Waterfall model

Last updated

The waterfall model is a breakdown of project activities into linear sequential phases, where each phase depends on the deliverables of the previous one and corresponds to a specialization of tasks. [1] The approach is typical for certain areas of engineering design. In software development, [1] it tends to be among the less iterative and flexible approaches, as progress flows in largely one direction ("downwards" like a waterfall) through the phases of conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, deployment and maintenance. [2]


The waterfall development model originated in the manufacturing and construction industries,[ citation needed ] where the highly structured physical environments meant that design changes became prohibitively expensive much sooner in the development process.[ citation needed ] When first adopted for software development, there were no recognised alternatives for knowledge-based creative work. [3] [ better source needed ]


The first known presentation describing use of such phases in software engineering was held by Felix Torres and Herbert D. Benington at the Symposium on Advanced Programming Methods for Digital Computers on 29 June 1956[ citation needed ]. [4] This presentation was about the development of software for SAGE. In 1983 the paper was republished with a foreword by Benington explaining that the phases were on purpose organised according to the specialisation of tasks, and pointing out that the process was not in fact performed in a strict top-down fashion, but depended on a prototype. [3]

Although the term "waterfall" is not used in the paper, the first formal detailed diagram of the process later known as the "waterfall model" is often[ citation needed ] cited as a 1970 article by Winston W. Royce. [5] [6] [7] However he also felt it had major flaws stemming from the fact that testing only happened at the end of the process, which he described as being "risky and invites failure". [5] The rest of his paper introduced five steps which he felt were necessary to "eliminate most of the development risks" associated with the unaltered waterfall approach. [5]

Royce's five additional steps (which included writing complete documentation at various stages of development) never took mainstream hold, but his diagram of what he considered a flawed process became the starting point when describing a "waterfall" approach. [8] [ better source needed ]

The earliest use of the term "waterfall" may have been in a 1976 paper by Bell and Thayer. [9] [ better source needed ]

In 1985, the United States Department of Defense captured this approach in DOD-STD-2167A [ citation needed ], their standards for working with software development contractors, which stated that "the contractor shall implement a software development cycle that includes the following six phases: Software Requirement Analysis, Preliminary Design, Detailed Design, Coding and Unit Testing, Integration, and Testing". [10]


In Royce's original waterfall model[ citation needed ], the following phases are followed in order:

  1. System and software requirements: captured in a product requirements document
  2. Analysis: resulting in models, schema, and business rules
  3. Design: resulting in the software architecture
  4. Coding: the development, proving, and integration of software
  5. Testing: the systematic discovery and debugging of defects
  6. Operations: the installation, migration, support, and maintenance of complete systems

Thus the waterfall model maintains that one should move to a phase only when its preceding phase is reviewed and verified.

Various modified waterfall models (including Royce's final model), however, can include slight or major variations on this process. [5] These variations included returning to the previous cycle after flaws were found downstream, or returning all the way to the design phase if downstream phases deemed insufficient.

Supporting arguments

Time spent early in the software production cycle can reduce costs at later stages. For example, a problem found in the early stages (such as requirements specification) is cheaper to fix than the same bug found later on in the process (by a factor of 50 to 200). [11]

In common practice, waterfall methodologies result in a project schedule with 20–40% of the time invested for the first two phases, 30–40% of the time to coding, and the rest dedicated to testing and implementation. The actual project organisation needs to be highly structured. Most medium and large projects will include a detailed set of procedures and controls, which regulate every process on the project. [12] [ failed verification ]

A further argument for the waterfall model is that it places emphasis on documentation (such as requirements documents and design documents) as well as source code.[ citation needed ] In less thoroughly designed and documented methodologies, knowledge is lost if team members leave before the project is completed, and it may be difficult for a project to recover from the loss. If a fully working design document is present (as is the intent of Big Design Up Front and the waterfall model), new team members or even entirely new teams should be able to familiarise themselves by reading the documents. [13]

The waterfall model provides a structured approach; the model itself progresses linearly through discrete, easily understandable and explainable phases and thus is easy to understand; it also provides easily identifiable milestones in the development process. It is perhaps for this reason that the waterfall model is used as a beginning example of a development model in many software engineering texts and courses. [14]


Clients may not know exactly what their requirements are before they see working software and so change their requirements, leading to redesign, redevelopment, and retesting, and increased costs. [15]

Designers may not be aware of future difficulties when designing a new software product or feature, in which case it is better to revise the design than persist in a design that does not account for any newly discovered constraints, requirements, or problems. [16]

Organisations may attempt to deal with a lack of concrete requirements from clients by employing systems analysts to examine existing manual systems and analyse what they do and how they might be replaced. However, in practice, it is difficult to sustain a strict separation between systems analysis and programming. [17] This is because implementing any non-trivial system will almost inevitably expose issues and edge cases that the systems analyst did not consider.

In response to the perceived problems with the pure waterfall model, modified waterfall models were introduced, such as "Sashimi (Waterfall with Overlapping Phases), Waterfall with Subprojects, and Waterfall with Risk Reduction". [11]

Some organisations, such as the United States Department of Defense, now have a stated preference against waterfall-type methodologies, starting with MIL-STD-498 released in 1994, which encourages evolutionary acquisition and Iterative and Incremental Development . [18]

While advocates of agile software development argue the waterfall model is an ineffective process for developing software, some sceptics suggest that the waterfall model is a false argument used purely to market alternative development methodologies. [19]

Rational Unified Process (RUP) phases acknowledge the programmatic need for milestones, for keeping a project on track, but encourage iterations (especially within Disciplines) within the Phases. RUP Phases are often referred to as "waterfall-like".[ citation needed ]

Modified waterfall models

In response to the perceived problems with the "pure" waterfall model, many modified waterfall models have been introduced. These models may address some or all of the criticisms of the "pure" waterfall model.

These include the Rapid Development models that Steve McConnell calls "modified waterfalls": [11] Peter DeGrace's "sashimi model" (waterfall with overlapping phases), waterfall with subprojects, and waterfall with risk reduction. Other software development model combinations such as "incremental waterfall model" also exist. [20]

Royce's final model

Royce final model 1970 Royce Managing the Development of Large Software Systems Fig10.PNG
Royce final model

Winston W. Royce's final model, his intended improvement upon his initial "waterfall model", illustrated that feedback could (should, and often would) lead from code testing to design (as testing of code uncovered flaws in the design) and from design back to requirements specification (as design problems may necessitate the removal of conflicting or otherwise unsatisfiable / undesignable requirements). In the same paper Royce also advocated large quantities of documentation, doing the job "twice if possible" (a sentiment similar to that of Fred Brooks, famous for writing the Mythical Man Month, an influential book in software project management, who advocated planning to "throw one away"), and involving the customer as much as possible (a sentiment similar to that of extreme programming).

Royce notes to the final model are:

  1. Complete program design before analysis and coding begins
  2. Documentation must be current and complete
  3. Do the job twice if possible
  4. Testing must be planned, controlled and monitored
  5. Involve the customer

See also

Related Research Articles

Spiral model Software development process model

The spiral model is a risk-driven software development process model. Based on the unique risk patterns of a given project, the spiral model guides a team to adopt elements of one or more process models, such as incremental, waterfall, or evolutionary prototyping.

Iterative and incremental development Development methodology

Iterative and incremental development is any combination of both iterative design or iterative method and incremental build model for development.

The Rational Unified Process (RUP) is an iterative software development process framework created by the Rational Software Corporation, a division of IBM since 2003. RUP is not a single concrete prescriptive process, but rather an adaptable process framework, intended to be tailored by the development organizations and software project teams that will select the elements of the process that are appropriate for their needs. RUP is a specific implementation of the Unified Process.

Rapid application development (RAD), also called rapid application building (RAB), is both a general term for adaptive software development approaches, and the name for James Martin's method of rapid development. In general, RAD approaches to software development put less emphasis on planning and more emphasis on an adaptive process. Prototypes are often used in addition to or sometimes even instead of design specifications.

