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The Waterfall Model

The waterfall model is believed to have been the first process model which was introduced and widely followed in software engineering. The innovation was that the first time software engineering was divided into separate phases. When I did my first programs in PL/1 and RPG in the early 1970's there was no awareness of splitting up software development into different phases. Programs were very small, the requirements only a few and after punching a pile of cards the program was done and could be tested by inserting it into the card reader and observing what it did.

As programs became bigger the need for a better requirements phase, some more thoughts on the design, etc. were needed. Programmers found it more and more difficult to keep an abstract of the program in their mind and transfer it into code. Also the thought of having a separate testing phase performed by dedicated testers evolved. The different phases of software engineering were identified and simply cascaded in each other, allowing for loops in case it was found in a subsequent phase that the previous phase was not done properly.

The phases of "The Waterfall Model" are:

Requirement Analysis & Definition: All requirements of the system which has to be developed are collected in this step. Like in other process models requirements are split up in functional requirements and constraints which the system has to fulfil. Requirements have to be collected by analysing the needs of the end user(s) and checking them for validity and the possibility to implement them. The aim is to generate a Requirements Specification Document which is used as an input for the next phase of the model.

System Design: The system has to be properly designed before any implementation is started. This involves an architectural design which defines and describes the main blocks and components of the system, their interfaces and interactions. By this the needed hardware is defined and the software is split up in its components. E.g. this involves the definition or selection of a computer platform, an operating system, other peripheral hardware, etc. The software components have to be defined to meet the end user requirements and to meet the need of possible scalability of the system. The aim of this phase is to generate a System Architecture Document this serves as an input for the software design phase of the development, but also as an input for hardware design or selection activities. Usually in this phase various documents are generated, one for each discipline, so that the software usually will receive a software architecture document.

Software Design: Based on the system architecture which defines the main software blocks the software design will break them further down into code modules. The interfaces and interactions of the modules are described, as well as their functional contents. All necessary system states like startup, shutdown, error conditions and diagnostic modes have to be considered and the activity and behaviour of the software has to be defined. The output of this phase is a Software Design Document which is the base of the following implementation work.

Coding: Based on the software design document the work is aiming to set up the defined modules or units and actual coding is started. The system is first developed in smaller portions called units. They are able to stand alone from an functional aspect and are integrated later on to form the complete software package.

Software Integration & Verification: Each unit is developed independently and can be tested for its functionality. This is the so called Unit Testing. It simply verifies if the modules or units to check if they meet their specifications. This involves functional tests at the interfaces of the modules, but also more detailed tests which consider the inner structure of the software modules. During integration the units which are developed and tested for their functionalities are brought together. The modules are integrated into a complete system and tested to check if all modules cooperate as expected.

System Validation: After successfully integration including the related tests the complete system has to be tested against its initial requirements. This will include the original hardware and environment, whereas the previous integration and testing phase may still be performed in a different environment or on a test bench.

Operation & Maintenance: The system is handed over to the customer and will be used the first time by him. Naturally the customer will check if his requirements were implemented as expected but he will also validate if the correct requirements have been set up in the beginning. In case there are changes necessary it has to be fixed to make the system usable or to make it comply to the customer wishes. In most of the "Waterfall Model" descriptions this phase is extended to a never ending phase of "Operations & Maintenance". All the problems which did not arise during the previous phases will be solved in this last phase.

The weakness of the Waterfall Model is at hand: