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
What is the opposite word of weak?
Notify me of new comments via email.
Remember my form inputs on this computer.

Project Management Maturity Model

Five maturity levels concept

The concept of a project management maturity model has evolved considerably from the software industry. Where does your organisation sit on the maturity model?

Project Scheduling And Resource Levelling

Gantt chart and fountain pen

This article describes the must do steps, in the correct order, for scheduling projects and levelling finite resources.

Better Risk Management With PRINCE2

Red flowchart showing risk element

PRINCE2 has always had a solid, but simple way of dealing with risk. With the latest version a number of excellent ideas and concepts have been introduced.

Stepping Up SMART Goals

What are your goals question in vintage wooden letterpress printing blocks

Here are some strategies and six simple steps for making sure your goals will be concise, clear, and produce the results for which you are looking.

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

Michelle Lim commented on…
PMP Exam Day Tips
- Thu 15 August 11:53pm

Michelle Lim commented on…
PMP Exam Day Tips
- Thu 15 August 11:51pm

Stanford Komba commented on…
Project Planning a Step by Step Guide
- Mon 12 August 2:07am

Latest tweets

General Project Management • Project Plan https://t.co/4HsDgia1BH about 7 days ago

RT @NestorAlemanPM: @ProjectSmart Reading the question posted in the link attached, where a fresh engineering graduated would like to work… about 14 days ago

General Project Management • Re: Future Project Manager Needs Advice https://t.co/2FK1KgbhYk about 15 days ago