Project Management Waterfall: When and How to Use It

September 24th, 2020 in Project Management

Project Management Waterfall: When and How to Use It

For the most straightforward way to manage a project, look towards the project management waterfall method. Waterfall is used for complex and large-scale enterprise resource planning projects. It contrasts with Agile project management, which focuses on using shorter project sprints with constant adaptation and testing.

The project management waterfall method, on the other hand, focuses on using a single project timeline with limited changes. Changes in the deliverables are discouraged because they are costly in nature. The project plans are detailed and long-term.

Due to the linear fashion of waterfall, dependencies are created. One phase must be completed before another can start. There are contract-based approaches to the scope and requirements of the project.

Each team member has a clearly defined and rigid role. At the end of the timeline, the fully completed product is delivered. Customers are usually only involved at the beginning and end of the project. With the project management waterfall method, documentation is recommended to take place throughout each process phase. This is to ensure that each team member is on the same page regardless of the sequential progression of the project.

While waterfall is rigid and inflexible, it is easily replicated. It can be copied for future, similar tasks. This repeatable process saves time and energy. Moreover, due to the unanticipated changes in the project plan and the heavy documentation, waterfall makes onboarding new team members an easier process.

The method also shows progress in a simple fashion where the clear milestones make it easier to determine if a project is moving forward on schedule. As a result, the project is often easy to manage as managers can focus on specific team members participating in each phase instead of managing a large team.

How to Implement:

  • Stage 1 – Requirement gathering and documentation: gather comprehensive information about the project and what is required. Interviews, questionnaires, and brainstorming sessions can help you gather information. Outline the project requirements in a requirements document and distribute this to your team.
  • Stage 2 – System design: design the workflow model for the project. This model will be in a linear fashion.
  • Stage 3 – Implementation: put the system design into place and begin building out the product or final deliverable.
  • Stage 4 – Testing: test each element of the product/deliverable to ensure they are working as expected and fulfil the requirements of the project.
  • Stage 5 – Deployment/delivery: officially launch the service (deployment) or product (delivery).
  • Stage 6 – Maintenance: this is the final stage in which the team performs upkeep and maintenance on the resulting product or service. This stage is ongoing as long as the product or service is rolled out.

When to Use it: Use the product management waterfall method for projects that do not require constant adaptation and flexibility. Manufacturing and construction have historically benefited from the straightforward liner style of waterfall. Software development, on the other hand, is better suited for adaptable and constantly changing methods such as Agile.


Project Management Institute. Agile versus Waterfall.

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