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What is Waterfall Project Management?

Nov 8, 2022 | By BQE | 0 Comments

Topics: Project Management

Waterfall project management is a traditional and relatively simple strategy for handling your firm’s workstreams. It is predicated on a sequential approach to your project, with each phase's completion leading to and facilitating the next phase.

The waterfall project management methodology contrasts the more modern agile project management, which emphasizes compartmentalization, testing, and adaptation. Instead, the waterfall method has clearly defined goals, phases, and roles, and changes are discouraged. This approach is best suited to projects with long and detailed plans.

Not sure which project management approach is right for you? Read on to learn the best practices and benefits of the waterfall approach, where you organize projects linearly towards a set end goal.

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Better planning, better projects

The waterfall model is the most effective and predictable way to execute against a precise, fully laid out project plan. It gives project managers a great deal of administrative control over the process. Because change is discouraged in this approach and each phase depends on the one before it, your planning needs to be meticulous to keep your team’s work on track. This may mean you allot more time to the early phases of your project, including requirement gathering and system design. 

While more planning is required before starting work, there are many benefits associated with the waterfall model that will make you happy you chose this rigorous approach. With 37% of organizations choosing to use waterfall project management, its effectiveness is proven. Some of the benefits of this model method include:

  • More predictable timeline and budget to share with clients 
  • A detailed structure that makes the project easier to track and manage
  • Clearly-defined milestones that serve as built-in opportunities to measure progress
  • Easy-to-replicate workflows backed by documentation that you can reuse for similar tasks in the future

Before you create your waterfall sequence

Since waterfall project management is unadaptable to change once a project is underway, all of your project’s necessary steps, resources, and information should be accounted for and planned ahead of time. You can’t begin a sequence if any essential parts are missing. 

So before you start, ensure that all requirements are well-defined and everyone involved understands the project scope and roadmap. Take time to discuss the schedule and dependencies with every project contributor so they fully understand what needs to happen to finish on time and avoid rework.

This need for precision is why waterfall project management is the best choice for projects that can be planned from beginning to end before they start. Clients appreciate this model because it requires you to stick to the agreed-upon budget and timeline, and predict risks, uncertainties, and failures before they happen.

Waterfall Project Management Segments

In the waterfall model, a project follows a sequential series of segments, or phases, with one leading to the next. While the exact segments in your project may vary, the six phases below are standard.

Requirements

The requirements phase is when you determine every element a project needs to succeed, and waterfall project management hinges on gathering all requirements before the beginning of a project. 

Requirements include budget, timeline, and personnel, and how you determine a project’s requirement may take you down the path of conducting interviews and surveys, and doing research or competitor audits. At the end of this phase, you should have a very detailed requirements document that you can share with clients, team members, and other stakeholders.

Design

During the design phase, the project manager creates the project’s workflow model, demonstrating how your team will accomplish the project’s goals. This is the stage of project planning when you establish which resources and applications you’ll use to fulfill the needs you identified during the requirements phase. 

The design phase is an opportunity to look at the big picture and really define the scope and scale of your project. One of the most effective and straightforward ways to do this is through a visualization of the workflow, such as Gantt charts.

By the end of this phase, you should have solidified and documented precisely how the project will run, according to the defined scope, budget, timeline, and contributors. Your design document will address processes, technical specifications, testing criteria, and what success looks like for this project.

Implementation

The implementation phase is when you produce the system or deliverable you’ve been planning. For engineers or software developers following the waterfall method, this is when you’d code the hardware or software system you’re working on, or, if you’re in construction, this is the phase when you’d build the house. 

Depending on your project, the implementation phase is often shorter than the previous two research-intensive phases. If an issue arises at this point in your project, you may need to go back to the design phase to remediate it.

You should be stringent about carefully documenting what you do during this phase, which will help you conduct a project post-mortem, or plan better projects more efficiently next time. Clients may later want evidence that you completed a certain task during this phase, and your documentation will serve as a reference.

Testing

Next up, it’s time for the testing phase, when you perform quality assurance on what you’ve created. For a software development team, this is the point when you’d scour your product for any bugs, deficiencies, or liabilities. You also apply realistic use cases to see how effective your deliverable performs. 

During the testing phase, you should create procedures for identifying and monitoring issues to keep your project advancing smoothly. If your deliverable isn’t working as expected, you may need to do some rework to improve it. If that’s the case, you’ll be happy you included some buffer time during this phase of your project plan.

Deployment

Deployment is an exciting stage, as it’s when your project is considered “done” or ready for market. At this point, the testing phase was successful because there are no major issues with your project’s deliverable. The outcome of your work should conform with what you planned during the design phase and fulfill your client’s and team’s objectives. At the end of the deployment phase, you will have handed off all deliverables to the relevant stakeholders. 

Maintenance

The maintenance phase is exactly what it sounds like — this is when you maintain what you’ve created. For construction firms, this is when you might be in touch with the real estate developer or property management company of a commercial property you built to see if any improvements are necessary. For software developers, this is when you’d identify and implement patches, updates, and bug fixes. It may even extend to offering some level of customer support on what you’ve created. 

BQE Solutions for Project Management

Whether your firm prefers to follow the waterfall project management approach or the agile methodology, BQE CORE’s project management software can help you more effectively plan and manage projects. 

BQE CORE is an award-winning all-in-one dashboard that allows you and your team to work more efficiently by centralizing your firm’s accounting, project management, time and expense tracking, HR, and KPIs and providing all the relevant data you need to streamline and improve performance.

With BQE CORE, you have access to real-time analytics related to projects, budgets, team members, payroll, and company resources that you can apply across every project phase for added efficiency, accountability, and transparency. Read the BQE blog for more tips on increasing productivity, and sign up for your free, personalized BQE CORE demo to see how we can help your firm achieve its full potential.

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