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The Ultimate Guide…

Waterfall Model

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ProjectManager's Gantt chart, showing a waterfall project

What Is the Waterfall Methodology in Project Management?

The phases of the waterfall model, waterfall software development life cycle.

  • What Is Waterfall Software?
  • Desktop vs Online Waterfall Software

Must-Have Features of Waterfall Software

  • The Waterfall Model & ProjectManager.com

Waterfall vs. Agile

  • Pros & Cons of the Waterfall Model

Benefits of Project Management Software for Waterfall Projects

Waterfall methodology resources.

The 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 model 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 model include construction, IT and software development. As an example, the waterfall software development life cycle, or waterfall SDLC, is widely used to manage software engineering projects.

Related: 15 Free IT Project Management Templates for Excel & Word

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

A screenshot of the gantt chart interface in ProjectManager

Manage waterfall projects in minutes with ProjectManager— learn more .

The waterfall approach 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 waterfall steps vary, but they were originally defined by its inventor, Winston W. Royce, in the following way:

Requirements: The key aspect of the waterfall methodology 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 waterfall management phase.

Design: The design phase of the waterfall process 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 waterfall 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.

Related: Free Gantt Chart Template for Excel

Let’s hypothesize a simple project, then plan and execute it with the waterfall approach phases that you just learned. For our waterfall software development life cycle 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: functional requirements, 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.

System 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 by creating a system design. Based on the information you gathered during the first phase, you’ll determine hardware and software requirements and the system architecture needed for the project.

  • 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.


Now you’re ready to get started in earnest. This is the phase in which the app will be built and tested. The system from the previous phase is first developed in smaller programs known as units. Then each goes through a unit testing process before being integrated.

  • 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.

System Testing and Deployment

During this phase you’ll integrate all the units of your system and conduct an integration testing process to verify that the components of your app work properly together.

Once you verify that your app is working, you’re ready to deploy it.


Though the app has been delivered, the software development life cycle 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, 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!


Of course, the nature of any software development 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.

What Is Waterfall Project Management Software?

Waterfall project management software is used to help you structure your project processes from start to finish. It allows managers to organize their tasks, sets up clear schedules in Gantt charts and monitor and control the project as it moves through its phases.

Project management training video (fgc8zj1dix)

A waterfall project is broken up into phases, which can be achieved on a Gantt chart in the waterfall project management software. Managers can set the duration for each task on the Gantt and link tasks that are dependent on one another to start or finish.

While waterfall software can be less flexible and iterative than more agile frameworks, projects do change frequently—and there must be features that can capture these changes in real-time with dashboards and reports, so that the manager can clear up bottlenecks or reallocate resources to keep teams from having their work blocked. Microsoft Project is one of the most commonly used project management software, but it has major drawbacks that make ProjectManager a great alternative .

Desktop vs Online Project Management Waterfall Software

When it comes to waterfall software, you can choose from either a desktop application or online, cloud-based project management software. This might not seem to be a big issue, but there are important distinctions between these two types of offerings.

That’s because there are differences between the two applications, and knowing those differences will help you make an informed decision.

Desktop waterfall software tends to have a more expensive up-front cost, and that cost can rise exponentially if you are required to pay per-user licensing fees for every member of your team.

Online waterfall software, on the other hand, is typically paid for on a subscription basis, and that subscription is usually a tiered payment plan depending on the number of users.


Online software, naturally, must be connected to the internet. This means your speed and reliability can vary depending on your internet service provider. It also means that if you lose connectivity, you can’t work.

Although the difference is minor, desktop waterfall software never has to worry about connection outages.

If security is a concern, rest assured that both options are highly secure. Desktop software that operates on a company intranet is nigh impenetrable, which can provide your company with a greater sense of security.

Strides in web security, like two-factor authentication and single-sign have made online, cloud-based waterfall software far more secure. Also, online tools have their data saved to the cloud, so if you suffer a crash on your desktop that might mean the end of your work.


Desktops are tied to the computers they are installed to or, at best, your office’s infrastructure. That doesn’t help much if you have distributed teams or work off site, in the field, at home and so on.

Online software is accessible anywhere, any time—so long as you have an internet connection. This makes it always accessible, but even more importantly, it delivers real-time data, so you’re always working on the current state of the project.

Waterfall software helps to organize your projects and make them run smoothly. When you’re looking for the right software to match your needs, make sure it has the following features.

