The waterfall model is a sequential software development process (a process for the creation of software / web project) in which development is seen as flowing steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through the phases of requirements analysis, design, implementation, testing (validation), integration, and maintenance.

The following phases are followed in order: -

To follow the waterfall model, one proceeds from one phase to the next in a purely sequential manner. For example, one first completes requirements specifications, which are set in stone. When the requirements are fully completed, one proceeds to design. The software in question is designed and a blueprint is drawn for implementers (designers / programmers) to follow — this design should be a plan for implementing the requirements given. When the design is fully completed, an implementation of that design is made by designers / programmers. Towards the later stages of this implementation phase, distinct software components produced are combined to introduce new functionality and remove bugs.

Thus the waterfall model maintains that one should move to a phase only when it’s preceding phase is completed and perfected. However, there are various modified waterfall models that may include slight or major variations upon this process.

Time spent early on in software production can lead to greater economy later on in the software lifecycle; that is, it has been shown many times that a bug found in the early stages of the production lifecycle (such as requirements specification or design) is cheaper, in terms of money, effort and time, to fix than the same bug found later on in the process. "A requirements defect that is left undetected until construction or maintenance will cost 50 to 200 times as much to fix as it would have cost to fix at requirements time." To take an extreme example, if a program design turns out to be impossible to implement, it is easier to fix it at the design stage than to realize months later, when program components are being integrated, that all the work done so far has to be scrapped because of a broken design.

Hence, time spent early on making sure that requirements and design are absolutely correct will save you much time and effort later. Thus, the thinking of those who follow the waterfall process goes, one should make sure that each phase is 100% complete and absolutely correct before proceeding to the next phase of program creation. Program requirements should be set in stone before design is started (otherwise work put into a design based on incorrect requirements is wasted); the program's design should be perfect before people begin work on implementing the design (otherwise they are implementing the wrong design and their work is wasted), etc.

A further argument for the waterfall model is that it places emphasis on documentation (such as SRS). In less designed and documented methodologies, should team members leave, much knowledge is lost and may be difficult for a project to recover from. Should a fully working design document be present (as is the intent of Big Design Up Front and the waterfall model) new team members or even entirely new teams should be able to familiarize themselves by reading the documents.

As well as the above, some prefer the waterfall model for its simple approach and argue that it is more disciplined. Rather than what the waterfall adherent sees as chaos, the waterfall model provides a structured approach; the model itself progresses linearly through discrete, easily understandable and explainable phases and thus is easy to understand; it also provides easily identifiable milestones in the development process. It is perhaps for this reason that the waterfall model is used as a beginning example of a development model in many software engineering texts and courses.

It is argued that the waterfall model and Big Design Up Front in general can be suited to software projects which are stable (especially those projects with unchanging requirements, such as with shrink wrap software) and where it is possible and likely that designers will be able to fully predict problem areas of the system and produce a correct design before implementation is started. The waterfall model also requires that implementers follow the well made, complete design accurately, ensuring that the integration of the system proceeds smoothly.