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When To Use Waterfall Methodology For Your Project

waterfall methodology

Nearly 50 years since it was first introduced, the waterfall software development methodology is still a topic of heated debate amongst developers all around the world, with both strong criticism and support for this veteran method. As the earliest SDLC approach used for software development, this methodology is one of the most widely used to this day.

This article isn’t about comparing waterfall methodology to others like Agile, and deciding which reigns supreme. Instead, this is a guide to help you figure out whether the waterfall methodology is the right one for your upcoming project, alongside highlighting what its core benefits and drawbacks are.

With that being said, let’s dive into the basics!

What Is Waterfall Methodology?

The ‘Waterfall’ methodology is often referred to as the traditional approach to software development and management and involves a linear and sequential process. It is named ‘waterfall’ because, like water in a waterfall, this methodology involves a strict step-by-step, one after the other approach to software development, with one phase being fully completed before a new one can begin.

It’s relatively simple to understand and use, and typically has a stage ‘gate’ between each step, where the work done so far is reviewed and approved before the next development stage is kickstarted.

Is Waterfall Still Relevant Today?

Although waterfall is often regarded as an obsolete or dying methodology, statistics speak otherwise. A Project Management Institute Survey found that over 37% of completed projects made use of Waterfall methodology, meaning that it is the most commonly used development methodology in the world.

While it is true that most modern projects are complex and widespread to an extent that Waterfall cannot adequately cater to, that does not mean that the methodology has no use today. With the introduction of newer methodologies such as Agile and Scrum, Waterfall has taken a back-seat from the ultimate, ‘answer for all’ methodology it was once viewed as, but there are still countless scenarios in which Waterfall is the most convenient, reliable and affordable approach to take.

But before we jump into what those scenarios or projects might look like, let’s first cover the advantages and drawbacks of this methodology, as that might help you decide whether it’s the right choice for your latest project.

Benefits of Waterfall

  1. One of the greatest benefits of Waterfall is that it is extremely manageable and easy to use and understand. It is a highly simple and straightforward approach, as every phase has a set beginning and end.
  2. As it follows the same, pre-determined pattern for each project, it is easy to not only understand it but also to maintain control over each step or developmental phase.
  3. The systematic sequence of work makes it is easier to track and measure progress in Waterfall models, as the scope of the project is already known.
  4. As the approach is design-heavy, there is a greater discipline with Waterfall methodology, making project expectations clear on both sides.
  5. It is easier to determine the cost of development in advance.
  6. Projects can be easily scheduled, and clients who require fixed ‘beginning and end’ timelines for the project will find Waterfall more reassuring and reliable.
  7. Errors can be quickly identified in the design phase only.
  8. The step-by-step procedure allows space for detailed and strict regulation.
  9. Resources and budgets can be easily planned since everyone involved has an idea of what the project is, when it will begin, and exactly what procedures will be used to get to the final stage.
  10. As Waterfall requires that every stage is reviewed and formally documented before the next one begins, it is much easier to keep track of, and report on, all that was completed within each stage. Thus documentation is more regular and easy to follow.
  11. As each phase of the project will have an active or inactive stage, team members and developers can work on other projects if they are not yet needed for the Waterfall project.
  12. Waterfall methodology allows space for software to be very carefully, systematically and accurately designed, eradicating most problems that arise from not planning ahead.

Drawbacks of Waterfall

  1. The most major disadvantage of Waterfall is its lack of adaptability to change. Once a stage has been completed, there is no easy way to go back and introduce changes in the project without starting from scratch. This leaves little space for innovation and fluctuation once the project begins.
  2. It is time-consuming and expensive to make changes and fix errors in the previous stages of development.
  3. Waterfall usually yields much longer delivery times. The project must go through extensive, detailed stages before production can even begin, meaning no working software is produced until late in the developmental cycle.
  4. Clients and customers must set down rigid requirements and guidelines very early on in the developmental phase, as it is extremely hard to implement changes later.
  5. As with any developmental methodologies, there is always the possibility that customers are dissatisfied with the final product. With Waterfall, this is more likely to happen because customers do not get to see how the project is coming along until it is almost complete, at which point limited changes can be made.
  6. There is a greater chance that the project might have to be scrapped if there are major changes in industry trends or if the customer changes their mind, since changing the whole project is too expensive and inconvenient.

The 5 Main Stages of the Waterfall Model

When implemented properly, the Waterfall methodology allows the software development cycle to flow seamlessly from one stage to another, with there being typically 5 to 7 stages, depending on the project. We’ve summarized the five main stages below.

