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 users apply the tools and techniques to more types of projects in various industries, the need to revise and improve becomes imperative. Today, many project management methodologies exist as a result of changing times, requirements, and technologies. The waterfall project management methodology was one of the first tools developed, and it’s a testament to its usefulness that the methodology is still used today.

Table of content

Best tools for waterfall project management

Back to top

Modern project management software provide solutions to improve the management of waterfall projects especially with software development. Some of these tools for waterfall methodology 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.

Waterfall project management methodology

Back to top

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 model was among the first methods used along with waterfall model tools.

Read also: Top 5 Project Management Methodologies You Should Consider in 2021

Phases of Waterfall project management

Back to top

waterfall phases

Waterfall is a sequentially 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:

System/software requirements phase

The first phase involves understanding what the users need. The development team or project team conducts a feasibility study to clarify the purpose of the project and assess it in terms of cost or revenue. After the study, the team produces a requirement specification where they detail the function and features of the solution to fulfill the need.

Analysis and design phase

In this phase, the project team analyzes the requirements and comes up with the design of the solution. Their design can include specifications in hardware, software, systems architecture, testing, and security. At the end of this phase, the team produces a a software design or architecture document and a project plan that details the waterfall schedule of the project.

Coding/development or implementation phase

With a design and a project plan, the project team proceeds to develop the solution or code the system. In the waterfall method, team members work on small units that they integrate to form a bigger module of the complete system. Unit testing happens also at this phase. At the implementation system, the team’s output results in program lines of code and integration of program units into a complete system.

Testing or verification phase

At this phase, the integrated system goes through a thorough testing to check for all types of errors. After every testing, the team receives a bug report and performs repairs or code fixes until they resolve all reported errors. Finally, the team tests the solution with the user for a user testing acceptance.

Operations and maintenance phase

At this phase, the project team deploys a working solution for installation or migration. The team provides users maintenance documents. After a certain period, the developers will receive feedback and user requests. This is also the stage where the project team enters change requests into a change management process that can result in revisions or a new project.

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

Pros of waterfall method

Back to top

A project team can use the waterfall project management method to 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.

Straightforward planning

Planning is straightforward because the client and the project team agree on the end product early on. The phased development cycle has clear starting points and endpoints, so the agreed timescale helps prevent slippages.

Complete design

Design is more complete, since everyone understands all deliverables. Even before the coding or implementation starts, the team hammers out the details of the design, so the purpose and the outcome is clear to everyone.

Accurate estimates

Estimates of cost, resources, and deadlines can be more accurate. After defining the requirements, the project team can estimate to a high degree of accuracy.

Measurable progress

The project team can easily measure their progress since they know the full scope of work beforehand. An emphasis on documentation right from the start helps prevent surprises during and at the end of the project.

Minimal chance of delays

The phased development cycle enforces discipline on all parties, both developers and clients. With the requirements phase settled and signed off at the very start, the phases prevent delays due to client change requests happening mid-stream.

Repeatable processes

Process workflow can be easily copied to similar projects. Waterfall project management focuses on documentation heavily that creates templates of success. This allows teams to repeat successful processes on similar types of projects.

Read also: Easy Steps for Streamlining Work Process & Improving Workflow

Cons of waterfall method

Back to top

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 looks like compared to the delivered one.

Waterfall cons

Costly changes

Changes or rework are costly and lengthy. Any opportunity to repair happens only after the testing phase, which is second to the last phase of the cycle. To make changes, the team will have to start once again at the first phase.

Lacks flexibility and adaptability

The linear or sequential method is not flexible enough to handle unforeseen events or adapt to rapid changes. The strict enforcement of going through the exact sequence of phases can result in high cost or prolonged schedule.

Project size limitation

The Waterfall project management methodology is not ideal for larger, more complex projects because of the sequential approach. Larger projects will result in extended schedule for each phase, and any rework discovered at the latter phases can mean very high cost of fixes.

Long waiting time

A working product will only be available at the last phase. End-users have to wait for the whole process to see and experience the solution. By this time, user needs or the business situation may have changed already, rendering the solution incomplete or unusable.

Late testing phase

Users and developers can discover defects only at the testing phase. It takes too long for the team to submit their work for testing, whether to check the process, the output, or the methods.

Improvements and modifications

Back to top

With decades of documented use of the waterfall project management method, the collected data allow 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.

Should you choose waterfall project management or an alternative?

Back to top

Project teams continue to use the waterfall model 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. You can also try other project management software solutions like Mavenlink and Workfront for waterfall projects that are flexible enough for other methods. 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 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.