While there may not be an official definition of “traditional” Project Management, the term is commonly used to refer to the methods and approaches to PPM that predate the Agile revolution. While Agile project management methods — which take “ an iterative approach to delivering a project throughout its life cycle and are frequently used in software development projects to promote velocity and adaptability” — clearly are the in-trend PPM approach these days, more traditional, time-tested methodologies, such as Waterfall and Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), are everything but outdated and they definitely still have a lot to offer to project organizations and leaders.

The Waterfall Methodology

Formally introduced in the 1950s and predominantly used by project organizations worldwide ever since, the Waterfall Methodology is THE historical approach to the management of project delivery.

What is Waterfall?

As the name suggests, Waterfall PPM methods are linear in nature. Waterfall breaks down a project into a fixed series of discrete phases and sequentially-performed tasks. Each phase must finish before the next one can begin. Waterfall projects usually follow the five phases below:

  • Requirement collection: mapping and analyzing the potential application requirements and deliverables, consolidating the findings into a specification document for future reference over the course of the project.
  • Design: determining how you’re going to meet the requirements and coming up with project specifics and a roadmap for delivery.
  • Implementation: executing on the design plans and roadmap.
  • Testing: involving beta testers and quality assurance managers to detect, report, and fix any issues or bugs.
  • Operations and maintenance: delivery, deployment, as well as the support and maintenance activities that may subsequently be required.

Benefits of Waterfall

The Waterfall model is particularly well-suited for large projects and organizations that require a structured approach to planning and execution. Among the benefits that Waterfall provides are:

  • Simplicity: The Waterfall methodology is perhaps the most straightforward Project Management model. The logical nature of the sequential Waterfall process leaves very little room for confusion, even for projects that involve multiple teams. Every project team member can leverage easy-to-grasp Gantt charts to get an at-a-glance view of project progress and knows what he or she has to do. This is especially useful to manage turnover in teams over the course of long-haul projects.
  • Discipline: Waterfall methodologies require discipline from project managers and project teams when planning, scheduling, designing, and structuring their projects. Waterfall typically requires detailing processes for managing every aspect and phase of the project. Because of Waterfall’s inherently linear structure, it is befitting the type of projects that require clear phasing, milestones, and deadlines.
  • Room for early adjustments: Since execution and implementation only take place at a later stage, Waterfall methods, on the one hand, enable easy adjustments and alterations at the design stage. On the other hand, it becomes much more difficult to integrate changes later on in the process.

Downfalls of Waterfall

No methodological framework is perfect. In fact, project management professionals blame Waterfall for the following:

  • Rigidity: Beyond the early stages of the development life cycle, the Waterfall approach proves to lack adaptability and responsiveness. Should the ultimate testing phase reveal severe flaws in the product or deliverable, it’s too late for course-correction: fixing fundamental issues requires taking several steps backwards.
  • Lack of client/user involvement: The degree of customer or end-user involvement in Waterfall projects is typically low. After an initial meeting with the project teams in order to gather the requirements, the client or project owner usually does not participate at all in the execution process. This means you can’t take into account changes in expectations or requirements, and that the final deliverable might not meet the need perfectly.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)

Another non-Agile, and therefore, traditional approach to project delivery is the Critical Chain method. Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) is “a method of planning and managing projects that emphasizes the resources (people, equipment, physical space) required to execute project tasks.

In CCPM, project managers focus their effort on determining the critical chain — the longest possible sequence of tasks when taking into account both resource and activity dependencies. On this basis, they’ll be able to level and balance out the critical resources involved in a project, possibly taking action to prevent resources from being under too much strain.

Overall, CCPM gives project managers greater control over the project and the schedule. Besides, CCPM methods mutualize the safety margins for each task into a project-level buffer, resulting in a reduction in the average duration of projects. However, the methodology requires a lot of commitment from project managers, and it might be challenging for project teams to understand and adapt to the constraint-based philosophy of Critical Chain Project Management. The calculations involved in mapping the critical chain can be fairly complex, and most contemporary PMOs seek the support of PPM tools supporting CCPM management.


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Benoît Boitard

Benoît has multiple professional experiences, working in particular as a digital strategy consultant, both in emerging start-ups and in large companies. These diverse experiences have imbued him with a global vision of project management in traditional and agile working environments.