Requirement Analysis

The development team will begin by gaining a clear idea of the client’s requirements for the software system. This is simply the research phase which involves no building and focuses on getting a clear groundwork upon which the following stages will be based.


In this stage, the developers will start addressing the problems they need to solve with the software, and coming up with what technical solutions will work best. They will design layouts, plans and data models, choose their programming languages and then send the plans for review and approval.


This is the main stage where the code is written and the software is built following the predetermined design. As the analysis and design stages are extremely detailed and precise, the implementation stage is usually the shortest in the Waterfall cycle.


Before the software can be introduced to the market, all necessary tests will be carried out to ensure its functioning is up to the mark. As per the exact specifications of the client, multiple tests will be carried out to fix bugs, improve the system or solve any identified issues.


After testing, the application is released and is being used. However, the cycle doesn’t end there, as the team will still be working to maintain the software, fix any issues and release newer updates in line with their client’s demands. This is an extremely important phase that can often make or break a software’s success in the competitive market.

Understanding Your Project

According to a study published by Research Gate, factors like the strength of the team and the expected duration of the project heavily influence which software development methodology is chosen by companies. The study found that the majority of projects using Waterfall were smaller, with a team of fewer than 10 people and were completed within 6 months. Based on this study, we can conclude that the Waterfall methodology generally works best for compact teams with small-scale projects that require working within well-defined and inflexible requirements.

If you are still unsure about which software development methodology to opt for, here is a basic guideline that you can follow.

You Should Use Waterfall If

  • The client’s requirements are clear, precise and unlikely to change once the development process begins.
  • The project is on a smaller scale.
  • The software to be built is not extremely complicated or new.
  • The project has a short, specified time framework.
  • For projects for manufacturing or construction agencies whose working relies on the completion of systematic, dependable procedures.
  • There are greater initial product and regulatory requirements.
  • The client wishes to be consulted in the beginning but does not necessarily want to be an integral part of the development cycle.
  • The project is simple and the client has a fixed (usually small) budget in mind.
  • Your team is required to enhance an already existing product, instead of building something from scratch.
  • The technology to be used is well-understood, and the resources are readily available.
  • There is little to no risk involved.

Agile Might Work Better If

  • There is no clear picture of what the final product should look like.
  • The product is intended for an industry that is consistently shifting or embracing newer trends.
  • There are few initial product and regulatory requirements.
  • There is greater flexibility in both the process and the final result.
  • The client wishes to be more involved in the development stage and wants everything to be personally analyzed and approved before it is finalized.
  • The project is highly innovative and complex, perhaps even aiming to develop something that doesn’t currently exist in the market.
  • There is a flexible timeline and the development cycle is expected to be very long.
  • The budget isn’t extremely rigid, and the client is willing to allow wiggle room if expenses scale, as long as the final product is up to the mark.
  • There is greater opportunity for flexibility and creativity.
  • Strict documentation of progress and other formalities are not required.
  • The project is relatively high risk, making use of difficult and newer technologies.
  • Change is unavoidable, and the client might ask to redo or improve the software at any stage in the cycle.

The Final Word

It is pretty clear that Waterfall methodology is by no means dead, and is still both heavily used and can yield incredible results. If the project calls for strict deadlines and clear requirements without a need for innovation or complexity, a Waterfall team is bound to thrive under such conditions. Using Waterfall to manage your projects (where it fits) will ensure that your team is spending time carefully constructing the software according to client requirements, and put forward a product that is the best your company can deliver. While Agile allows room to be creative, take risks, fail and try again, Waterfall is a good old philosophy that encourages you to plan and rather be safe than sorry. Even though it is old and not easily adaptable, it works wonders for smaller, consistent projects that would be entirely too prolonged and overcomplicated if Agile was to be used.

What is important, however, is that the developers clearly understand what the project’s limits and needs are, establish a transparent communication channel with their client and then make an educated decision on which methodology to use.

Ultimately, no two clients or projects are identical, and it is the sign of a good developer to know which approach to take in every scenario. The scope of the project and client requirements will have the last call in which methodology is used, so fully understanding these conditions is the key to delivering streamlined software that will perform well in the market. It is not a matter of which methodology is newer or more popular, but simply which one is right for the model you are working on.

Still have questions? Mpire can offer some expert advice! Or if you’re looking to hire a team of expert, trustworthy and reliable software developers to meet all your business needs, be sure to drop us a line today!

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