Software development is the process of conceiving, specifying, designing, programming, documenting, testing, and bug fixing involved in creating and maintaining applications, frameworks, or other software components. Software development involves writing and maintaining the source code, but in a broader sense, it includes all processes from the conception of the desired software through to the final manifestation of the software, typically in a planned and structured process. Software development also includes research, new development, prototyping, modification, reuse, re-engineering, maintenance, or any other activities that result in software products.

Systems development life cycle Systems engineering term

In systems engineering, information systems and software engineering, the systems development life cycle (SDLC), also referred to as the application development life-cycle, is a process for planning, creating, testing, and deploying an information system. The systems development life cycle concept applies to a range of hardware and software configurations, as a system can be composed of hardware only, software only, or a combination of both. There are usually six stages in this cycle: requirement analysis, design, development and testing, implementation, documentation, and evaluation.

In software development, agile practices include requirements discovery and solutions improvement through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams with their customer(s)/end user(s), adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, continual improvement, and flexible responses to changes in requirements, capacity, and understanding of the problems to be solved.

Dynamic systems development method

Dynamic systems development method (DSDM) is an agile project delivery framework, initially used as a software development method. First released in 1994, DSDM originally sought to provide some discipline to the rapid application development (RAD) method. In later versions the DSDM Agile Project Framework was revised and became a generic approach to project management and solution delivery rather than being focused specifically on software development and code creation and could be used for non-IT projects. The DSDM Agile Project Framework covers a wide range of activities across the whole project lifecycle and includes strong foundations and governance, which set it apart from some other Agile methods. The DSDM Agile Project Framework is an iterative and incremental approach that embraces principles of Agile development, including continuous user/customer involvement.

Concurrent engineering (CE) is a work methodology emphasizing the parallelization of tasks, which is sometimes called simultaneous engineering or integrated product development (IPD) using an integrated product team approach. It refers to an approach used in product development in which functions of design engineering, manufacturing engineering, and other functions are integrated to reduce the time required to bring a new product to market.

Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) is a set of principles, models, disciplines, concepts, and guidelines for delivering information technology services from Microsoft. MSF is not limited to developing applications only; it is also applicable to other IT projects like deployment, networking or infrastructure projects. MSF does not force the developer to use a specific methodology.

Object-oriented analysis and design (OOAD) is a technical approach for analyzing and designing an application, system, or business by applying object-oriented programming, as well as using visual modeling throughout the software development process to guide stakeholder communication and product quality.

The incremental build model is a method of software development where the product is designed, implemented and tested incrementally until the product is finished. It involves both development and maintenance. The product is defined as finished when it satisfies all of its requirements. This model combines the elements of the waterfall model with the iterative philosophy of prototyping.

Internet-Speed Development is an Agile Software Development development method using a combined spiral model/waterfall model with daily builds aimed at developing a product with high speed.

Unified Process Object oriented software development process framework

The Unified Software Development Process or Unified Process is an iterative and incremental software development process framework. The best-known and extensively documented refinement of the Unified Process is the Rational Unified Process (RUP). Other examples are OpenUP and Agile Unified Process.

V-Model (software development) Software development methodology

In software development, the V-model represents a development process that may be considered an extension of the waterfall model, and is an example of the more general V-model. Instead of moving down in a linear way, the process steps are bent upwards after the coding phase, to form the typical V shape. The V-Model demonstrates the relationships between each phase of the development life cycle and its associated phase of testing. The horizontal and vertical axes represent time or project completeness (left-to-right) and level of abstraction, respectively.

Winston W. Royce American software engineer

Winston Walker Royce was an American computer scientist, director at Lockheed Software Technology Center in Austin, Texas. He was a pioneer in the field of software development, known for his 1970 paper from which the Waterfall model for software development was mistakenly drawn.