Phases & Milestones icon

Keep Your Project Structured

Managing a project with the waterfall method is all about structure. One phase follows another. To break your project into these stages, you need an online Gantt chart that has a milestone feature. This indicates the date where one phase of the waterfall process stops and another begins.

Phases & Milestones image

Control Your Task and Schedule

The Gantt chart is a waterfall’s best friend. It organizes your tasks, sets the duration and links tasks that are dependent to keep work flowing later on. When scheduling, you want a Gantt that can automatically calculate your critical path to help you know how much float you have.

Dependencies & CPM image

Have Your Files Organized

Waterfall projects, like all projects, collect a lot of paperwork. You want a tool with the storage capacity to hold all your documents and make them easy to find when you need them. Also, attaching files to tasks gives teams direction and helps them collaborate.

Attachments image

Know If You’re on Schedule

Keeping on track means having accurate information. Real-time data makes it timely, but you also need to set your baseline and have dashboard metrics and reporting to compare your actual progress to your planned progress. This makes sure you stay on schedule.

Planned vs Actuals image

Get an Overview of Performance

Dashboards are designed to collect data and display it over several metrics, such as overall health, workload and more. This high-level view is important, so you want to have a feature that automatically calculates this data and doesn’t require you to manually input it.

Dashboards image

Make Data-Based Decisions

Reports dive deeper into data and get more details on a project’s progress and performance. Real-time data makes them accurate. Look for ease of use—it should only take a single click to generate and share. You’ll also want to filter the results to see only what you’re interested in.

Reports image

The Waterfall Model & ProjectManager

ProjectManager is an award-winning project management 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 waterfall 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 a Work Breakdown Structure to Collect Tasks

Getting to your final deliverable will require many tasks. Planning the waterfall 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 gantt chart in ProjectManager

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.

4. Create Phases & Milestones

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

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.

5. Set Dependencies in a Gantt Chart

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

Link dependent tasks in the Gantt chart. 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 waterfall project plan moving forward in a sequential order and prevents bottlenecks.

6. Assign From Gantt Charts

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.

ProjectManager's Gantt charts are ideal for waterfall project management

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’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 waterfall method 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.

ProjectManager’s dashboard view, which shows six key metrics on a project

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 , 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 project report generated by ProjectManager

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.

The waterfall methodology is one of two popular methods to tackle software engineering 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 waterfall software development life cycle.

Agile Project Management

The agile methodology differs greatly from the waterfall approach 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, the Agile software development method 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. The Agile method, 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 the Waterfall Project Management

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 waterfall model 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 software engineering projects where your customer knows exactly what they want at the onset.

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 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 Agile teams that need to manage their sprints.

With multiple project views, both agile and waterfall 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 methodology 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 can help you plan with precision, track with accuracy and deliver your projects on time and under budget.

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waterfall methodology

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Guide to waterfall methodology: Free template and examples

Sarah Laoyan contributor headshot

Waterfall project management is a sequential project management methodology that's divided into distinct phases. Each phase begins only after the previous phase is completed. This article explains the stages of the waterfall methodology and how it can help your team achieve their goals.

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:

Waterfall project management methodology

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.

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:

Each stage of the process

Who’s working on each stage

Key dependencies

Required resources

A timeline of how long each stage will take.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

[Old Product UI] Mobile app launch project in Asana (Timeline)

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.

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.

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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What Is the Waterfall Methodology?

waterfall methodology

The waterfall methodology is an approach used by software and product development teams  manage projects. The methodology separates the different parts of the project into phases specifying the necessary activities and steps. For example, at the beginning of the project, the waterfall methodology focuses on gathering all requirements from stakeholders that project team members will later use to design and implement the product. 

However, waterfall has its, well…downfalls, which I’ll discuss in more detail below. In short, waterfall may not be suitable for every development process and you can find modified or extended versions of the waterfall methodology that try to solve some of these issues. 

One example of an extended version of the waterfall methodology is the V-model . A key distinction of the V-model from the original Waterfall methodology is its emphasis on validation and testing during the entire project duration, as opposed to only testing after an implementation phase.

More From This Expert What Is JSON?

What Is the Waterfall Methodology in Software Engineering?

The waterfall methodology is a software development life cycle (SDLC) model used to build software projects. 

