What’s the Waterfall Methodology? Information to Challenge Administration


“A dinosaur course of designed for a world that now not exists.”

That is how Harvard Enterprise Evaluate recently described the Waterfall methodology—a conventional undertaking administration course of favored by manufacturing industries and, for many years, software program builders. 

Haters gonna hate, however we expect the Waterfall methodology nonetheless has its place in undertaking administration. 

From launching social media advertising campaigns to planning complicated gross sales offers, Waterfall can be a superb match for initiatives that want a strong timeframe. 

On this information, we’ll have a look at why the Waterfall course of is liked (and hated), and how one can undertake it to simplify your inner processes. 

Let’s dive in. 

What’s the Waterfall Methodology?

The Waterfall methodology is a linear method to undertaking administration. Every stage is created alongside a set timeline, and work solely strikes ahead when these key milestones are accomplished. The purpose—to get the entire undertaking executed on a clear schedule.

This kind of linear method covers a whole lot of bases for undertaking managers. First, Waterfall can maintain deliverables and timelines on observe, and on the again of that, groups can create extra correct quotes and scopes for shoppers. Because the undertaking is mapped out in sequential phases earlier than it begins, everyone seems to be on the identical web page from day one, which makes it simpler to execute and handle progress (and spot any bumps within the highway.)

Historically, the Waterfall mannequin divides a undertaking into 5 phases, and every step cannot start till the earlier part is nearly over. A undertaking supervisor can also be tremendous necessary for Waterfall initiatives to maintain process sequences on observe and guarantee everyone seems to be sticking to the necessities within the authentic temporary.

Challenge administration instruments, particularly Gantt charts, are important to creating a Waterfall methodology work. These charts present every within the Waterfall with a begin/finish date, together with different info like subsequent phases and deliverables to maintain initiatives on observe. 

Example of a Gantt chart from TechTarget

Supply: TechTarget

The outcome? 

Properly, if all the things goes to plan, the Waterfall Methodology is a straightforward solution to ship initiatives on time and on price range.

Who Ought to Use the Waterfall Mannequin?

From governments to software program builders and producers, the Waterfall methodology has been used by a lot of various industries. However to make use of the Waterfall Mannequin successfully, your course of have to be clearly outlined—in different phrases, you could know prices, design, and time necessities earlier than you even begin the undertaking. 

At its core, Waterfall has three checkboxes: milestones, well-defined deliverables, and documentation. Its performance and strict construction make it good for any undertaking that has:

  • Concrete necessities which are tied to a deadline.
  • A transparent roadmap, together with milestones and expectations for everybody concerned within the undertaking.
  • Clear targets set by higher administration or the consumer—they received’t do a 180 on deliverables.

As one programmer mused on Reddit, Waterfall fashions are good for organizations with processes in place like price range monitoring and stakeholder administration. So long as the undertaking will swim (and never sink) below clear constraints—Waterfall is an efficient alternative. 

This is a fast instance. A Tesla Model Y takes around 2 ½ hours—begin to end—to get down the manufacturing line. However this manufacturing fee can solely occur if a strict manufacturing mannequin is adopted: the seats have to be in earlier than the doorways are put in, and the engine is lowered into the entrance of the automotive earlier than the hood is hooked up. 

However there’s additionally a draw back to this structured method to initiatives. 

Keep in mind when the U.S. authorities launched

It was a brand new platform (constructed from scratch) the place Individuals might purchase insurance coverage. However to place it bluntly, the launch of the web site was a complete shitshow. It’s believed developers used Waterfall to construct the undertaking, and when late-stage testing was carried out earlier than it went dwell, a number of errors have been discovered. 

Who Should Use the Waterfall Model - HealthCare launch

The web site crashed, and it took months to repair the coding issues. However the largest kicker was the price tag: the preliminary $93.7M undertaking price range ended up cashing in at $1.7 billion

This is the reason so many industries (particularly builders) are consistently asking what’s greatest: Waterfall or Agile? 🤔

What’s the Distinction Between Waterfall and Agile Methodology?

The most important distinction between Waterfall and Agile methodologies is how a lot planning is finished earlier than the undertaking kicks off. 

