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My 5 Learnings of Waterfall Project Management

Table of Contents for Waterfall Project Management

  • Learning 1: My Understanding of the Topic
  • Learning 2: How do I use Waterfall Methodology?
  • Learning 3: My Workflow for Construction Project with Waterfall Methodology.
  • Learning 4: The mistakes I made with Waterfall.
  • Learning 5: The Challenges of Waterfall.

In this article, I will give you insight into my learnings of Waterfall Project Management Methodology. I will try to explain the topic with my understanding, the workflow for my project, the mistakes I made, and the problems I faced with the waterfall in my project.

I started my career as a Civil Engineer and then switched to my current role of planning and project management. Working with the industry veterans, I acquired an understanding of the topic and its’ constraints. Although, I am still learning (learning never ends), I think I have learnt somewhat to share with you all. The insights are based on my personal experiences as a project planning engineer for a heavy infrastructure project.

Enough about me now let’s dive into the topic.

Learning 1: My Understanding of the Waterfall Project Management.

After starting my role, I started my activities to plan for the project. We had set a clear scope, divided it into packages, created a WBS, defined the activities, and assigned the dependencies with a respective duration of each activity. The project started, we monitored the progress. We made plans for slippages. Each package started after the preceding package completed.

Little did I know that time, the methodology I was doing has a specific name. If you have guessed it by now, yes it was the waterfall methodology. So, by now you have got an introduction of how the waterfall methodology works. Every work package has a predecessor or a successor and the workflow is streamlined from one package to another. The rework is uneconomical and disturbs the natural flow of the work. Just like the waterfall, when the water drops from a level to a lower level it doesn’t go back.

The waterfall method has a rigid workflow, unlike the Agile Methodology. The agile methodology allows moving back and forth of the work package due to its iterative nature.

The waterfall is a heavily documented methodology. However, the same documentation also helps when a new team member joins the team. It is easier for him/her to understand the workflow and various assumptions taken at the planning stage. The knowledge of the assumptions results in better management.

I found waterfall very helpful in measuring the progress of the project. The activities are discrete. The work packages are sequential and non-iterative offering a straightforward approach for measuring and tracking the progress. The work package has either not started or in progress or completed. This also makes the reporting easier. Gantt chart is generally used for the report.

Learning 2: How do I use Waterfall Methodology?

I use the waterfall divided into the following phases-

  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Commissioning
  • Maintenance

The above said phases are the general way of adopting the waterfall methodology. Each phase is followed by the next phase sequentially. The phases of waterfall methodology are managed by the project management software such as Microsoft Project and Primavera P6. Despite the availability of many software the above two mentioned software are extensively used in the industry. Now, let us understand each phase.

Phases of Waterfall Project Management
Phases of Waterfall Project Management

2.1 Initiation-

In the initiation phase, the following steps involve

  1. A business case is developed.
  2. Project needs, requirement, and aspects are outlined.
  3. The scope is outlined. The scope is an answer to ‘what needs to be done to achieve the project objective?’
  4. Stakeholders are identified.
  5. The budget and timeline are estimated.
  6. Key deliverables and milestones are defined
  7. WBS is prepared.
  8. The roles and responsibilities of every stakeholder are identified.
  9. The tender is floated for inviting the bidders.

The initiation phase defines the strategy for the subsequent phases.

2.2 Planning-

The planning phase is all about adding the details to the work done in the initiation phase. It involves the following steps-

  1. The scope is drilled down to the quantum of work for each activity and the cost of it.
  2. The stakeholders’ relationship with each other is defined and a communication method is defined among them.
  3. The WBS is detailed with the activities and their respective duration. The timeline for deliverables and milestones is defined by creating a project schedule.
  4. Resources for each activity are identified.
  5. The procurement plan is also defined in this phase. The RFQs are floated for the material and equipment procurement and hiring.
  6. The contract is awarded and agreement formalities are completed.

2.3 Execution-

The execution phase is the action phase for all the planning done earlier. The key activities are done in execution are as follows-

  1. The contractor mobilises to the site and the resources are made available at the workplace. The work commences.
  2. The material is constantly procured to ensure the stock at the site. The manpower is also brought to the site throughout the execution phase to cater to the requirement of the work and attrition of manpower.
  3. The work progress is tracked against the planned progress and reported to the management. The timely reporting helps in taking the remedial measures for the delay, cost-overrun and scope variation and ensures the achievement of the project objectives within the time and budget.

