In Defence of Waterfall…

I recently put together a whiteboard presentation that gives an overview of 6 different software development methodologies (Waterfall, XP, Scrum, Agile Manifesto, Lean and Kanban). I started with the grand-daddy of all the methods… Waterfall.

I’m glad that I did… because doing so reaffirmed for me that Waterfall, like most software methodologies, is often misunderstood.

I want to be clear. The whole document maintenance nightmare, lack of customer feedback, hard core linear process of Waterfall is indeed still part of Waterfall. But viewing it in the historical context of the 1970s, I came to realize some of the honourable goals behind the Waterfall process. As a developer, I had to imagine a time where writing and compiling code could be extremely time consuming and costly to do. Suddenly, trying to sort out as many details before writing a single line of code started to make sense.

So when you look at a particular software development methodology, it may be worth taking into account what motivated it’s creators within their historical context. Doing so can allow you to let go of the parts that don’t necessarily fit within your own context and perhaps extract what is still meaningful for you.

Coming back to Waterfall, I extracted a few things that I think are still relevant to me today. Software development requires discipline in order to be effective and (however tempting it may be to do so) we should be careful not to skip steps in order to speed ahead. That being said, which steps are meaningful to you… well… that all depends on your context.

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