One thing that distinguishes waterfall from other SDLC models (like Agile ) is that phases are performed sequentially. In other words, the project team must complete each phase in a specific order. If you look at the diagram below, you can see the flow is similar to a waterfall.

waterfall methodology diagram of the waterfall methodology steps: system requirements; software requirements; analysis; program design; coding; testing; operations

Working with SDLC models often includes additional software to keep track of planning, tasks and more. So it’s possible to find tools designed to support the waterfall methodology’s specific workflow, for example.

What Are the Different Phases of the Waterfall Methodology? 

The waterfall methodology was one of the first established SDLC models. In fact, waterfall dates back to 1970 when Dr. Winston W. Royce described it in “ Managing the Development of Large Software Systems .” However, we should note that Royce didn’t refer to the methodology as “waterfall” in the paper. The waterfall nomenclature came later. In his original paper, Royce specified the following phases.

7 Stages of the Waterfall Model

  • System requirements 
  • Software requirements
  • Program design

The system and software requirement phase involves gathering and documenting the requirements defining the product. This process typically involves stakeholders such as the customer and project managers. The analysis phase involves steps such as analyzing the requirements to identify risks and documenting strategies.

The design phase focuses on designing architecture, business logic and concepts for the software. The design phase is followed by the coding phase which involves writing the source code for the software based on the planned design.

The testing phase concerns testing the software to ensure it meets expectations. The last phase, operations , involves deploying the application as well as planning support and maintenance.

Advantages of the Waterfall Methdology

Waterfall provides a systematic and predictable framework that helps reconcile expectations, improve planning, increase efficiency and ensure quality control. What’s more, waterfall documentation provides an entry for people outside the project to build on the software without having to rely on its creators, which is helpful if you need to bring in external assistance or implement changes to the project team.

Disadvantages of the Waterfall Methodology

The structural limitations of the waterfall methodology may introduce some problems for projects with many uncertainties. For instance, the methodology’s linear flow requires that each phase be completed before moving on to the next, which means the methodology doesn’t support revisiting and refining data based on new information that may come later in the project life cycle. A specific example of this limitation is the methodology’s focus on defining all requirements at the beginning of the project. After all, stakeholders may not know everything about the project at the very start or they may change their opinion later about what the product should actually do or what customer segment they’re trying to serve. 

On the other hand, a project with well-defined and stable requirements may benefit from waterfall because it ensures the establishment and documentation of the requirements as soon as possible.

Another disadvantage of the waterfall methodology can be the late implementation of the actual software, which may result in a product not correlating with stakeholders’ expectations. For example, if the developers have misunderstood the customer’s idea about a specific feature due to poorly defined requirements, the final product will not behave as expected. Late testing can also lead to finding systemic problems too late in the project’s development when it’s more difficult to correct the design.

More From the Built In Tech Dictionary What Is Agile?

Waterfall Methodology vs. Agile

Another approach to software development is the Agile methodology . Agile is more flexible and open to changes than waterfall, which makes Agile more suitable for projects affected by rapid changes.

Waterfall methodology diagram of the Agile methdology which is more cyclical and iterative in nature than waterfall

A key difference between the two methodologies is the project’s flow. While waterfall is a linear and sequential approach, Agile is an iterative and incremental approach. In practice this means that software created using Agile has development phases we perform several times with smaller chunks of implemented functionality. 

The two methodologies also have different approaches to testing . The waterfall methodology tests implementation very late in the process while Agile integrates tests for each iteration.

Another key difference is the two methodologies’ approach to stakeholders. When we use waterfall, the customer doesn’t see the implemented software until quite late in the project. When we use Agile, customers have the opportunity to follow the progress along the way.

Which methodology you choose will come down to the project’s context. Stable and well-defined projects may benefit more from the waterfall methodology and other projects affected by rapid changes may benefit more from Agile.

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Understanding the waterfall methodology

waterfall methodology

Have you ever wondered how bridges and big buildings are built? And do you know the difference between building a bridge, an airport, and a software product? The difference lies in how the workflows are managed.

Understanding The Waterfall Methodology

Buildings, bridges, or even space programs are planned and executed in a project-oriented waterfall style. On the other hand, there are agile methodologies and frameworks like scrum that execute development in an agile way.

In this article, you will learn about the waterfall methodology in depth, including its core principles, phases, pros and cons, and how it compares to the agile methodology.

What is the waterfall methodology?

The waterfall methodology is a linear and sequential project management approach where each phase of a project must be completed before moving to the next. It emphasizes thorough documentation, well-defined project requirements, and a structured, predetermined timeline.

