks in one place on a timeline. From there, you can link dependencies, set milestones, manage resources and more.

In the software, open the Gantt chart view and add deadlines, descriptions, priorities and tags to each task.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s Gantt chart, showing a list of tasks on the right side and bars on the right.

4. Create Phases & Milestones

Milestones are what separates major phases in a project. Waterfall methodology is all about structure and moving from one phase to the next, so breaking your project into milestones is key to any waterfall plan.

In the Gantt view, create phases and milestones to break up the project. Using the milestone feature, determine when one task ends and a new one begins. Milestones are symbolized by a diamond on the Gantt.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s gantt chart, on the right side with the chart, tasks are broken up with milestones represented as diamonds.
Break up your project into manageable phases with our milestone tool.

5. Set Dependencies in Gantt

Dependent tasks are those that cannot start or finish until another starts or finishes. They create complexities in managing any project.

Link dependent tasks in the Gantt. Our software allows you to link all four types of dependencies: start-to-start, start-to-finish, finish-to-finish and finish-to-start. This keeps your plan moving forward in a sequential order and prevents bottlenecks.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s gantt chart, showing lines between tasks that represent dependencies
Link dependent tasks by simply clicking on one task and dragging it to the one it’s dependent on to avoid bottlenecks later on in the project.

6. Assign From Gantt

Although you’ve planned and scheduled a project, it’s still just an abstraction until you get your team assigned to execute those tasks. Assigning is a major step in managing your waterfall project and needs to happen efficiently.

Assign team members to tasks right from the Gantt chart. You can also attach any related images or files directly to the task. Collaboration is supported by comments at the task level. Anyone assigned or tagged will get an email alert to notify them of a comment or update.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s Assign window, where you can assign tasks to team
Assign one or more team members tasks right from the Gantt chart, where you can see their availability and how many hours they’re currently assigned.

7. Manage Resources & Workload

Resources are anything you need to complete the project. This means not only your team, but also the materials and tools that they need. The workload represents how many tasks your team is assigned, and balancing that work keeps them productive.

Keep track of project resources on the Workload view. See actual costs, and reallocate as needed to stay on budget. Know how many tasks your team is working on with easy-to-read color-coded charts, and balance their workload right on the page.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s resource management window, each team member has a row that shows their workload.

8. Track Progress in Dashboard & Gantt

Progress must be monitored to know if you’re meeting the targets you set in your plan. The Gantt shows percentage complete, but a dashboard calculates several metrics and shows them in graphs and charts.

Monitor your project in real time and track progress across several metrics with our project dashboard. We automatically calculate project health, costs, tasks and more and then display them in a high-level view of your project. Progress is also tracked by shading on the Gantt’s duration bar.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s real-time dashboard, which shows six different project metrics such as health, tasks, progress, time, costs and workload

9. Create Reports

Reporting serves two purposes: it gives project managers greater detail into the inner-workings of their waterfall project to help them make better decisions, and acts as a communication tool to keep stakeholders informed.

Easily generate data-rich reports that show project variance, timesheets, portfolio status and more. Get reports on your planned vs. the actual progress. Filter to show just the information you want. Then, share with stakeholders during presentations and keep everyone in the loop.

A screenshot of a report generated by ProjectManager.com - multiple projects in a portfolio are displayed with key metrics

10. Duplicate Plan for New Projects

Having a means to quickly copy projects is helpful in waterfall methodology, as it jumpstarts the next project by recreating the major steps and allowing you to make tweaks as needed.

Create templates to quickly plan any recurring waterfall projects. If you know exactly what it takes to get the project done, then you can make it into a template. Plus, you can import proven project plans from MSP, and task lists from Excel and Word.

A screenshot of the gantt chart in ProjectManager.com - the user has selected the “create a copy” button, which has brought up a prompt
Make copies of your project plan and get a head start on your next project.

Waterfall vs. Agile

The waterfall methodology is one of two popular methods to tackle software projects; the other method is known as Agile.

It can be easier to understand waterfall when you compare it to Agile. Waterfall and Agile are two very different project management methodologies, but both are equally valid, and can be more or less useful depending on the project.

Waterfall Project Management

If the waterfall model is to be executed properly, each of the phases we outlined earlier must be executed in a linear fashion. Meaning, each phase has to be completed before the next phase can begin, and phases are never repeated—unless there is a massive failure that comes to light in the verification or maintenance phase.

Furthermore, each phase is discrete, and pretty much exists in isolation from stakeholders outside of your team. This is especially true in the requirements phase. Once the customer’s requirements are collected, the customers cease to play any role in the actual development of the software.

Agile Project Management

Agile differs greatly from waterfall in two major ways; namely in regards to linear action and customer involvement. Agile is a nimble and iterative process, where the product is delivered in stages to the customer for them to review and provide feedback.

Instead of having everything planned out by milestones, like in waterfall, Agile operates in “sprints” where prioritized tasks are completed within a short window, typically around two weeks.

These prioritized tasks are fluid, and appear based on the success of previous sprints and customer feedback, rather than having all tasks prioritized at the onset in the requirements phase.

Understanding the Difference Between Waterfall & Agile

The important difference to remember is that a waterfall project is a fixed, linear plan. Everything is mapped out ahead of time, and customers interact only at the beginning and end of the project. Agile, on the other hand, is an iterative process, where new priorities and requirements are injected into the project after sprints and customer feedback sessions.

Pros & Cons of Waterfall Methodology

There are several reasons why project managers choose to use the waterfall project management methodology. Here are some benefits:

  • Project requirements are agreed upon in the first phase, so planning and scheduling is simple and clear.
  • With a fully laid out project schedule, you can give accurate estimates for your project cost, resources and deadlines.
  • It’s easy to measure progress as you move through the phases and hit milestones.
  • Customers aren’t perpetually adding new requirements to the project, which can delay production.

Of course, there are drawbacks to using the waterfall method as well. Here are some disadvantages to this approach:

  • It can be difficult for customers to articulate all of their needs at the beginning of the project.
  • If the customer is dissatisfied with the product in the verification phase, it can be very costly to go back and design the code again.
  • A linear project plan is rigid, and lacks flexibility for adapting to unexpected events.

Although it has its drawbacks, a waterfall project management plan is very effective in situations where you are encountering a familiar scenario with several knowns, or in situations where your customer knows exactly what they want at the onset.

Benefits of Project Management Software for Waterfall Projects

Using a project management software is a great way to get the most out of your waterfall project. You can map out the steps and link dependencies to see exactly what needs to go where.

As illustrated above, ProjectManager.com is made with waterfall methodology in mind, with a Gantt chart that can structure the project step-by-step. However, we have a full suite of features, including kanban boards that are great for scrum teams that need to manage their backlog.

With multiple project views, both agile teams and more traditional ones can work from the same data, delivered in real time, only filtered through the project view most aligned to their work style. We take the waterfall method and bring it into the modern world.

Now that you know how to plan a waterfall project, give yourself the best tools for the job. Take a free 30-day trial and see how ProjectManager.com can help you plan with precision, track with accuracy and deliver your projects on time and under budget.

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