3 Best Tools for Waterfall Project Management

Project management developed as a discipline from civil engineering projects and then expanded for use in construction and defense projects. As the tools and techniques were applied over the years to more types of projects in various industries, the need to revise and improve became obvious. Today, many project management methodologies exist as a result of changing times, requirements, and technologies. The waterfall project management method was one of the first tools developed, and it’s a testament to its usefulness that the methodology is still used today.

Waterfall project management methodology

Project management aims to help practitioners successfully complete a project that complies with the client’s requirements. One approach companies use to achieve this directive is the phased or staged approach, which breaks down work in a series of steps. This is often called the traditional or waterfall approach.

The waterfall project management approach or method was successfully used in many structural design and construction projects. When software engineering and development began to apply project management methods, the waterfall model was among the first methods used. It is a sequential phased approach where the progress of work flows from one phase to the next (like a waterfall). Progress depends on the deliverables of previous phase getting completed for the next phase to begin.

Typically, the different phases and deliverables are:

  1. System/software requirements phase, which results in a product requirements document
  2. Analysis and design phase, which results in a software design or architecture document and a project plan
  3. Coding/development or implementation phase, which results in program lines of code and integration of program units into a complete system
  4. Testing or verification phase, which produces bug reports and user testing acceptance
  5. Operations and maintenance phase, resulting in installation or migration and maintenance documents. This stage also sometimes produces change requests

In between phases the project team documents sign-offs signifying that the previous phase has been satisfactorily completed and the next phase can start.

Pros and cons of waterfall method

The waterfall project management method can be used when the project team can fully gather requirements before the project begins. The requirements should be well-defined, and the project scope should be simple and understood by all involved. This method is ideal when the client, end user, or project sponsor will be mostly unavailable to sign off on changes after the requirements phase.

Pros

  • Planning and designing is straightforward because the client and the project team agree on the end product early on.
  • Design is more complete, since everyone understands a of all deliverables.
  • Estimates of cost, resources, and deadlines can be more accurate.
  • Progress can be easily measured, since the full scope of work is known beforehand.
  • Minimal chance of delays due to client change requests.
  • Process workflow can be easily copied to similar projects.

Cons

  • The waterfall model assumes that clients have a full grasp of their requirements. More often than not, this is not the case. Clients often have a different idea of what the end product is compared to the delivered one.
  • Changes or rework are costly and lengthy.
  • The linear or sequential method is not flexible enough to handle unforeseen events or adapt to rapid changes.
  • Not ideal for larger, more complex projects because of the sequential approach.
  • A working product will only be available at the last phase.
  • Defects can only appear or be discovered at the testing phase.

Improvements and modifications

Since the waterfall project management method has been used on many projects, the data allowed practitioners and experts to make improvements and modifications to address its flaws and weaknesses. Some of these modified models are rapid application development (RAD), sashimi model, and other method combinations.

Best tools for waterfall project management

Modern project management software also provide solutions to improve the management of waterfall projects especially with software development. Some of these modern solutions are interactive Gantt charts, drag-and-drop tools for easy adjustment and adaptation to unforeseen events, document and resource management, and collaboration tools available in mobile devices.

Wrike

Wrike Logo

Wrike is an online project management software that improves work visibility with its interactive Gantt charts. You can easily see at what phase or stage your project is and if you are on-track or in danger of missing a deadline. When sudden changes in resources or team capacity occurs, you can easily make adjustments or reprioritize items with a drag-and-drop resource management tool. Other features include customization and automation that can help manage projects of any size.

ProjectManager

ProjectManager Logo

ProjectManager provides Gantt charts and task lists to easily manage waterfall projects, but it also has Kanban boards. Like many modern solutions, it does not limit features on a single methodology but makes multiple views available. This way, users can take advantage of the pros that are available to several methods while working on a project. Aside from its interactive Gantt chart, it also allows you to collect requirements and other documents with its unlimited file storage, track progress in real-time with dashboards, and repeat successful projects with templates.

Smartsheet

Smartsheet is an online project management and collaboration software. It has a familiar spreadsheet-like interface that also provides multiple views like grid, calendar, and Gantt. You can create project plans and schedules quickly, increase visibility with task and progress monitoring tools, and track budgets by comparing planned and actual expenses. It also has pre-built waterfall project management templates, a highly visual card view, and summarized progress reporting across projects.

Should you choose waterfall project management, or an alternative?

The waterfall model continues to be used today, but you might consider adjusting the method to your project. Teams constantly develop new methods when the original approach doesn’t address their evolving requirements. Other project management software solutions like Mavenlink and Workfront can also be used for waterfall projects and are flexible enough for other methods, as well. They provide core project management features as well as additional tools to successfully manage rapidly changing requirements or a higher degree of customer involvement and collaboration.

Jose Maria Delos Santos

Jose Maria Delos Santos

Jose is a subject matter expert and member of the writing team for Project-Management.com and Bridge24. He has written hundreds of articles including project management software reviews, books reviews, training site reviews, and general articles related to the project management industry.

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