Waterfall is commonly used for projects with clear, unchanging requirements and minimal need for adaptability or frequent stakeholder involvement.

Core principles of the waterfall methodology

The waterfall methodology utilizes three core principles: sequential phases, defined requirements, and an emphasis on documentation.

Sequential phases

The waterfall methodology is characterized by its sequential and linear approach to project management. A project is divided into distinct phases and each phase must be completed before the next one begins. The sequence ensures that there is clear progress from one stage of the project to the next.

Defined requirements

Before beginning any implementation work, the project must move through the requirements analysis and design phase. The project must be planned and the requirements must be known and well-defined. This means a significant portion of the overall project time is spent on requirement gathering, analyzing, and documenting requirements.

The requirements can only be used as a foundation for the project plan and the execution of the project if they are well-defined. With properly defined requirements, you can test the results of each phase and ensure a certain quality to both the output of the project, as well as the project plan and project management.

Emphasis on documentation

An important foundation of the waterfall methodology is the emphasis on documentation at each phase. Comprehensive documentation helps with planning and executing the project.

It is needed:

  • To caption and clarify project requirements
  • To support communication and collaboration with the customers
  • To design and implement the project
  • To ensure the quality and coordinate the team efforts
  • To verify if the team is on track and the project meets the specifications
  • To share knowledge especially when topics are handed over in between project phases

Phases of the waterfall methodology

The waterfall methodology comprises several distinct phases, each building upon the previous one. Understanding these phases is important for you to effectively implement a waterfall approach in your project management.

waterfall methodology

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waterfall methodology

Requirements phase

The requirements phase is the initial step in every waterfall project as it lays the foundation for the project plan and the following work. During this phase, the project team works closely with the project stakeholders and customers to gather, analyze, and document the project’s requirements and desired output.

Key activities in this phase include:

  • Conducting user interviews
  • Conducting stakeholder and customer interviews
  • Executing requirement workshops
  • Documenting requirements
  • Defining acceptance criteria, quality metrics, and nonfunctional requirements
  • Defining a project plan with concrete project goals, a resource plan, a test plan, and a communication plan
  • Gathering the needed budget and resources for the project
  • Gaining feedback from the customers and the stakeholders to move on with the design phase

In this phase it is important to gather all the essential information for the upcoming phases, to set clear project goals, and to manage expectations by aligning with the stakeholders and customers.

Design phase

After the requirements are clear and the project is planned, the project team can start with the design phase. In the design phase, the focus lies on creating a detailed design and architecture based on the defined requirements.

  • Developing the architectural plan and creating blueprints
  • Creating detailed design documents, including models, user interfaces, and workflows
  • Identifying dependencies between different components and creating component integration plans
  • Updating project plans as more is learned
  • Testing the designs against the documented requirements

The design phase serves as a bridge between the requirements phase and the implementation phase providing a clear “how” to the developer and the stakeholders. The developers can then follow a clear plan in the implementation phase.

Implementation phase

Once the how is clear and the design phase is completed and approved, the team can start with the development in the implementation phase. During this phase the team begins with the actual work. This phase is where the project starts taking shape and where actual value is realized.

  • Developing code and creating software components
  • Conducting code reviews, tests, and creating unit tests
  • Integrating different components and modulus to a bigger system
  • Creating the system and integration tests
  • Manually testing the system and its parts
  • Ensuring that the implementation is aligned with the designs and architectural requirements
  • Ensuring that the implementation is also aligned with the requirements of the stakeholders
  • Budget monitoring and ensuring that the project is on track and in scope

In the implementation phase, the team needs to be careful and pay attention to details, while also adhering to the design and requirements. The output of the implementation phase must be a functional and tested product. Only when the output can be considered finished can the project move onto the verification phase.

Verification phase

After the implementation phase, the verification phase begins. It focuses on testing and quality assurance with the stakeholders and users. It is used to identify and rectify defects and ensure that the project meets all requirements and quality standards.

  • System testing to evaluate the overall functionality and performance
  • Load testing
  • User acceptance testing
  • Regression testing to check for unintended side effects of code changes
  • Bug tracking and fixing the bugs
  • Final approval and handover to the customers

The verification phase is a critical phase to ensure that the output of the project is error-free and ready to use.

