Among the methodologies of modern organizations, agile has been mentioned regularly for years because it allows organizations to operate with flexibility and agility. Organizations can create plans and deliver work in series and thus are able to adjust their operations quickly enough to respond to changing situations.
The popularity of the agile methodology leads to the question as to whether organizations with the waterfall methodology of a linear approach to work should shift completely to agile.
When organizations must decide whether they should apply agile or waterfall for their project management, most organizations do not base their decisions on the characteristics of projects. Their project management is influenced by their organizational culture, guidelines from executives and the expertise and preference of their staff. In other words, organizations have a single approach to project management.
Bluebik, as a leading consultancy, has advised large business organizations on strategies and management driven by innovation and technology and on highly complicated strategic project management. It found that organizations can combine agile and waterfall methodologies and apply them to their mindsets, operations and tools to produce good outcomes and effectively serve their organizations.
How to develop the “Agile Waterfall” methodology
In sum, “Agile Waterfall” is the project management approach based on the combined strengths of both agile and waterfall methodologies to achieve maximum efficiency in project management and perfectly suit the structures of organizations.
“Agile” defines not only the principle or model of project implementation but also the mindset of organizations. This means that organizations with the waterfall methodology can also apply the agile methodology to their operations in many situations including the following.
- Organizations want to increase collaboration between teams of staff and customers or other parties via the communications that everyone notices (transparency).
- Organizations want to regularly improve the efficiency of internal operations (continuous improvement) which should be flexible and adaptable to situations.
- Organizations want the sustainable development of staff teams who should produce outcomes regularly and do not create a burden (technical debt) that will be a price to pay in the future.
There are many ways to combine agile and waterfall methodologies. The “Agile Waterfall” model in this article is only a way. It begins with drawing up the whole picture of a project in the waterfall style. Normally it consists of five phases namely initiating, planning, executing, monitoring & controlling and closing. The two phases of executing and monitoring & controlling will change to become agile.
In general, the phase of project initiation is rarely different from the waterfall methodology. What must be done are reasons behind a business project (business case), a summary that clearly gives project details (project charter) and the rough estimation of time and resources needed for a project which lets executives see the whole picture of investment and expected benefits.
This phase combines the merits of agile and waterfall methodologies. It consists of two steps.
- Gathering all needs of customers (requirement). This is the waterfall methodology but the difference is understanding about the real objectives and needs of customers and the needs should not change in the future. For example, a user cannot state on the first day that he needs a system for product searches and later wants to change it into an online vending platform.
- Transforming all kinds of needs into a user story and include it in the product backlog which will also contain a change request if there is any.
Executing and Monitoring & Controlling
The core of project management that comprises executing and monitoring & controlling is the easiest part to be agile because it concerns the internal processes which are the least affected by stakeholders. They include ceremonies and artefacts which concern developers rather than users. Examples of agile practices in these two phases include tasks being divided into sprints, the progress of which is reported to product owners to show further progress from previous sprints (incremental delivery).
This phase is the same as that of the waterfall methodology and consists of the complete delivery of all tasks, the transfer of knowledge, a report on lessons learned and celebration for project success.
Naturally a new way of work faces challenges. Therefore, there are tips for the implementation of the Agile Waterfall methodology as follows.
- Champion team – The Agile Waterfall methodology can be first assigned to champion teams with proven records of success because quality teams help pave the way and overcome obstacles.
- Pluck low-hanging fruit – The implementation can begin with the small and easy tasks that suit the Agile Waterfall methodology. The implementation of a new model is already difficult, so teams should not be overwhelmed with obstacles.
- Always inspect and adapt – “Agile” means endless learning and improvement (sprint retrospective). Likewise, the Agile Waterfall methodology requires constant observation and the improvement of processes to suit organizations and projects.
- Celebrate small win – Celebrate every success of a project with its management team even if it is a tiny achievement to maintain morale among teammates and keep them united.
4 factors behind the success of the Agile Waterfall methodology
- Mutual Trust – Customers and project management teams must have mutual trust. Teams must make sure that all requirements are shared and customers must believe that teams will do their best to develop systems despite the limitations of projects.
- Users Involvement – When the Agile Waterfall methodology is implemented, users must play more roles in design and development because task deliveries happen in the forms of sprints. Under the circumstance, there must be regular feedback to ensure that a project progresses in the right path. This is different from the waterfall methodology which mostly presents all requirements from the start (big requirement upfront) and sees feedback after a project is completed.
- Team Collective Commitment – A common characteristic that agile and waterfall methodologies share is that everyone is the owner of a project management plan. The plan does not come from a project manager or a scrum manager and project implementation results from the collective decision of a team (self-organizing team).
- Dedication – Under the agile methodology, a project management team must implement its project from the start until its conclusion. Executives should not withdraw a project management team from its project or give any parallel assignment, even a brief task, to the team, especially to the project manager, scrum master or key user. This is to prevent the delay that could result from pending parallel assignments for these people.
In fact, apart from agile and waterfall methodologies, there are many more methodologies. If we understand the strengths and weaknesses of all methodologies and apply them together to suit situations, teams and companies will definitely benefit because the world of project management accepts overlap and does not require the selection of a single methodology and exclusion of all other approaches. The key is to choose methodologies and adjust them to suit the characteristics of projects, cultures and teams’ preference. The companies that have the teams which can adapt to the nature of projects certainly have their competitive edge over the organizations that have only one project management methodology.