Why do organizations fall back to the old, comfortable waterfall?

December 7, 2007

Here is another article that I really liked: The (Not-so) Agile Waterfall, by Ken Knapton.

I have recently been made aware of yet another organization that says they are “doing agile” when in fact they are not. They are in fact following almost a text-book example of the waterfall method, but using agile terms such as “iteration” and calling it agile. They define every iteration up front, and lock themselves into dates when each iteration will be completed, even for projects that will last six months or longer. The development team is strictly held to meeting these dates, and product is not delivered until the end of the project. 

And why does this happen? Ken suggest one reason:

As to the question of why organizations fall back to the old, comfortable waterfall, I believe it comes down to a very simple answer: metrics. Upper management likes to have nice metrics to track the progress of their organization, and the easiest metric to track is on-time delivery.

I guess for the same reason some commercial ALM tools lure you into this trap too. They sell their tools to those managers after all. Their marketing works way too well promoting “agile”:

  • Check out RallyDev’s demo: slide#2 talks about roadmap, release, iteration planning. What I get from this is that they suggest to plan a release (3-6 times a year) and lock iterations within that plan. I am not exactly sure what good a 4months plan with locked iterations will do if after your first iteration (2weeks to 1month) your customer feedback shows that you need to re-prioritize and change half of the plan. Or, aren’t you delivering functional software to your customers after each iteration for feedback?
  • How about VersionOne’s datasheet: One of the key features Drag-n-Drop release and iteration planning. As for agile, I understand iteration planning or just release planning (if it is a short incremental one, equivivalent to an iteration), but together? This probably means again, create a waterfall plan and lock your iterations within it. Is that agile?

In general if you’re trying to be agile you will have hard times planning something far away in the future. Giving dates for your future releases and roadmap milestones is quite a challenge:

Does “agile” complicate your roadmap management process?

Agile roadmap 

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