The heavy lifting of any undertaking utilizing Waterfall could have concrete deliverables, deadlines, and a transparent roadmap prepared earlier than a single hour is spent on consumer work. Agile initiatives begin engaged on a undertaking after which hash out the finer particulars like consumer calls for and ultimate deliverables. For bigger companies, the Agile method might be difficult and result in a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen state of affairs…

What’s the Difference Between Waterfall and Agile Methodology

Supply: Twitter (X)

This is a fast breakdown of the most important variations between the 2 methodologies: 

Waterfall vs Agile Methodology - Close Graph

Waterfall undertaking administration is a strict course of with out a lot room to make adjustments. This will trigger initiatives to be delivered with out all the things the consumer needs as a result of inflexibility. That mentioned, it’s an easier course of as a result of upfront planning originally of the undertaking and requires much less dependency on collaboration and communication throughout the undertaking. Waterfall additionally makes use of Gantt charts to visualise milestones and deadlines.

Agile undertaking administration, then again, makes use of Kanban charts to maneuver duties alongside in a sequence. Agile groups are versatile even after the undertaking kicks off, that means they’ll adapt to any adjustments or requests from higher administration or the consumer. This mannequin might be extra complicated, since there are extra shifting elements throughout a undertaking, and it will probably trigger delays and price range overspends as a result of these adjustments. The Agile methodology additionally requires much more communication throughout the undertaking group throughout every dash to ensure everyone seems to be working with the altering situations.

The 5 Steps of the Waterfall Challenge Administration Workflow

Each Waterfall undertaking movement goes to be completely different primarily based on the kind of undertaking you’re managing, and how your group goes to method it.

That mentioned, there are 5 common steps that match most use instances of this undertaking administration method. It’s best to have a starting, center, and finish that requires analysis, implementation, and testing. 

Listed below are the essential components a workflow ought to all the time embrace. 👇

The 5 Steps of the Waterfall Project Management Workflow

1. Analysis and Planning

Earlier than any Waterfall undertaking begins, a butt-ton of labor have to be executed within the analysis and planning part. 

That you must hash out who’s liable for what duties, what the consumer’s price range is, and, most significantly, what the undertaking deadline will seem like. A undertaking supervisor often takes the lead at this stage to spearhead the work and can create an in depth roadmap for every part. 

To-do record for this step: 

  • Estimate undertaking necessities and description how/when your group will full them, ideally in a Gantt chart.
  • Talk with the consumer about deliverables and timelines to make sure everyone seems to be on the identical web page. 
  • Create an in depth contract for the consumer to signal, which outlines milestones, deadlines, and price range to keep away from any scope creep.

2. Design 

The design part is when a framework is constructed for a way the undertaking will go from concept to conception. 

What this step appears like relies on what division is utilizing Waterfall to handle a undertaking. For an app construct, for instance, a undertaking supervisor will convert the main points from the first step right into a necessities doc (often a Software program Design Doc (SDD) for the event group. 

This doc would be the group’s blueprint to construct out a bodily design of the app. The group can observe the SDD to ensure they hit all of the targets, UI, and software program descriptions from the planning part.

This is an instance of an SDD for software program groups within the system design part: 

5 Steps of the Waterfall Project Management Workflow - Design

Supply: Lucidchart

To-do record for this step: 

  • Finalize the design of the undertaking so the group is one hundred pc certain what the ultimate product ought to seem like.
  • Map out ultimate timelines, milestones, and consumer expectations on a doc that’s accessible to each group member engaged on the undertaking. This retains everybody on the identical web page. 

3. Implementation 

This step is when the enjoyable begins. 

Your group will get to work on the targets and roadmap you inbuilt steps one and two. If we use the app construct instance we used within the earlier step, the implementation part is when builders will begin to write code, wireframes, and design interfaces. All of this work should align with the undertaking spec and buyer targets to make sure the group can (easily) transfer onto the following part.

To-do record for this step: 

  • Begin to construct out the foundations on your undertaking.
  • Every day/weekly standups with the group engaged on the undertaking to maintain everybody on the identical web page.

4. Testing 

That is the launch… earlier than the launch.

Testing is arguably probably the most essential part of any Waterfall course of. Earlier than a undertaking might be handed over to a consumer or launched to clients, it have to be put via its paces to catch any errors and make sure the ultimate product aligns with the roadmap. 

Testing utilizing Waterfall often occurs in three steps: 

  • Alpha: Inside checks executed by your dev group.
  • Beta: The product is taken for a take a look at drive by a small variety of goal clients to present suggestions.
  • Signal-off: As soon as Beta testing wraps up and the product is delivered to shoppers, they may resolve if they’re proud of the tip outcome.

5. Upkeep 

As soon as the undertaking has been totally examined and launched—it have to be maintained. 

