Software Development Methodology: What is Waterfall?

Software Development Methodology: What is Waterfall?

Probably, you heard about the term waterfall and confused about what it means. We are not talking about the majestic, cascading, water that comes down the edifice of a rock. We are talking about the waterfall software development methodology for developing software.

In this article, we are going to discuss what is waterfall? What are waterfall shortcomings, limitations etc? What are waterfall strengths? What are some of the best uses of it? So, let’s get started!

Today We’ll Cover

  • What is waterfall software development method?
  • What are the key differences and strengths as opposed to agile?
  • Three main themes that set waterfall apart agile




  • Is waterfall better than agile?


So, sink your teeth into so that you have a little bit more than you want.

What is Waterfall Software Development Methodologies?

The waterfall is believed to have been the first process model in software engineering, originating from mechanical engineering. It’s a sequential design process meaning that the earlier phases define subsequent phases. So, how is this different from agile. Both agile and waterfall are two different software development methodologies that solve the same problem, which is how to return an idea into a reality.

In today’s economy, you are likely going to have to build software as some part of realizing your business dream or any creative endeavor that you have. That is just the world that we live in. But you find yourself there how do you start building software? What are the different ways you could go about it?

Well, when it comes to waterfall one of the main considerations is if your ID needs to work on the first try or risk losing customers, what approach should you take. In this case a good example of why you would need a waterfall because it emphasizes quality and completeness and testing over getting to market fast and iterating on top of it.

Waterfall Vs Agile software development methodologies

This software development method is different from agile in a couple of key ways. Agile is about fast iteration and waterfall is about totality and completeness. Agile is about incorporating the feedback that you get based on the results that you have, whereas waterfall is more about being complete and getting it right on the first try.

The strength of waterfall is that it is strictly sequential and top-down that means that there has been thorough planning and documentation. This lends itself especially well to large projects that need more accurate estimations for approval even just to start. This means that each phase is stronger than the previous phase because you’re building off of the knowledge and lessons learned from the last part. Also, it is really hard to start your part of the project if you don’t have all the resources that you need.

One of the main defining features of the waterfall is scale.


As stated, waterfall lends itself especially well to large project sizes and that’s because estimations are needed to be given for large projects. We need to know how many developers to hire and what resources they need to be successful. That means that we have to dive deep into which resources we need to provide, what specializations we need, and who we need to hire for the right job. We also have to take into account any runway for supporting elements like marketing and finance and legal.

On top of that this likely means that for waterfall projects there’s going to be multiple teams. Even multiple teams of teams working on the same project. Here you need proper documentation because a different team is working on different parts might not have been involved in the previous phase. They’ll often be starting from scratch based off of the lessons that somebody else is handing them. The emphasis here is on sequentially and completeness.

Lastly, when you have multiple teams working on the same application, maintainability becomes really important and that’s where the documentation comes in is because you’re often asking developers to maintain something they likely didn’t build. So, they need to know how to fix it and how it works as a whole.


The next defining feature of a waterfall is duration, especially length. Some features and applications take longer to build than others. Especially when it comes to larger clients like institutions banks and government services, they likely have running systems that are working but they’re a little bit antiquated from today’s technology. In this scenario, we have to engineer bridge building software for translating and transpiring into the proper format so that we can work with it.

Going in sequential order also means to time. Some features require to have been built before others can proceed and this sometimes means going back to a previous stage. Sometimes you might encounter things that weren’t foreseen in the planning like bugs, problems, or just general vulnerability which means that you have to go back and redo certain parts of the application.


The third defining feature of waterfall is quality. because the waterfall is about predictability. While no application can foresee all of the challenges that it will face. Some types of applications need to have their pathways anticipated. Things like load time, use rates, traffic, vulnerability, proofing, and compliance.

What happens if the power goes out when someone is using your application? What happens if the internet was dropped? What if the application comes under a malicious attack? For some organizations or companies, it has to work. And there is a number of scenarios that you have to account for and you can’t just tell users it doesn’t work. It means that the waterfall endorses a robust testing and documentation phase. You can not test it if you do not know what is going on. So, documentation allows you for testing and maintenance. This dovetails nicely into maintaining because of maintainable means durable. A waterfall software development methodology application will likely grow and evolve over its build-out but that means that it has to evolve to the new challenges it might face.

Sometimes that might mean building out entire divisions or sections to support the application. Things like non-technical user support teams that need to be able to fix or address problems in the application without calling the lead developer in the middle of the night. You’ll have to build them support applications and interfaces to be able to provide the customer service for your users.

Is Waterfall Software Development Methodology Better?

So, hopefully, I’ve made a pretty strong case for why waterfall is good but you might be wondering if it’s better than agile. A waterfall is not necessarily better than agile because there are just certain types of applications lend themselves to one or the other.

I’ve seen a lot of teams leverage both aspects of waterfall and agile in their day-to-day. Agile software development method is best when the product needs to be small and have frequent updates with the emphasis on the getting to the market fast. On the other hand, the waterfall is best when the quality is more important than the speed with the emphasis on the testing and durability of the application.

Examples of Applications for Waterfall Software Development Technique

The examples of applications that are better for a waterfall or agile well let’s take a look at a health care website. Because of the sensitivity and nature of the people’s health, you are gonna have to build something that works right out of the gate without any problems or at least minimize the problems that they have. If something goes wrong, you’re gonna have to have the support staff and structure to address your users’ questions. In this case for a healthcare application you are likely gonna have to think through a number of scenarios to make sure that your application is working and if it does not you have recourse for your users.

If you contrast that to an online store where somebody might be selling their art. Most of the time it’s not life or death as somebody can’t buy a painting. Your users will likely come back to the website and put up with a number of bugs even if they’re not successful in the first try.

Another good example of a waterfall application would be something for your bank. Your money is important to you your trust in that bank is the only thing that’s keeping you there. So, if the bank’s application doesn’t work or it is really bugged. You might start to question the legitimacy of that bank. So, again the application has to work from the very first time that it is used from any number of users in any number of locations or situations.

And if you contrast that to a social media application which would be a great candidate for an agile workflow. The idea here is to adapt to the new user base as quickly as possible which means getting their feedback and trying new feature and deploying ASAP.

We are hopeful that you got all the answers to your questions regarding waterfall software development. Please comments below for an addition to this topic or any related questions.

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