Agile versus waterfall: Is there a silver bullet?

As the principal partner of Solutia SDO, Jackie Clark has had a direct role in managing the people behind the technology that’s transformed businesses across Canada. When IT projects stall, this seasoned leader, who’s had a front seat watching tech transform business in Canada, knows how to manage people to get projects running again. This bi-weekly column is for leaders working on enterprise-wide projects searching for insight on navigating the issues and pain points that hijack success. We’ll be sharing the most common questions Clark hears from her clients and her responses to them. Do you want your project management problems solved? Leave a comment with your question or  Tweet Jackie @sdosolutia.

I recently worked on an agile project that didn’t go well. In fact, we ended up reverting back to waterfall to save it. I thought this methodology was supposed to be the answer to all our prayers. What’s going wrong?

I had a similar experience on a past project. Agile was promoted within the company as “the way we do things now” so the IT department got on the bandwagon. Problem was the rest of the organization wasn’t on the same wagon.

We got our first hint of trouble brewing at a planning meeting when the head of the business asked: “So how much is this thing going to cost?” Because we were good agile disciples, we gave the right answer: “We don’t know.” The business tried again: “Then when will I see a plan?”  Our response: “We don’t have a plan.”  Their response: “But how will I know when it’s going to be implemented?”  Big smiles from us. “You won’t!”

Thinking back, not one of my best meetings.

Agile has many advantages but it’s not a silver bullet. I’ve been involved in more successful agile projects since and have spent time thinking about the differentiators.  Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Ensure the project is an appropriate candidate for agile methods
  2. In addition to senior management promotion of agile philosophy, ensure upper and middle management buy-in and commit (IT, Finance, Business, Audit)
  3. Prepare the environment in advance for the introduction of agile philosophy and methods
  4. Train the whole team (senior management, Stakeholders, Product Owner, Development Team, Project Management, IT Heads) before the project starts
  5. Address any ‘technical debt’ that may be an impediment to the success of the agile approach (legacy systems, lack of integrated test environment, system dependencies, etc.)
  6. Ensure automated test tools are in place, working effectively and people know how to use them
  7. Determine the PMO process to be applied within the agile approach including agreement of deviation from normal compliance, gating, artifacts, audit and how success will be measured
  8. Keep the Scrum team size small (no more than nine people), dedicated, and focused
  9. Select the development team carefully to ensure appropriate skills, behaviours and motivation
  10. Empower a self-organized Scrum team and facilitate business and development decisions without excessive oversight
  11. Ensure the Product Owner is a formal member of the Scrum team and dedicated to the project for the course of the sprints

There are a few more important concepts that need to be introduced,  co-location and code pairing to name a few. Taken all together the agile project will be off to a good start!

Jackie Clark
Jackie Clark
Program and change management expert in digital and data transformation, and technology system reengineering.

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