The excellent news? You do not have to hurry the upkeep part. Constantly enhancing a product post-release can truly work in your favor. 

Simply have a look at Google’s Gmail, which had a beta tag hooked up to it even after more than 100 million users and 5+ years after its launch. Though it smells of a advertising ploy (co-founder Larry Page once admitted the beta label had extra to do with “messaging and branding”), it made customers really feel like they’d a voice in how the product was molded. 

And that is fairly rattling highly effective.  

To-do record for this step: 

  • Take heed to suggestions from clients/shoppers and implement any concepts to enhance the undertaking. 
  • Repair any lingering bugs or points from the unique deployment.
  • Collect the group to get their ideas on how the undertaking went and what could possibly be improved for subsequent time by way of planning, implementation, and testing.

Key Benefits of Utilizing the Waterfall Mannequin

There is a purpose the Waterfall mannequin remains to be talked about for undertaking administration—it is an ideal match for sure initiatives. 

For initiatives with arduous deadlines and deliverables, Waterfall is an efficient alternative as a result of:

  • The event course of permits group leaders to construct out an in depth undertaking plan. The group engaged on the undertaking could have a crystal clear concept about what the design, implementation, and launch will seem like.
  • It retains the undertaking price range in test. As every part of the undertaking is deliberate upfront, it is simpler to estimate the ultimate price on your consumer precisely.
  • Each milestone and deadline is scheduled in the beginning of the undertaking, so everybody is aware of what they’re anticipated to ship (and when). 
  • There is not a ton of room for undertaking scope creep. Shoppers cannot add new necessities as soon as the work kicks off, so there’s much less likelihood of delay or blowing up the undertaking price range.

Disadvantages of the Waterfall Strategy

  • It wants an enormous time funding to sufficiently analysis, plan, and map out the undertaking earlier than any work can start.
  • Any delays throughout every part can have a big impact on reaching undertaking deadlines and milestones. 
  • There isn’t a wanting again. As soon as planning or implementation is full, your group should transfer on to the following part. This inflexible methodology does not have a lot flexibility to show round and have a do-over.
  • Shoppers might change their minds a few ultimate deliverable or end result. Nonetheless, Waterfall does not actually enable for any main adjustments, so they are going to be more durable to implement, or worse—you’ll have to inform the consumer no. 
  • The consumer will not see the undertaking till the testing part. If they do not prefer it or they’ve suggestions, it is too late to make any (vital) adjustments. 

Waterfall Methodology Examples: Use this Strategy in Your Startup or Small Enterprise

Assume Waterfall methodology is only for software program engineers? Assume once more.

Waterfall has a bunch of various use instances, and because of its inflexible method, it is good for groups who wish to create a repeatable system. Consider any latest product launches you probably did or the final deal you closed—chances are high, the method seemed related every time. Waterfall can act because the blueprint for these initiatives to make sure they’re profitable. 

Let’s check out what that appears like 👇

Waterfall Mannequin in Software program Improvement Initiatives

For builders, Waterfall is a strong alternative for any software program growth life cycle that has excessive certainty and low (or no) ambiguity. 

It’s used for all the things from recreation growth to constructing out authorities software program. Whereas some developers say Waterfall is an “old fashioned” course of, it nonetheless has its place. Mega corporations like Ubisoft still use it to develop characters and create preliminary codes to make sure a well-constructed basis. Till not too long ago, the US Division of Protection Software program Methods baked into their contracts that Waterfall is the popular construct course of, a minimum of throughout the design part.  

The one gripe about utilizing Waterfall for software program growth was the dearth of motion round timeframes and budgets. If a undertaking is quoted utilizing Waterfall after which shit hits the fan, the developer loses out. 

To keep away from this, developers on Reddit have some strategies: 

  • Pad any estimates. Double (or triple) them relying on how lengthy the undertaking will take and the way a lot uncertainty you suppose there will probably be when it will get off the bottom
  • Keep robust and say no to scope creep. The builders recommend establishing an “ice field” to retailer any further asks from the consumer so they do not fall via the cracks—however you do not do them free of charge both. Then, you possibly can focus on the extras saved within the “ice field” as soon as the most important work is out of the best way and see if they’ve any additional price range to pay for them
  • Attempt to get suggestions earlier than the ultimate phases. In case you can, do mini-project releases at main milestones to point out to the consumer or take a look at out the code. It will assist catch any snagging points and ensure all the things is on observe

TL;DR Waterfall is ideal for iterative initiatives with a linear software program growth course of. Simply be certain to construct a plan with sufficient padding to maintain you secure from timeline blowouts or scope creep!

Waterfall Methodology for Gross sales Challenge Administration

Most Google searches about Waterfall Methodology will speak about software program growth, however the methodology will also be used to shut offers. 

Any deal in your sales pipeline will observe the same journey: a lead turns right into a prospect, you nurture them, bounce on just a few cellphone calls, maybe do a demo, after which get the contract signed. So, your gross sales course of might be plotted onto a Waterfall Gantt chart: 

Example of a simple sales pipeline - Waterfall Methodology for Sales Project Management

That is good if a number of reps are engaged on one deal. Everybody can maintain updated with completely different initiatives and the way a deal is progressing by simply clicking on the Gantt chart. 

Waterfall can also be superb for onboarding new gross sales reps. The whole lot is mapped out on a chart, to allow them to see how every part progresses and the way lengthy every a part of the deal ought to take. It is a good way to get them used to your course of and promoting like the remainder of your group!

A Waterfall Advertising and marketing Strategy

Waterfall can also be one other nice match for bigger advertising initiatives. 

It could actually create repeatable processes, so it is good for extra complicated initiatives. We’re speaking about product launches or necessary social media campaigns that require weeks/months of labor with a number of stakeholders. 

Waterfall may even construct curiosity in a brand new function or product if used correctly. For instance, Max Leblanc over at Groover explains utilizing a Waterfall advertising method is a great match for industries like musicians who wish to create buzz round a brand new launch. 

A Waterfall Marketing Approach

Check out that ⬆️

The artist dropped a brand new single on Spotify, but in addition included two different new releases on the playlist. The 2 bonus singles have separate launch dates on them, and the listener will get notified when the artist unlocks them. It is delicate, however Leblanc says one of these “waterfall” album launch boosts the possibilities that the person will hear to each track.

“The hierarchical order of the songs within the waterfall technique will enable the primary single launched (Single A) to have a higher exponential development of streams by merely showing on the high each time you launch a brand new observe. It’s like re-releasing your singles with every launch. “

Fairly genius, huh? 🤓

Until you’re kickin’ it old fashioned and plotting out a Waterfall undertaking on a whiteboard—you want a undertaking administration device. 

Listed below are our high picks 👇

1. Gantt Charts and Extra

The 3 Best Tools for Waterfall Project Management - Monday

If you need a strong visible on your subsequent advertising undertaking—check out It has primary Waterfall Gantt charts which are good for plotting linear initiatives with particular person milestones.

What’s nice about is the group can see what kind of process every part within the undertaking is (e.g., social media division, graphics creation) and if the following part relies on its completion. This helps stop bottlenecks and makes it straightforward to trace completely different phases of each undertaking within the pipeline.  

2. Asana: Adaptable Challenge Administration Device

The 3 Best Tools for Waterfall Project Management - Asana

Asana is an excellent versatile device to handle any undertaking schedule. The device makes it tremendous easy to work inside a Waterfall undertaking administration methodology as it will probably robotically create a linear Gantt chart from a listing of duties if you happen to connect due dates/timelines. You possibly can then allocate duties to the appropriate group members and add directions together with necessary deadlines to maintain the undertaking working on time. 

3. Shut CRM: Waterfall Gross sales Pipeline

The 3 Best Tools for Waterfall Project Management - Close CRM

We’re biased, however Shut has all the things a gross sales group must construct a strong Waterfall course of. Shut’s pipeline offers you a transparent view of every linear part of your gross sales course of. Every part might be modified relying in your particular course of and undertaking life cycle, and you’ll even construct customized Waterfall methods and Workflows for various buyer profiles. 

Waterfall Sales Pipeline - Close Workflow Process


Ought to You Use the Waterfall Technique?

This query does not have a straightforward reply—all of it relies on what your targets are. Waterfall is not probably the most agile method (excuse the pun) to undertaking administration methodology on the market, but it surely nonetheless has its place. 

If in case you have a undertaking in your pipeline with a strict price range or timeline, Waterfall might match the invoice. It is also good for managing initiatives you do not often affiliate Waterfall with, like gross sales rep onboarding or advertising campaigns. 

Assume via what undertaking you could handle, and do not sleep on Waterfall—it simply could be a superb match! 

Questioning create a sustainable course of on your gross sales group? Take a look at our information to establishing your gross sales course of, and get the free template!


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