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Waterfall Project Management – The Beginner’s Guide

Waterfall Project Management - The Beginner's Guide

In the project management world, waterfalls are very straightforward, which is why project managers love it.

It is a linear project management method where you gather stakeholder and customer requirements at the start of a project and then follow a sequential project plan to meet those requirements. That is it!

Think of it as AND for software development methods.

Sure, waterfalls are not the most flexible, especially when compared to its modern counterparts like Agile and Scrum, but that does not mean it is less efficient – provided you use it for the right projects.

In this guide, you will learn all about waterfall project management and how you can use this method to improve your project results.


Let’s get started!

Why waterfall project management is so important

The water management’s project management strategy means that everything is set from the start. Project requirements, stakeholder expectations, the overall structure … Everything!

Despite newly invented project management methods, you will find several projects where waterfalls still fit better, especially where teams know all the project requirements in advance.

In the words of Ben Aston of The Digital Project Manager, “Waterfalls can be a useful and predictable approach if the requirements are firm, well-documented and clear, if the technology is understood and matured, the project is short and if there is no further added value by ‘go agile’. ”

Basically, teams still need waterfalls for projects where agile is a complete non-starter.

Many people prefer this method because of its simple and linear design. Plus, a visual representation makes it easier for teams to understand the steps that need to be completed to achieve project goals.

A 2017 report from the Project Management Institute (PMI) showed that 51% of organizations still used waterfalls compared to other modern methods. So it is safe to say that waterfalls are not going anywhere anytime soon.

The following are a few more reasons why waterfalls are still relevant today:

Easy progress measurements

Project management of waterfalls makes progress measurement simple and straightforward. Plus has clearly defined start and end points. Each person involved is fully aware of the scope of work well in advance.

Easy structuring

Why complicate something when you can get rid of it easily, right?

Waterfalls are more intuitive compared to other project management methods. Each phase is in order with specific deliveries and a review process. Since the whole approach is very methodical, it is also easier for beginners to follow.

Better documentation and clear information transfer

Each project benefits from clear documentation, making it easier for members to track progress. In fact, waterfalls are designed so that if a team member suddenly leaves during the development process, their replacement can easily pick up from where it previously left off.

When you keep these benefits in mind, you also need to understand the kind of projects where waterfalls fit better. These include situations where:

The customer’s requirements do not change often. The projects are short and straightforward. The project phases do not overlap. All requirements are clear and specified. The projects have a specific time frame. The development environment is stable together with the necessary tools and All available resources are trained correctly.

In addition, waterfalls were also more preferred, where human life is on the line (where a system failure can result in death), and human safety is prevalent. It is easy to see why banking, healthcare, control systems for nuclear facilities, space shuttles, etc. use waterfalls over agility.

Department of Defense (DoD), military and aviation programs follow the waterfall model in many organizations due to the strict standards and requirements that must be followed in these industries.

Here, the requirements are well known in advance, and contracts are super-specific for the project’s deliveries. The agencies also found that waterfalls were more compatible with their acquisition process and rigorous monitoring process, which is something required by the government.

How to improve waterfall project management today

You can get the most out of waterfall project management by making important improvements. Waterfall boards are supposed to be clear, concise and easy to follow – something that uses project management tools like makes possible.

Apart from that, here are a few other tactics to ensure maximum results.

Match the nature of the project with the methodology

Before deciding on a project method, be sure to choose the best option to accommodate the nature of the project.

Waterfalls only make sense when you follow a linear process that does not require much flexibility or many iterations. But if you want something more fluid and unstructured or less structured, it would be a better effort to adopt agile project management.

A good tip is to study what other teams have previously used for similar projects and then weigh your options depending on what needs to be done and how. You can also hold group discussions on different methods, where team members and stakeholders can express their opinions and discuss the nuances in more detail.

Nail the documentation

Documentation is an important aspect of the waterfall approach.

It’s the best way to highlight everyone’s responsibilities on the team along with deadlines for each task. It also creates an overview of the entire structure from start to finish so others can see what steps need to be taken to achieve the end result.

Create a solid project scope that defines project boundaries and a central, documented action plan that serves as a reference point. You can also create and send a visual progress bar (check boxes, complete phases, etc.) to make it easier for team members to see and understand how their efforts are helping to reach the ultimate goal.

Think of it as adding a concrete element to what may feel like a far away goal.