In software engineering, a software development process is a process of dividing software development work into smaller, parallel, or sequential steps or sub-processes to improve design, product management. It is also known as a software development life cycle (SDLC). The methodology may include the pre-definition of specific deliverables and artifacts that are created and completed by a project team to develop or maintain an application.

A programming team is a team of people who develop or maintain computer software. They may be organised in numerous ways, but the egoless programming team and chief programmer team have been common structures.

Extreme programming Software development methodology

Extreme programming (XP) is a software development methodology intended to improve software quality and responsiveness to changing customer requirements. As a type of agile software development, it advocates frequent releases in short development cycles, intended to improve productivity and introduce checkpoints at which new customer requirements can be adopted.


  1. 1 2 Petersen, Kai; Wohlin, Claes; Baca, Dejan (2009). Bomarius, Frank; Oivo, Markku; Jaring, Päivi; Abrahamsson, Pekka (eds.). "The Waterfall Model in Large-Scale Development". Product-Focused Software Process Improvement. Lecture Notes in Business Information Processing. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer: 386–400. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-02152-7_29. ISBN   978-3-642-02152-7.
  2. "The Traditional Waterfall Approach". www.umsl.edu. Retrieved 2022-02-23.
  3. 1 2 Benington, Herbert D. (1 October 1983). "Production of Large Computer Programs" (PDF). IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. IEEE Educational Activities Department. 5 (4): 350–361. doi:10.1109/MAHC.1983.10102. S2CID   8632276 . Retrieved 2011-03-21. Archived July 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  4. United States, Navy Mathematical Computing Advisory Panel (29 June 1956), Symposium on advanced programming methods for digital computers, [Washington, D.C.]: Office of Naval Research, Dept. of the Navy, OCLC   10794738
  5. 1 2 3 4 Royce, Winston (1970), "Managing the Development of Large Software Systems" (PDF), Proceedings of IEEE WESCON, 26 (August): 1–9
  6. "Waterfall". Bremen University - Mathematics and Computer Science.
  7. Abbas, Noura; Gravell, Andrew M.; Wills, Gary B. (2008). Abrahamsson, Pekka; Baskerville, Richard; Conboy, Kieran; Fitzgerald, Brian; Morgan, Lorraine; Wang, Xiaofeng (eds.). "Historical Roots of Agile Methods: Where Did "Agile Thinking" Come From?". Agile Processes in Software Engineering and Extreme Programming. Lecture Notes in Business Information Processing. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer: 94–103. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-68255-4_10. ISBN   978-3-540-68255-4.
  8. Conrad Weisert, Waterfall methodology: there's no such thing!
  9. Bell, Thomas E., and T. A. Thayer. Software requirements: Are they really a problem? Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on Software engineering. IEEE Computer Society Press, 1976.
  10. "Military Standard Defense System Software Development" (PDF).
  11. 1 2 3 McConnell, Steve (1996). Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules. Microsoft Press. ISBN   1-55615-900-5.
  12. "Waterfall Software Development Model". 5 February 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  13. Arcisphere technologies (2012). "Tutorial: The Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  14. Hughey, Douglas (2009). "Comparing Traditional Systems Analysis and Design with Agile Methodologies". University of Missouri – St. Louis. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  15. Parnas, David L.; Clements, Paul C. (1986). "A rational design process: How and why to fake it" (PDF). IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering (2): 251–257. doi:10.1109/TSE.1986.6312940. S2CID   5838439 . Retrieved 2011-03-21.
  16. McConnell, Steve (2004). Code Complete, 2nd edition. Microsoft Press. ISBN   1-55615-484-4.
  17. Ensmenger, Nathan (2010). The Computer Boys Take Over . p.  42. ISBN   978-0-262-05093-7.
  18. Larman, Craig; Basili, Victir (2003). "Iterative and Incremental Development: A Brief History". IEEE Computer (June ed.). 36 (6): 47–56. doi:10.1109/MC.2003.1204375. S2CID   9240477.
  19. A Waterfall Systems Development Methodology … Seriously? by David Dischave. 2012. Archived July 2, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  20. "Methodology:design methods".