Maintenance phase

The final phase of a waterfall project is the maintenance phase. This phase begins after the product is deployed and in active use by its intended users. During this phase the focus shifts to ongoing support, delivering updates and enhancements, and maybe starting follow-up projects.

Often the maintenance phase is the end of the project and only consists of one or two months of customer care. After this period the project and the waterfall ends.

Key activities of this phase include:

  • Monitoring the system and identifying potential issues
  • Addressing and resolving defects, errors, and bugs
  • Implementing updates and delivering them based on user feedback
  • Ensuring the operation and sustainability of the system

The maintenance phase is the end of the project and the last effort to improve the quality to evolving needs of the user.

Pros and cons of the waterfall methodology

Everything in life comes with pros and cons, and so does the waterfall methodology. It also highly depends on you, your project, and your personal experience and skill.

Pros of waterfall projects


Especially for simple to complex projects the sequential nature of the waterfall approach provides a structured timeline and clear milestones. This helps to better understand the project and the project plan and allows stakeholders to have a reasonable expectation of when the project will be completed successfully and under what conditions.

Good documentation

Waterfall approaches focus on documentation and thereby ensure transparency. Even late in the project, you can understand why something happened as it happened. This can be valuable for compliance, audits, and further maintenance.

Clear milestones

If everything is prepared well the project will have clear milestones and a plan to achieve them. This will make it easy to measure the progress of the project. This increases the transparency for the stakeholders as they can easily see if everything is still on track or not.

Stakeholder involvement

Transparency and the frequent milestone presentations between the phases lead to stakeholder involvement along every major step of the waterfall.

Cons of waterfall projects

Late feedback.

Although the stakeholders are involved in waterfall projects, they are only involved at the beginning and end of each phase and of the project. In between they have no transparency and no way to steer and give feedback, which can lead to increased project costs.

Excessive documentation

Waterfall projects also lack internal feedback between phases, which often leads to the creation of excessive documentation. This also increases costs and consumes budgets.

Limited flexibility

Because of the late feedback, the project is also less flexible to change. The later the phase and the more progress the project has made, the harder it is to change things. Stakeholder feedback typically comes late in the process, which can result in costly revisions if the project doesn’t align with user expectations.

Late value creation

The creation of actual value, (e.g. the time when the first code is created and deployed) is also delayed and very late in the process. This is a major risk since a lot of effort runs in the first design and requirement phases.

Risk of overlooking major issues

Major problems may not become apparent until the verification or maintenance phases, which makes it challenging to address them effectively.

Expensive repairs

If a major flaw is detected in the verification phase, or even later in the maintenance phase it is very costly to repair it since a lot of work has already been done and components typically build on each other.

Waterfall vs. agile

The choice between waterfall and agile depends on the project’s nature, the requirements, and the organization’s culture. Waterfall is suitable for projects with stable, well-defined requirements and organizations with a preference for predictability. Agile approaches excel in dynamic environments where flexibility, collaboration, and rapid adaptation are crucial.

Tools for waterfall project management

While Waterfall projects rely heavily on documentation and structured processes, various tools can enhance efficiency and collaboration:

  • Project management software — Tools like Microsoft Project help in planning, scheduling, and tracking project activities
  • Requirements management — Tools like Jira can help manage and track project requirements and bugs
  • Version control — Version control systems like Git are essential for managing code changes and ensuring traceability
  • Collaboration platforms — Tools like Microsoft Teams , Slack , and Confluence enable seamless communication and document sharing among team members

Using these tools in conjunction with Waterfall methodology can streamline project management processes and improve overall project efficiency.

Final thoughts

The Waterfall approach, with its core principles of sequential phases, documentation emphasis, and defined requirements, offers a structured approach to project management. Understanding its pros and cons is essential for making informed decisions about its suitability for specific projects.

Depending on the environment a project is executed it makes sense to choose either agile or waterfall approaches. If the environment is complicated or simple, waterfall projects deliver predictability and structure. If the environment is complex or chaotic, agile approaches are more suitable. Ultimately, the choice between waterfall and agile depends on the project’s nature, the requirements, the technology, and the organization’s culture.

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    The waterfall methodology is an approach used by software and product development teams manage projects. The methodology separates the different parts of the project into phases specifying the necessary activities and steps.

  5. Understanding the waterfall methodology

    The waterfall methodology is a linear and sequential project management approach where each phase of a project must be completed before moving to the next. It emphasizes thorough documentation, well-defined project requirements, and a structured, predetermined timeline.