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Guide to waterfall methodology: Free template and examples

Сара Лаоян, фото автораSarah Laoyan
26 апреля 2024 г.
8 мин. на чтение
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Project managers have many different types of project management methodologies to choose from. There's Agile project management, Kanban project management, Scrum, and many more iterative processes that you can use. 

But what if your project requires a more linear approach? Waterfall methodology is a linear project management methodology that can help you and your team achieve your shared goals—one task or milestone at a time. By prioritizing tasks and dependencies, the waterfall method helps keep your project on track.

What is waterfall methodology?

Waterfall methodology, a term coined by Dr. Winston W. Royce in 1970, is a sequential design process used in software development and product development where project progress flows steadily downwards through several phases—much like a waterfall. The waterfall model is structured around a rigid sequence of steps that move from conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, implementation, and maintenance.

Unlike more flexible models, such as Agile, the waterfall methodology requires each project phase to be completed fully before the next phase begins, making it easier to align with fixed budgets, timelines, and requirements.

By integrating comprehensive documentation and extensive upfront planning, waterfall methodology minimizes risk and tends to align well with traditional project management approaches that depend on detailed records and a clear, predetermined path to follow.

 For example, here’s what a waterfall project might look like:

Каскадная методология управления проектами

The waterfall methodology is often visualized in the form of a flow chart or a Gantt chart. This methodology is called waterfall because each task cascades into the next step. In a Gantt chart, you can see the previous phase "fall" into the next phase.

Create a waterfall project management template

6 phases of the waterfall project management methodology

Any team can implement waterfall project management, but this methodology is most useful for processes that need to happen sequentially. If the project you’re working on has tasks that can be completed concurrently, try another framework, like the Agile methodology

If you’re ready to get started with the waterfall methodology, follow these six steps: 

1. Requirements phase

This is the initial planning process in which the team gathers as much information as possible to ensure a successful project. Because tasks in the waterfall method are dependent on previous steps, it requires a lot of forethought. This planning process is a crucial part of the waterfall model, and because of that, most of the project timeline is often spent planning.

To make this method work for you, compile a detailed project plan that explains each phase of the project scope. This includes everything from what resources are needed to what specific team members are working on the project. This document is commonly referred to as a project requirements document. 

By the end of the requirements phase, you should have a very clear outline of the project from start to finish, including:

A well-crafted requirements document serves as a roadmap for the entire project, ensuring that all stakeholders are on the same page.

2. System design phase

In a software development process, the design phase is when the project team specifies what hardware the team will be using, and other detailed information such as programming languages, unit testing, and user interfaces. This phase of the waterfall methodology is key to ensuring that the software will meet the required functionality and performance metrics.

There are two steps in the system design phase: the high-level design phase and the low-level design phase. In the high-level design phase, the team builds out the skeleton of how the software will work and how information will be accessed. During the low-level design phase, the team builds the more specific parts of the software. If the high-level design phase is the skeleton, the low-level design phase is the organs of the project. 

Those team members developing using the waterfall method should document each step so the team can refer back to what was done as the project progresses.

Read: How to write a software requirement document (with template)

3. Implementation phase

This is the stage where everything is put into action. The team starts the full development process to build the software in accordance with both the requirements phase and the system design phase, using the requirements document from step one and the system design process from step two as guides.

During the implementation phase, developers work on coding and unit testing to ensure that the software meets the specified requirements.

Read: What is an implementation plan? 6 steps to create one

4. Testing phase

This is the stage in which the development team hands the project over to the quality assurance testing team. QA testers search for any bugs or errors that need to be fixed before the project is deployed. 

Testers should clearly document all of the issues they find when QAing. In the event that another developer comes across a similar bug, they can reference previous documentation to help fix the issue.

Create a waterfall project management template

5. Deployment phase

For development projects, this is the stage at which the software is deployed to the end user. For other industries, this is when the final deliverable is launched and delivered to end customers. A successful deployment phase requires careful planning and coordination to ensure a smooth rollout.

6. Maintenance phase

Once a project is deployed, there may be instances where a new bug is discovered or a software update is required. This is known as the maintenance phase, and it's common in the software development life cycle to be continuously working on this phase.

Regular maintenance and updates are essential for keeping the software running smoothly and addressing any issues that arise post-deployment.

When to use waterfall methodology

The waterfall methodology is a common form of project management because it allows for thorough planning and detailed documentation. However, this framework isn’t right for every project. Here are a few examples of when to use this type of project management. 

Project has a well-defined end goal

One of the strengths of the waterfall approach is that it allows for a clear path from point A to point B. If you're unsure of what point B is, your project is probably better off using an iterative form of project management like the Agile approach. 

Projects with an easily defined end goal are well-suited for waterfall methodology because project managers can work backwards from the goal to create a clear and detailed path with all of the requirements necessary.

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No restraints on budget or time

If your project has no restraints on budget or time, team members can spend as much time as possible in the requirements and system design phases. They can tweak and tailor the needs of the project as much as they want until they land on a well-thought-out and defined project plan.

Creating repeatable processes

The waterfall model requires documentation at almost every step of the process. This makes it easy to repeat your project for a new team member; each step is clearly detailed so you can recreate the process.

Creating repeatable processes also makes it easy to train new team members on what exactly needs to be done in similar projects. This makes the waterfall process an effective approach to project management for standardizing processes.

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Waterfall vs. Agile methodologies

While the waterfall methodology follows a linear, sequential approach, Agile is an iterative and incremental methodology. In Agile, the project is divided into smaller, manageable chunks known as sprints. Each sprint includes planning, design, development, testing, and review phases.

The Agile method emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and rapid iteration based on continuous feedback. It allows for changes and adaptations throughout the project's lifecycle. In contrast, the waterfall model has a more rigid structure with distinct phases and limited room for changes once a phase is complete.

The choice between waterfall and Agile depends on factors such as project complexity, clarity of requirements, team size, and client involvement. The waterfall model is suitable for projects with well-defined requirements and minimal changes expected, while the Agile method is favored for projects with evolving requirements and a need for frequent client feedback and course corrections.

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Benefits of waterfall methodology

Consistent documentation makes it easy to backtrack

When you implement the waterfall project management process, you’re creating documentation every step of the way. This can be beneficial—if your team needs to backtrack your processes, you can easily find mistakes. It's also great for creating repeatable processes for new team members, as mentioned earlier. 

Tracking progress is easy

By laying out a waterfall project in a Gantt chart, you can easily track project progress. The timeline itself serves as a progress bar, so it’s always clear what stage a project is in.

Визуальное планирование проекта — пример хронологии проекта

Team members can manage time effectively

Because the waterfall methodology requires so much upfront planning during the requirement and design phase, it is easy for stakeholders to estimate how much time their specific part of the waterfall process will take.

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Downsides of waterfall project management

Roadblocks can drastically affect timeline

The waterfall methodology is linear by nature, so if there's a bump in the road or a task gets delayed, the entire timeline is shifted. For example, if a third-party vendor is late on sending a specific part to a manufacturing team, the entire process has to be put on hold until that specific piece is received.

Linear progress can make backtracking challenging

One of the major challenges of the waterfall methodology is that it's hard to go back to a phase once it's already been completed. For example, if someone is painting the walls of a house, they wouldn’t be able to go back and increase the size of one of the rooms. 

QA is late in the process

In comparison to some of the more iterative project management methodologies like Kanban and Agile, the review stage in a waterfall approach happens later in the process. If a mistake is made early on in the process, it can be challenging to go back and fix it. Because of how the waterfall process works, it doesn’t allow for room for iteration or searching for the best solution.

Waterfall methodology examples

To better understand how the waterfall methodology is applied in practice, let's look at a couple of real-world use cases:

1. Construction Project: Building a new office complex requires careful planning and sequential execution. The project manager first gathers all the requirements, such as building specifications, timelines, and budgets. Then, architects and engineers create detailed designs. After approval, construction starts and strict quality controls follow. Finally, the building is handed over to the client for use and maintenance.

2. Software Engineering Project: A company wants to develop a new mobile application using the software development life cycle (SDLC). The project manager defines the product requirements, including features, performance metrics, and integrations. Software architects create the high-level design and technical specifications. Developers then follow the SDLC phases of coding, unit testing, and deployment. The team follows the waterfall methodology throughout the product development process, making sure that each step is finished before going on to the next. After the successful launch, the mobile app enters the maintenance phase, where the team addresses user feedback and provides updates.

Managing your waterfall project

With waterfall projects, there are many moving pieces and different team members to keep track of. One of the best ways to stay on the same page is to use project management software to keep workflows, timelines, and deliverables all in one place. 

If you're ready to try waterfall project management with your team, try a template in Asana. You can view Asana projects in several ways, including Timeline view, which visualizes your project as a linear timeline.

Create a waterfall project management template

FAQ: Waterfall methodology

How do you handle changes in requirements during a waterfall project?

Handling changes in requirements during a waterfall project can be challenging, but it's essential to assess the impact of the change, communicate with stakeholders, update project documentation, adjust the project plan, and ensure all team members are informed of the changes. Implementing a change control process can help formally manage and track changes throughout the project.

Can you combine waterfall and agile methodologies in a single project?

Yes, it is possible to combine waterfall and agile methodologies in a single project using a hybrid approach. This involves using waterfall methodology for the upfront planning and requirements gathering phases and adopting agile practices during the implementation and testing phases. The balance between the waterfall model and Agile method can be adjusted based on the project scope.

How do you ensure successful team collaboration on a waterfall project?

Ensuring successful team collaboration in a waterfall project involves establishing clear communication, defining roles and responsibilities, scheduling regular meetings, using collaborative tools, fostering a positive team culture, and providing necessary support and resources. By focusing on these key aspects, teams can work together effectively and efficiently to achieve project goals.

What are the best project management tools for waterfall methodology?

For teams following a waterfall methodology, Asana is the best project management tool available. Its comprehensive set of features, such as Timeline view for visualizing project plans, task dependencies for ensuring proper sequencing, and seamless integrations, make it the ideal choice for managing linear projects. While other tools like Microsoft Project offer waterfall-specific features, Asana's ease of use, collaboration capabilities, and flexibility make it the top choice for teams looking to streamline their waterfall project management process.

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