What School Never Taught You About The Waterfall Method


If you studied computer science in any form in college you’ve no doubt heard about the Waterfall Method. It’s the classic, multi-phased and elaborate process for designing software.

It’s taught as a standard method for development in thousands of schools all over the world, and yet its history has an interesting secret that virtually nobody knows about — especially the countless professors that pound the model into impressionable young minds.

What people don’t know is that when it was initially laid out, the author explicitly stated that it was an example of how things should NOT be done.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot of his actual paper. Notice the “waterfall” illustration followed by his own ironically ignored quote:

Amazing. There it is in black and white, yet for three decades compsci students all over the world have been taught precisely this system that the author said was a bad idea.

Of course, anyone that’s tried to use the method knows its major weakness, i.e. the fact that it fails to map well to a reality in which customers change their minds. Again, ironically he actually mentions this in the paper.

Sheesh. What did he have to do to highlight the fact that he wasn’t supporting the model? Bold type? A red circle with a mark through it?

I can’t help but wonder how many failed software projects could have been avoided if someone didn’t overlook the fact this now famous paradigm was initially presented as a case study in what NOT to do.:

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