Create realistic timelines with clear due dates

Waterfall teams should always define the times in phases where client involvement is required.

Customers and customers are only involved at certain points in the project instead of having them at every step. Moreover, if you do not address assets and availability on time, it may ultimately delay the project.

Start by setting clear deadlines for deliveries to both parties. Not only does it promote accountability among all, but it also gives them the initiative to deliver results on time by informing them of the requirements and deadlines.

Chalk out the different criteria and procedures for each phase

Action plans are always a good idea, especially for waterfall projects. Having clear criteria and procedures for each phase of the project makes it easier for everyone to follow, monitor and work collectively.

As such, there are no fluctuations around criteria and procedures for the project, which in turn means fewer opportunities for confusion and slower progress. In addition, it is easier to schedule launch dates and make future decisions due to simplified progress tracking.

Be on the same page as the stakeholders

Large projects are notorious for going off the rails. This is due to the ever-changing and endless opinions of various stakeholders, requests, insights, tasks and deadlines, which end up stretching deadlines and taking the project beyond its original scope.

This is exactly why you need to adjust the expectations of the project stakeholders in the beginning. In addition, stakeholders should understand that they are not pushing beyond what was agreed at the beginning of the execution.

Waterfalls, as a method, are designed to be rigid. Therefore, it can be very difficult to make changes in the middle of the project, which is why stakeholder requests must be minimal and all requirements are established right from the start.

Do not rush the process and always test deliveries

You need to plan the project timeline in a way that gives you plenty of time to test the results.

It is common for waterfall projects to be accelerated as the deadline approaches, and although this is not desirable, there is not much one can do about it other than improve project planning and create realistic due dates. You can also try to account for this rush in the planning phase while giving enough time to test and train kinks.

That said, do not limit testing to small sample sizes. You need to gather meaningful data and gain insight from valuable data sources as it is the only way to get a clearer picture of the end product. Testing also allows you to make notes and discuss your findings as a collective with team members.

3 best practices for project management of waterfalls

Below we have compiled a list of the three best approaches to project management of waterfall projects to understand what needs to be done to get the final delivery.

Collect all requirements and documents in advance

Before you start the project, you must have all documents and requirements clearly stated. Here’s how:

The scope of the project. This is one of the most important documents for your project and it should include your deliveries, features, deadlines, costs, etc. This is incredibly important, so be sure to spend the necessary time and effort to get a clear and detailed project scope.

Stakeholders’ expectations. We have already mentioned the importance of adapting the expectations to stakeholders, including the people who have an interest in the project. You can conduct interviews and hold meetings to get a clear idea of ​​their vision and desires. It works in favor of the success of the project.

Research. Conduct market research on competitors, current market trends, customer needs and anything else you think can contribute to the success of your project.

Create teams. Next on your list should be to gather all the necessary people and resources, such as website developers, designers, programmers, etc.

Structure your project planning

Having a well-defined framework is an important part of waterfall projects. Planning the structure of your project means that you will find out how to get to the final delivery, which includes:

Collects tasks. Use a job breakdown structure to list all the necessary tasks to be performed to get to the final delivery.

Creating schedules. Now that you have your tasks, the next step is to create a schedule to estimate the total time each task takes. After this map them in a Gantt chart and link dependencies to get a clearer picture of the project. You can also add costs to create a project budget if you want.

Monitor and monitor project progress regularly

At this point, you need to be in the implementation phase of your project, building and testing the deliveries. How to easily monitor and track progress:

Assign team tasks. Project members must be responsible for their respective tasks. Again, you can prepare these tasks from a Gantt chart and add priorities, descriptions, and so on to make the process even more defined.

Monitor and track tasks. When project execution begins, monitor and track daily progress to ensure the project is moving as planned.

Manage resources and workload. It is common to face obstacles when completing a project. You find yourself redistributing resources and balancing the workload a lot, but it is also a necessary step to avoid bottlenecks.

Reports to stakeholders. Stakeholders should always be kept in the loop during a project. It is your responsibility to keep updating them to show progress. You can also meet them and discuss a regular schedule of presentations, keeping it convenient for both parties.

Test and live deliveries. You need to test the deliveries thoroughly to make sure everything is working as designed. Only after correcting errors and working out issues should you deliver what is delivered to the stakeholders.

This article was written by today’s Daily Eggspert.

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