The waterfall process model for software development has its origins in work by Winston Royce in 1970.1 The term waterfall refers to a sequential software development process in which a project flows downward through a series of phases—conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, and maintenance. Ironically, Royce was not advocating the waterfall model in his original paper even though the model is attributed to him. He cited the waterfall model as a commonly used but flawed development approach and instead advocated a “do-it-twice” iterative process with formal customer involvement at multiple points in the process as a means to mitigate risk in large software development projects.

A paper by Reed Sorenson outlines the evolution of DOD SDLC models in the subsequent decades.2 The early years of that evolution were dominated by military standards such as Military Standard 490 on specification practices and DOD Standard (STD) 1679A on software development. Although DOD-STD-1679A was focused on software development, its origins in hardware and weapons systems development are clearly evident, and it reflects an era in which the waterfall SDLC model predominated.

The evolution continued through DOD-STD-2167 and 2167A in the late 1980s, driven in part by strong criticism of the waterfall model and a growing appreciation for a model not so heavily influenced by hardware and weapons systems thinking. Brooks’s seminal paper “No Silver Bullet—Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering,” published in 1987, was among the first to criticize the notion integral to the waterfall model—specifically, that one can fully specify software systems in advance:

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.3

A 1987 Defense Science Board study chaired by Brooks was equally critical of the waterfall mentality contained in the then-in-force DOD-STD-2167 and the then-draft DOD-STD-2167A:


Winston Royce, “Managing the Development of Large Software Systems,” pp. 1-9 in Proceedings of the IEEE Westcon, IEEE, Washington, D.C., 1970.


Reed Sorenson, “Software Standards: Their Evolution and Current State,” Crosstalk 12:21-25, December 1999. Available at; accessed December 12, 2009.


F.P. Brooks, Jr., “No Silver Bullet—Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering,” Information Processing 20(4):10-19, April 1987.

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