Project Management guide

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What Is Waterfall Project Management?

If you’ve ever asked, “What is the most straightforward way to manage a project?”, the answer is, “waterfall project management.”

Waterfall project management entails mapping out a project into distinct, sequential phases, with each new phase beginning only when the prior phase has been completed. The waterfall system is the most traditional method for managing a project, with team members working in a linear fashion towards a set end goal. Each participant has a clearly defined role and none of the phases or goals are expected to change.

Waterfall project management works best for projects with long, detailed plans that require one phase to be done before another can start. These projects require a single timeline and changes are often discouraged and costly. This is in contrast to agile project management, which involves shorter project cycles, constant testing and adaptation, and simultaneous overlapping work by multiple teams or contributors.

The typical stages when using waterfall project management:
  • Requirements: This is the stage in which the manager analyzes and gathers all the requirements and documentation for the project.
  • System design: During this phase, the manager designs the workflow model for the project.
  • Implementation: The system is put into practice in this phase; this is the stage where things get built.
  • Testing: During this phase, each element is tested to ensure they work as expected and fulfill the necessary requirements.
  • Deployment (in the case of a service) or delivery (in the case of a product): The service or product is officially launched in this phase.
  • Maintenance: In this final, ongoing stage, the team performs upkeep and maintenance on the resulting product or service.

The pros and cons of waterfall project management

The downside to waterfall project management is since each step is preplanned and detailed out in a linear sequence, the strategy is relatively inflexible, so any change in stakeholder priorities or needs will disrupt the order and require a revision—or, possibly, an entirely new blueprint. This is why the model is less effective for many knowledge-based projects, such as computer programming.What waterfall project management lacks in flexibility, though, it makes up for in replication possibilities: waterfall workflows can be easily copied for future, similar tasks.

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