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StrategyMar 21, 2014

The Agile March Madness Bracket: Picking the Best Bracket

Austin Walker

I can’t predict the future.

Not once in April have I looked at my March Madness college basketball bracket and thought, “I am without a doubt a fantasy sports sage.  I called every win, every upset and every run.  George Mason or VCU to the Final Four?  Called them both before Selection Sunday.  I even nailed the final score of the championship game.”

Warren Buffett doesn’t have anything to worry about with his Billion Dollar Bracket challenge.  In reality, my bracket is so bloodied by the time we get to the Elite 8 that it’s in need of a transfusion.

Not this year though.  This year I’m doing an agile bracket.

Waterfall Software Projects

Historically, we pick our brackets much like you would plan out a complex waterfall software project—decide everything up front and hang on for the ride.

In waterfall development, before the project (or bracket) even starts, we put an incredibly large amount of time into researching, planning, and producing exhaustive documentation on what we will build, when it will be done, and how everything will miraculously come together for a successful product launch.  We make “informed” decisions upfront that will often not be implemented for months or even years into the future.  The plan then gets locked down and we start, with the nerve to believe that we’ve already accounted for every surprise and every unknown we’ll encounter during development.  You only need to look at your past brackets to get a picture of how well this works out.  Usually it doesn’t look good.

Agile Software Projects

Compare this to planning a complex agile software project.

In agile development, the focus is more on working software instead of documentation and responding to change over sticking to the plan.  Instead of being locked into a plan—that during development ends up being misinformed—agile development takes the approach of ‘inspect and adapt’ cycles.  This allows teams to respond to changing technology and requirements while maintaining a high quality of code and a focus on delivering customer value.  This is not to say we don’t have a plan at all, there’s just more of a focus on adapting quickly instead of holding the plan as a sacred cow.

The Agile Bracket

So what does an agile bracket look like?

With a focus on inspecting and adjusting (agile) instead of sticking to the initial plan (waterfall), each round I’ll be re-picking my March Madness bracket based on what I’ve learned recently.  Essentially by knowing who advanced from the last round and re-picking accordingly.  I’ll post an update before the Sweet 16 and then again after the championship to compare which bracket “delivered more value” in the end.

You can see my “waterfall bracket” here.

Of course, not even agile projects are without mistakes in the plan.  I already can’t get a perfect bracket (looking at you, Mercer).

Footnote: The concept of using a March Madness bracket to help illustrate agile vs. waterfall methodologies was created by Credera partner Justin Bell and is used in Credera’s onboarding training.  Many thanks to him for letting me use his illustration.