Project Smart ~ Exploring trends and developments in project management today

Calendar icon
Adobe PDF icon

Waterfall Software Development: The Illusion of Risk Management

~ By Rodney J Smith

Agile and waterfall tag cloud

High profile IT project failures are nothing new; in fact few projects are 100 percent successful in delivering everything the customer wants on time and within budget. So it is small wonder that businesses put loads of effort into trying to minimise the risk of their projects becoming one of these statistics.

The traditional way of doing this is to spend considerable time and effort gathering together all the requirements for a new system, then designing a complete solution up front, from which detailed programming estimates can be produced. The theory behind this so-called Waterfall methodology is that the estimates (and thus budget) will be accurate, and there will be no major surprises once development gets underway. Unfortunately this approach is based on a number of faulty assumptions, which means it rarely works in practice!

Assumption: It's Possible to Identify a Complete Set of Requirements Up Front

In fact, building a computer system is akin to driving down a country lane at night; the driver can only ever see as far as her headlights allow, but each bit of progress that is made illuminates areas that could not be seen at the start. This is true even in domains that are relatively well understood.

Assumption: The Requirements, Once Identified, Will Not Change

There is an inevitable lag between initiation of a software project and its eventual delivery, and even if it were possible to identify a complete and accurate set of requirements up front (it's not - see above), the constantly changing business landscape dictates that requirements will change along the way. Waterfall projects typically resist absorbing such changes due to the knock-on effect on the design and schedule, with the result that the eventual delivered system does not match the (current) requirements.

Assumption: It's Possible to Produce Estimates With a High Degree of Accuracy

Surprisingly, a number of studies indicate that on average, fixed scope projects cost almost twice as much as estimated. Apart from the problems of changing requirements, this may be in part due to initial estimates being artificially low in order to secure contracts in the first place.

Assumption: The Development Phase Is Simply a Mechanical Process of Transforming the Design Into Code

This is where software development suffers because of attempts to liken it to the (building) construction industry. In fact, there is a lot of art in the craft of programming, which makes it a lot less predictable than managers would like.

As much as corporate managers would dearly love the Waterfall approach to work, in practice it is extremely unreliable, inefficient and inflexible. Yet in spite of credible alternatives (the Agile family of methods) which appear to deliver far better results in practice, managers frequently persist with this discredited methodology because of the illusion it projects of being less risky and allowing them to remain in control.


Comments

Be the first to comment on this article.

Add a comment



(never displayed)



 
2000
How many letters are in the word two?
Notify me of new comments via email.
Remember my form inputs on this computer.

Risk Management Options

Risk management written on a puzzle piece

Risk management is an ongoing process to identify potential problems that could arise when new projects occur within a business.

Project Planning a Step by Step Guide

Businessman finding the solution to a maze

The key to a successful project is in the planning. Creating a project plan is the first thing you should do when undertaking any kind of project.

Authority Earned, Not Given

Group of business people looking and pointing at a chart

For project managers, the support of their team is critical for completing projects successfully. Yet, a team's respect cannot simply be assigned like a task.

72 Project Management Tips

Hand holding a key with success written on the fob

Here are 72 project management tips designed to help you lead your projects with skill, authority and grace.

PROJECT SMART is the project management resource that helps managers at all levels improve their performance. We provide an important knowledge base for those involved in managing projects of all kinds. With weekly exclusive updates, we keep you in touch with the latest project management thinking.

WE ARE CONNECTED ~ Follow us on social media to get regular updates and opinion on what's happening in the world of project management.


Latest Comments

Tora L. commented on…
The Role of the Project Manager
- Tue 16 April 1:03pm

Quinsey Moyo commented on…
Top 10 Qualities of a Project Manager
- Mon 15 April 4:35pm

Archibald commented on…
Project Management Success with the Top 7 Best Practices
- Mon 15 April 1:09pm

Latest tweets

General Project Management • Re: Writing a CV for a Project Manager role https://t.co/uEzvcwb9tf about 2 days ago

General Project Management • Re: How to Embed a Bespoke International Methodology and Framework https://t.co/N6YenNiQeK about 2 days ago

General Project Management • Writing a CV for a Project Manager role https://t.co/5EvjVLz8ui about 3 days ago