Technology -> Personal Productivity
By: Martin Langham, Practice Leader, Bloor Research
Published: 26th April 2005
Copyright Bloor Research © 2005
People often react to failure by re-intensifying their efforts - trying to perfect the approach that failed last time. In the First World War, the reaction to stalemate in trench warfare was more bombardments and more human wave assaults. As a rule, if you keep on doing the same things you tend to get the same results. This is a lesson that can be learnt by the IT industry. We have assembled enough history to know that many IT projects fail in a predictable fashion and one of the chief culprits is our slavish adherence to the waterfall model of application development.
The problem with the waterfall model is that it has become hardwired into the thinking of project planners. It has become so pervasive that the requirements, design, build, and test progression is a given in most projects. In the early days of simple, stand-alone applications, the waterfall model worked well spawning a host of voluminous methodologies, but it does not suit the problems of the complex, risky, and integrated projects that IT has to deliver today.
In the 60's and 70's, IT developed stand-alone, batch applications. The complexities of integrating applications were only dreamed of by ambitious database architects. Today, hardly any development is made in isolation unless, like the NHS IT project, you give yourself the luxury of a scorched earth IT strategy. Because of its origins, the waterfall method does not address integration but ignores it until the end of the project, when we encounter the familiar task of trying to stitch together disparate applications and change schedules to the annoyance of the operations manager.
Another change in the nature of IT projects is that most of today's projects have a high proportion of reuse - implementing packages and reusing frameworks. The waterfall idea of creating a detailed set of requirements and then trying to find a package that fits is neither economic not practical. Increasingly, organisations are seeing the benefits of solution-constrained development rather than greenfield design. What is wrong with asking the user to adopt industry best practices that are encapsulated in a successful package? Rather this than IT spending a fortune implementing the users' Spanish practices? Package-led design means making the waterfall run uphill – and flexing the user requirements and not the application.
So, if the waterfall model is a bad fit to today's IT projects, what is the best methodology? This is the wrong question – life is more complicated than this. There is not one best methodology but a toolkit of methods to select when you have gained a clear view of the problems and risks faced in a project.
Organisations that base their approach on waterfall methodologies need to rethink their approach or run the risk of being stuck in IT trench warfare. A judicious approach selecting creative approaches that tackle today's problems will create a better and cheaper solution.
Posted: 23rd March 2006 | By karthick :
Posted: 20th July 2006 | By Jürgen Ahting :
There is too much common sense in here to garner many followers.
Posted: 12th July 2007 | By jcsmithson_IL :
My problem with getting the rest of the staff to move away from the waterfall ideal is that it is percieved as stopping scope creep. All I can say to that is there are many offsetting advantages that add up. I won't detail them here but high on the list are: it is easier to reverse eng sooner than later, client confidence is increased by the skill required, and it improves programmers speed. The pathwalkers are the problem with the waterfall if it breaks down they have to start at point one again. If only I could win this debate at work!!!
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