The Waterfall Approach Persists as an Urban Myth

7 May 2005 /

Much of present-day software acquisition procedure rests upon the assumption that one can specify a satisfactory system in advance, get bids for its construction, have it built, and install it. I think this assumption is fundamentally wrong, and that many software acquisition problems spring from that fallacy.

We were doing incremental development as early as 1957, in Los Angeles, under the direction of Bernie Dimsdale [at IBM’s Service Bureau Corporation]. He was a colleague of John von Neumann, so perhaps he learned it there, or assumed it as totally natural . . .

All of us, as far as I can remember, thought waterfalling of a huge project was rather stupid, or at least ignorant of the realities. I think what the waterfall description did for us was make us realize that we were doing something else, something unnamed except for “software development.”

— Gerald M. Weinberg

In his book, Agile and Iterative Development, [Craig] Larman has well documented the history of the many disasters introduced by accident when the Department of Defense standardized on a non-iterative method that was unproven on large projects. It was essentially a blunder by a consultant who had little experience with real software development.

The DOD has long since abandoned the waterfall method, and the consultant has recanted, but the waterfall approach persists as an urban myth in many software development organizations.

— Jeff Sutherland

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