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 four?
Notify me of new comments via email.
Remember my form inputs on this computer.

Tracking a Risk

Dial showing three levels of risk management

Risk management is a vital part of project management. Learn four key steps to help you evaluate and mitigate any risks on your project.

Project Planning Essentials

Tablet computer with project manager app and documents with Gantt and financial charts

Planning a project requires putting a series of tasks in order and determining dependencies between them. In practice it's never so straightforward.

10 Ways to Inspire Your Team

Green lead by example check mark and pencil

As a project manager you are in a prime position to inspire your team. Here are ten ways to get you started.

Agile Through the Waterfall

Agile and waterfall tag cloud

Many organisations have adopted Agile practices into their development methodologies and they have proved to be successful for the organisation as a whole.

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

Michael Contorno-Hubbard commented on…
Better Coaching Using the GROW Model
- Fri 26 June 2:09pm

Arnel Dela Cruz commented on…
Use Your Whole Brain: Leveraging Right-Brained Thinking in a Left-Brained World
- Wed 24 June 7:16am

Ebenezer Akonde commented on…
The Hidden Costs and Dangers of the Shortcut
- Thu 18 June 5:09pm

Latest tweets

How to Project Manage a Social Media Campaign https://t.co/9MKEJttnfi The overall goal of a social media campaign i… https://t.co/cUuKPF1woO about 7 days ago

General Project Management • How to Project Manage a Social Media Campaign https://t.co/dUaeBOoltP about 7 days ago

General Project Management • Re: What are the best remote working tips these days? https://t.co/o4gHAAtomU about 8 days ago