Agile is Not Replacing Waterfall  

I had a good friend challenge me this past week about Agile and why everyone is getting so excited. He thought that I would be able to explain and justify the excitement. I couldn’t.

To be very clear, I think every project manager should understand Agile enough to be able to identify when it should be CONSIDERED as an option to the waterfall methodology.

But Agile is not designed for, nor meant to be, in every project. Agile is not the answer to all the failed projects to date. And Agile is as big a risk as it is a savior, if not implemented well.

Agile is certainly the talk of the town these days and is providing a lot of excitement for a lot of providers of services, project people and project education.  Yes, it has a place in the technology world – for some projects, not all.  But does it belong in other projects like construction or engineering?  I doubt it.  But we should leave our minds open to the possibility that an Agile approach might benefit a small slice of the puzzle.

Agile has been around since the beginning of time (OK that was a slight exaggeration). Go talk to anyone involved in scrum.org or agilealliance.org or scrumalliance.org and they will chuckle a bit at this recent supposed discovery of agile by the project management community. This is not new. What is new is that some critical events have caused quite the stir around this methodology, like PMI’s acquisition of Disciplined Agile.

Agile is a methodology, as is waterfall, and there are many others. Agile is a brilliant process to apply on projects where much is unknown including the what, the how and the when.  Without a solid end date and a solid budget and more importantly solid specs as to what the project will look like in the end, Agile has an important role to play.

But what I hate hearing these days is the prophesying that Agile is the solution for all projects.  It is not.  It is a good option and one that, as I said above, we should all understand enough to be dangerous.

Instead of presentations like:

  • Agile Rocks!
  • Get Agile Certified Now or Your Career is Over
  • How Agile can be Applied to ANY Project

I prefer to hear presentations that sound like:

  • Blended Waterfall and Agile Approaches
  • The Top 10 Agile Nuggets We Can Use in Our Waterfall Environment
  • The Top Five Signs That Would Suggest You Should CONSIDER Agile

This is not an Agile Project Management world now.  It is still a world that says, “Use the right tool at the right time in the right place… the right way”.

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8 thoughts on “Agile is Not Replacing Waterfall  ”

  1. Avatar

    Unfortunately, a lot of times companies move to Agile without understanding how the organisation needs to be aligned for the approach to work or when it (Agile) may be more applicable or not, than other approaches. Agile is not always faster or cheaper or even more effective than Waterfall. But wonder if those details are shared with management when the sales pitch for Agile is made. Empires are build on big ideas not details.

  2. Avatar

    Couldn’t agree more David. Agile when done well can deliver visible value more frequently. However I believe a waterfall approach can also delivery great value with the appropriate communication and stakeholder management. We should focus on what aspects of each methodology better align to what a given project needs to deliver, and adjust as needed.

      1. Avatar

        I totally agree with you David. In my opinion, even with Agile, you still go through the waterfall process in the background. The real problem starts when somehow people don’t understand the true principles of Agile and when you should apply Agile, then projects collapse

        1. David Barrett

          Ash – I fear too many people listening the the evangelists and jumping in too quickly – ill prepared.

  3. Avatar
    Zaid Sheik Mohammad Futloo

    Agree 100%. There is one key charateristics of Agile you mentioned: “Agile is a brilliant process to apply on projects where much is unknown including the what, the how and the when”. That statement in itself would disqualify Agile for a construction project (I did not say construction industry). Engineers and project managers on a construction projects work with “knowns”. Unless we see figures and designs “flashing” and have them approved we cannot carry forward. I also learned recently that Agile is a mindset. It reduces the reporting load and focus on the essentials in meetings. These are aspects of communication which need to be improved on any projects and specifically waterfall projects – David gave an excellent lecture on that topic back in 2015 – that was the first time I saw a presentation using Prezi – right tool right place!

    1. David Barrett

      Hi Zaid – first of all thanks for the comment. and wow – back in 2015 – I dont use prezi any more but yes.. the right tool and the right time.

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