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8 May 2016

Agile or Waterfall? – A typical FAQ.

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When managing a project or rather, developing a product, before telling if Agile or Waterfall is the proper choice of method, one has to evaluate a number of things. It is true that with a non-complex, small project, where one can reasonably assume that no surprise will happen, Agile doesn’t have a clear advantage over Waterfall. However this is seldom the case.

So what else will surely determine your choice of method you start off with (after all implementing a method is never a self-evident process)? For starters it is the team members’ and the stakeholders’ personalities, the current culture of the organization, the amount of attention the project receives, and the level of involvement of the decision makers you can attain.

With complex, big and high value added projects Agile is the right answer.

When leading a product development (or other projects) you have to follow Agile through the whole product/project organization, and keep the tentacles that connect you to the rest of the organization clean. Allow and support information traffic but strictly filter cultural influence and “manual-isms”.

Agile helps creating a highly effective, innovative and high performing environment, shortens the learning curve, allows fast reaction to the market and helps create very high quality products. Still, Agile is not a toolkit!

Agile is a concept which, when followed through an organization, has far reaching consequences. In my eyes it is the neo-renaissance of the post industrialization era. Waterfall is incapable of accepting this as it is made for control, Agile is made for value creation.

Often lots of tools already used in an organization are useful in an Agile environment. So one doesn’t have to throw away everything in order to implement Agile. In my experience a considerable amount of tools in use are OK with a transition. It is really the attitude and the approach to these tools that has to change first and most. An Agile transition does not rip the organization’s culture into shreds in a flashy bang much rather it transforms it through time and nurturing.

My guess is that while Agile will suffer in a Waterfall org-level environment, Waterfall can and has to find its place in an Agile organization given the right circumstances. Don’t be blind, and don’t be fanatic!

by Balázs Tornai