2.4 Commissioning-

The commissioning phase is also called the testing phase. The equipment and systems are tested individually as well as in a group. If something goes wrong, the rectification time is required. Thus, a buffer is provided in the project schedule for unforeseen events. The spares are kept handy for parts that are likely to malfunction.

2.5 Maintenance-

The maintenance goes throughout the life of the product. The operation of the product/service leads to the wear of parts or working life completion of parts. Thus, they need to be replaced or repaired. The maintenance includes preventive maintenance and breakdown maintenance. For both processes, working under deadlines is necessary as the essential services may not be working during the maintenance and may interrupt daily output.

Lesson 3: My Workflow for Construction Project with Waterfall Methodology.

As a planning engineer, my role included preparing the project schedule including the activity identification and its duration estimate in the planning phase and the progress monitoring and reporting in the execution and commissioning phase.

We brief the respective team regarding their daily and monthly targets and the resource availability to meet the target. The workflow for the construction project with the waterfall method is as follows-

  1. Preparation of work BOQ covering the entire scope and initial cost estimate. Also, preparation of technical specifications and other contract clauses.
  2. Listing of all the approvals and statutory clearances required from the concerned authorities with their process and duration. Followed by the submission of applications for the same.
  3. Floating the tender for an equipment supplier, work contractor, and other services required for the execution and commissioning. Bids are invited, bidders are evaluated, and the contract is awarded to the suitable bidder.
  4. Preparation of detailed drawings and designs along with the coordination with the equipment suppliers for the details of their product and its’ incorporation in the construction design. The final approval of drawings is followed by the design and drafting. The hiring/allocation of staff for the works also starts in this phase.
  5. Preparing a project schedule. The duration estimation of the activities by the historical data of similar project and expert judgement. The resource estimation and cashflow requirement along the timeline. Post-approval of the schedule by both the parties, a baseline is set.
  6. The project execution phase commences with a kick-off meeting followed by the mobilisation of resources to the site and building up an initial stock of required material.
  7. Tracking of progress, quality, cost and scope.
  8. Remedial measures or mitigation plan preparation and implementation for variation in plan vs achieved.
  9. Handing over the project to the operation team after commissioning with all the necessary documentation. Also, the work contracts are closed and certifications are issued.
  10. Recording of the lessons learnt from the project, constraints/bottlenecks faced and their solutions.

Learning 4: The mistakes I made with Waterfall Project Management

“Making a mistake is not the problem, repeating is”.

During the entire project, I kept learning and making mistakes that helped me in developing the procedures for myself to implement the methods better. The mistakes were small and big. Some mistakes I made that turned out to be blunder at a later stage and made me realise the importance of following checklists for the project. Here are 4 such mistakes-

  1. Improper documentation. During the planning phase, the documentation of some of the assumptions, considerations, etc. was loosely done that lead to confusion in later stages. This confusion is evident especially when the management changes.
  2. Improper Planning. The improper planning leads to rework that is strictly not allowed in waterfall methodology. For example, if waterproofing has been missed and the tiling work is completed, then there is no way you can undo it without additional time and money.
  3. Lack of Intense Focus on one phase. Each phase of the waterfall needs accurate estimation. With multitasking, the focus keeps shifting from one thing to another which creates a gap for missing out on things.
  4. Not using a hybrid approach. I found myself in trouble with problems where hit and trial work is done. For example, in commissioning activities, where several iterations may happen, a hybrid approach works better.

Learning 5: The Challenges of Waterfall Project Management

The waterfall is an easy to use methodology but lacks flexibility. When comparing waterfall project management vs agile, the waterfall is better for projects that have clearly defined deliverables.

The waterfall can be used to manage only a single project at once. It is also limited to the project delivery and doesn’t help much in service/product delivery that relies heavily on the constant feedback. The waterfall limits itself in taking customer feedback. It also needs a dedicated project manager to supervise the phases and transition from one phase into the other.

The waterfall project management works well with the small to the mid-scale construction industry but for challenging and innovative projects, a hybrid approach works better. Such projects need more flexibility in the engineering and design process.

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Read about the Project Schedules here and waterfall here.

Happy Engineering!

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