Thursday, May 14, 2009

Waterfall Model

The waterfall model is a sequential design process, often used in software development processes, in which progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through the phases of Conception, Initiation, Analysis, Design, Construction, Testing and Maintenance.

The waterfall development model originates in the manufacturing and construction industries; highly structured physical environments in which after-the-fact changes are prohibitively costly, if not impossible. Since no formal software development methodologies existed at the time, this hardware-oriented model was simply adapted for software development.
The first formal description of the waterfall model is often cited as a 1970 article by Winston W. Royce, though Royce did not use the term "waterfall" in this article. Royce presented this model as an example of a flawed, non-working model (Royce 1970). This, in fact, is how the term is generally used in writing about software development—to describe a critical view of a commonly used software practice.

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

  • Requirements specification
  • Design
  • Construction (AKA implementation or coding)
  • Integration
  • Testing and debugging (AKA Validation)
  • Installation
  • Maintenance

The waterfall model proceeds from one phase to the next in a sequential manner. For example, one first completes requirements specification, which after sign-off are considered "set in stone." When requirements are completed, one proceeds to design. The software in question is designed and a blueprint is drawn for implementers (coders) to follow—this design should be a plan for implementing the requirements given. When the design is complete, an implementation of that design is made by coders. Towards the later stages of this implementation phase, separate software components produced are combined to introduce new functionality and reduced risk through the removal of errors.
Thus the waterfall model maintains that one should move to a phase only when its preceding phase is completed and perfected. However, there are various modified waterfall models (including Royce's final model) that may include slight or major variations upon this process.

Supporting arguments
Time spent early in the software production cycle can lead to greater economy at later stages. McConnell shows that a bug found in the early stages (such as requirements specification or design) is cheaper in money, effort, and time, to fix than the same bug found later on in the process. ([McConnell 1996], p. 72, estimates that "...a requirements defect that is left undetected until construction or maintenance will cost 50 to 200 times as much to fix as it would have cost to fix at requirements time.") To take an extreme example, if a program design turns out to be impossible to implement, it is easier to fix the design at the design stage than to realize months later, when program components are being integrated, that all the work done so far has to be scrapped because of a broken design.
This is the central idea behind Big Design Up Front (BDUF) and the waterfall model: time spent early on making sure requirements and design are correct saves you much time and effort later. Thus, the thinking of those who follow the waterfall process goes, make sure each phase is 100% complete and absolutely correct before you proceed to the next phase. Program requirements should be set in stone before design begins (otherwise work put into a design based on incorrect requirements is wasted). The program's design should be perfect before people begin to implement the design (otherwise they implement the wrong design and their work is wasted), etc.
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. In less designed and documented methodologies, should team members leave, much knowledge is lost and may be difficult for a project to recover from. Should a fully working design document be 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 familiarize themselves by reading the documents.
As well as the above, some prefer the waterfall model for its simple approach and argue that it is more disciplined. Rather than what the waterfall adherent sees as chaos, 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 markable 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.
It is argued that the waterfall model and Big Design up Front in general can be suited to software projects that are stable (especially those projects with unchanging requirements, such as with shrink wrap software) and where it is possible and likely that designers will be able to fully predict problem areas of the system and produce a correct design before implementation is started. The waterfall model also requires that implementers follow the well made, complete design accurately, ensuring that the integration of the system proceeds smoothly.