Applying 1970 Waterfall Lessons Learned

Within Today’s Agile Development Process



Johnny D. Morgan, PhD

Washington, DC, USA



While working for TRW in 1970, Dr. Winston Royce published an IEEE paper that described the waterfall development process.  In his paper he stated “I believe in the concept but the implementation described is risky and invites failure.”   He then “presents five additional features that must be added to this basic approach to eliminate most of the development risks.”   This paper reviews these five additional features recommended in 1970 and describes how they are incorporated into today’s agile development process to reduce agile project development risks.

Key Words: Agile, architecture, design, Manifesto for Agile Software Development, project management, software development, waterfall, Winston Royce

This paper is based on empirical observations, current literature, and engineering and project management experiences.


Since the publishing of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development in 2001, many books and journal articles have been published that first characterizes the waterfall software development process and then identifies process steps that attempt to separate and uniquely characterize agile development practices as different and better.   In many cases, each of these publications either references or directly draws the basic waterfall development process shown in Figure 1 and then attempts to make a comparison of historical project management concepts and agile project management concepts.  For example, one publication states:

“In the historical approach, which locks the requirements and delivers the product all in one go, the result is all or nothing.  We either succeed completely or fail absolutely.  The stakes are high because everything hinges on work that happens at the end…of the final phase of the cycle, which includes integration and customer testing…In the testing phase of a waterfall project, the customers get to see their long-awaited product.  By that time, the investment and effort have been huge, and the risk of failure is high.  Finding defects among all completed project requirements is like looking for a weed in a cornfield…The following list summarizes the major aspects of the waterfall approach to project management:

  • The team must know all requirements up front to estimate time, budgets, team members and resources…
  • The customer and stakeholders may not be available to answer questions during the development period, because they may assume that they provided all the information during the requirements-gathering and design phases…
  • The team needs to resist the addition of new requirements or document them as change orders, which adds more work to the project and extends the schedule and budget…
  • Full and complete customer feedback is not possible until the end of the project when all functionality is complete.” (Layton and Ostermiller 2017)


To read entire paper, click here


Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 5th Annual University of Maryland PM Symposium in May 2018.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Morgan, J. D. (2018). Applying 1970 Waterfall Lessons Learned Within Today’s Agile Development Process; presented at the 5th Annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium, College Park, Maryland, USA in May 2018; published in the PM World Journal, Vol. VII, Issue VII – July.  Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/pmwj72-Jul2018-Morgan-applying-1970-waterfall-lessons-umd-paper.pdf

About the Author

Johnny D. Morgan, PhD

General Dynamics Information Technology
Washington, DC, USA


Dr. Johnny Morgan
has 38 years of systems engineering and project management experience.  While serving in the United States Navy and then employed with IBM, Lockheed Martin and currently General Dynamics, he has assisted numerous Department of Defense and Intelligence Community customers in the management and execution of their information technology portfolios.   Supplementing his experience, he has received a Bachelor’s degree in Computer and Information Sciences from the University of Florida, a Master’s degree in Systems Management from the University of Southern California, and a Doctorate degree in System Engineering from the George Washington University.   Dr. Morgan has also earned numerous industry certifications including the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional and the International Council on Systems Engineering Expert System Engineering Professional certifications.

Dr. Morgan can be contacted at [email protected]