Waterfall Methodology Advantages and Disadvantages

The waterfall methodology is one of the models often used in product management, especially for those whose costs are prohibitive and iterative approach is almost impossible. This model simulates the literal phenomenon of a waterfall. When the water flows over a cliff, it can never turn back. This model follows a linear and sequential path that finalizes all the processes of one phase before proceeding to the other.

Once into the second phase, the previous one can be reflected but never changed or revisited. There are many different product management methodologies available and their use depends on the budget, timeframe, risks and considerations. Waterfall model is mostly used in manufacturing and construction industries where there is no option of turning back to make after-work changes of finalized phases.

Waterfall Methodology Advantages and Disadvantages

This methodology is basically a sequential designing process that structures events to follow a given path guided by time boundaries. There major phases involved in this model include conception, initiation and analysis, design and construction, testing, implementation (production) and maintenance. The actual procedures entail specification of all requirements, designing the architecture, coding, integration, testing and debugging.

Once those are through, the installation and maintenance can follow suite. Each phase must be effectively researched and exhausted before proceeding to the next since there will be no revisits and changes. In product management, many people have criticized this methodology as unsuitable due to the potential risks involved. The reliance on testing to restructure preceding processes is a key element of long-term efficiency and waterfall methodology does not advocate for such options. However, it requires one phase to be reviewed and fully verified to certainty before embarking on the next.

Advantages 

There are many advantages of the waterfall methodology which have over the years been backed by various arguments. This model has no room to make alterations in the preceding changes once the next is underway. In simple terms, once in the implementation phase, there is no option for changing the design construction. Although people often take this as a concern, the model advocates thorough research, exploitation and verification of every phase before commencing the next.

It requires reasonable time allocation to ensure all the likelihood and risks are explored in details to eliminate any cause of negative results in the later phases of implementation. All the design errors are fully captured before any program is written and this time used is recovered during implementation. Since there is only one sure path and no options for modification of finalized phases, implementation becomes swift thus saving time. Other methodologies that allow modification of previous stages usually spend too much time in testing and implementation. It can be argued that the waterfall methodology focuses on prevention and exhaustion of all details before commencing work unlike other models that rely on result testing to enhance design.

In the waterfall methodology, technical documentation is required as part of the deliverables which makes it very easy for the programmers to conduct maintenance. It is also easier to measure progress since the approach is characterized by vivid structuring. Responses or results can easily be compared against the clearly defined challenges expected. Similarly, testing in waterfall methodologies is less involving when compared to other models. In the preliminary phases, functional specifications are clearly defined and results can be referenced to these specifications when gauging performance.

This model also makes it easier to accurately estimate the total budget/cost of the project. This is possible once all the specification requirements in functional and user interface have been defined. Another advantage of the waterfall methodology is its simplistic nature. It is easy to understand how the model works since it has clear rigid processes, deliverables and review procedures. Management is also simplified as phases are completed one at a time and do not overlap to the next one. However, it is effectively functional for small projects with clearly understood requirements. Those with too many uncertainties may result in massive loss of resources.

Disadvantages

There are just as many disadvantages as the benefits of using waterfall methodology. However, most of them arise from one outstanding concept of the inability to revisit completed phases once you are into the next one. When in the testing stage, you have no option of changing the designing that was not well thought of. This is a heavy concern considering no single working product is produced until later stages of the cycle.

This therefore restricts it to projects without any uncertainties, although even those still pose high amounts of risks. Another concern is that clients often find it challenging to state all their requirements at the abstract level characteristic of functional specification. Usually, they fully appreciate their requirements after the product has been delivered, at time when re-engineering is very expensive and almost impossible.

This methodology is simply not suitable for complex projects or those that are object-oriented. Projects whose requirements are suspected to have a moderate to greater risk of changing can also not be effectively approached using the waterfall methodology. Due to the time needed for expansive analysis of all possible risks and changes, the duration taken to complete a project may be substantially longer when compared to iterative models. The waterfall model is thus only advised in scenarios where there is stable product definition, fixed non-changing requirements, understood technology and ample resources. The project should also be considerably short.

Conclusion 

Waterfall methodology was the first product/project management process to be introduced. It uses a traditional focus where all the requirements are first determined and defined to clarity before commencement of the project. Each phase is fully exploited with its requirements, accomplishment procedures, testing and verification. Once approved and into the succeeding phase, there is no option of changing. There are many advantages and disadvantages of using this model.

It is mostly practiced in cases that are highly structured to not allow re-modeling like in engineering and construction. Smaller projects whose requirements are fixed and well known can however be successfully approached using this methodology. On average, the waterfall methodology may not be the best model to use especially when there are various uncertainties but still has several applications in the modern dimension.

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Mark Silver
Mark is the Lead Author & Editor of Spectechular Blog. Mark established the Spectechular blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Product Management.
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