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TransformationMar 18, 2021

How to Translate Agile Into Waterfall Mentality

Bria Ford and Caleb Steidley

Is your organization or team is struggling to keep up with the pace of technology or business change? Is your organization viewed by your business partners as “overhead” and your team members as “administrative? Do you have a large team of project managers that are struggling with defining a sustainable career path? Is your culture struggling to innovate? Many of these situations are symptoms that point to your organization being stuck in a Waterfall mindset. While a Waterfall approach may have worked for your company in the past, a fresh, collaborative Agile approach might be just the thing that can take your company to the next stage of maturity, help you deliver faster, and build better and deeper relationships with your business partners.

What Is Waterfall… What Is Agile… Where Does Your Company Fall?

The Waterfall methodology is a traditional project management practice based on a sequential design process. As the name explains, the phases of a project flow from one completed task to the next and tend to be a very linear and rigid process. This approach can sometimes work for smaller projects, especially if there are clear and simple requirements from the start. Many organizations continue to leverage a Waterfall methodology due to regulatory, compliance, and/or audit concerns. However, with larger, more complex projects, our point of view is that Waterfall methods create longer delivery cycle times and limit the ability to pivot and change. For instance, because testing cannot begin until development is complete, there is little to no room for unexpected changes or revisions.

The Agile methodology is a cyclical and iterative approach to project management and software development that centers around collaboration, communication, and adaptation. One of the fundamental tenets of the Agile methodology is adaptability. The Agile approach enables all of your teams to work on their respective project tasks, test as they go, and adapt to changing or new requirements throughout the project’s lifecycle versus working from a fixed definition that is defined at the beginning. Agile helps organizations stay aligned to business values and provides the frameworks for daily collaboration and communication across teams, which helps to unify the teams’ outcomes and streamline process. If your company has been stuck in a Waterfall way of working and is looking to modernize your delivery processes and project management style, then exploring an Agile method might be the right fit for your company and there is no better time than now!

Implementing Agile Changes Across an Organization

The Agile approach's beauty is that it can be adapted to fit the needs of any organization or team, no matter the size or department. Agile can help any department of an organization, from software development to marketing, create an atmosphere of team collaboration, cross-functionality, clear prioritization, and adaptability.

Based on your company’s goals and strategic direction, keep in mind that a full Agile transition may not be the best direction or outcome for your organization. Is your company wanting to improve your communication/collaboration methods or you are looking to implement a more flexible test approach for application development? In that case, a hybrid or partial transformation could be incredibly useful.

Many companies start small. Agile thinking and ways of working can be effectively implemented through minor adjustments to your existing project management processes. Many businesses choose to implement some components of the Agile framework instead of taking on a full-scale transformation. Layering in daily scrum calls with your project leaders, standing up kanban and JIRA boards to properly track your project tasks, and applying Scaled Agile Frameworks can introduce Agile concepts and provide immediate benefits, improving the quality of your work product and enhancing the performance of your team.

A company that has found success in implementing selective Agile techniques into their operations is IBM. They claim that "Agile scrum has played a huge role in improving IBM's business operations." IBM witnessed tangible improvements across the board in on-time delivery, reduction in defects, lower cost of maintenance, and created more innovation once they stepped away from the Waterfall mindset and became more agile in their thinking and ways of working.

Other companies decide to go all in and take on a full-scale Agile transformation, fully applying the Agile frameworks, organizational structures, and ways of working throughout the landscape of their organization. We want to make sure to highlight that to fully transition your organization to Agile requires intentional focus and executive buy-in from business, operations, and technology teams. Becoming an Agile organization requires a full commitment to change at all levels and it takes time, resources, and funding; this deep transformation does not happen overnight.

Building the Business Case for Your Agile Transformation

Implementing Agile in your organization can be incredibly impactful to your company's growth and ability to innovate and scale; however, if you do not have buy-in from each team involved, it can be challenging to make that transition. Understanding and knowing how to communicate the benefits of an Agile transformation is the first step in ensuring a successful outcome. We are highlighting some of the key benefits, tailored to various stakeholder groups, that will help them truly understand the business value of an Agile transformation:

Executives and Senior Leadership

  • Decreased Time to Market and Improved Reaction to Change: The iterative approach to Agile and emphasis on going to market with a minimum viable product (MVP) allows companies to quickly launch a new service or technology and/or change courses based on market feedback. In contrast with a more traditional Waterfall method, the entire project has to be finished before impacts to it can be fully understood.

  • More Inclusion of the Customer’s Voice: Agile helps executives position their business to be more customer-focused. By working in smaller cycles (sprints), companies can solicit and incorporate customer feedback into their product development cycles much faster, iteratively adapting to the voice of the customer. In contrast, with a Waterfall approach, many times the feedback can only be solicited after the product is completely developed and ready for launch and the resources and costs are already sunk.

Product Owners and Team Leads

  • Transparency and Strategic Alignment: Product and technology leadership can clearly understand the business objectives and strategic goals via the value streams the executive teams have defined. These value streams can then be broken down into larger chunks of work that management teams and departments can execute against, ensuring the company’s resources are working on the right things at the right time.

  • Improvement in Product Development Metrics: The Agile structure emphasizes speed, efficiency, collaboration, and innovation. When done well, Agile teams can respond to changes in the market by leveraging the iterative style of prioritization, adapting to needs from the business and customers as they become apparent with smaller releases and development cycles.

  • Improved Collaboration and Team Management: Collaboration through Agile ceremonies, such as backlog grooming sessions and sprint planning, allows the team to frequently communicate the effort and time needed to complete the product or project's features and to fully understand the dependencies their work has on others. Other ceremonies, including sprint retrospectives, enable business teams, developers, and testers to improve their team dynamic by harnessing the power of continuous improvement. Understanding of velocity and team capacity also allows leaders to adequately staff resources and manage development expectations.

Developers and Testers

  • More Understanding of Product Direction and Features: With clear priorities, user stories, and acceptance criteria received directly from product owners, the technology team can truly understand the intended direction, goal, and outcome for the development work they are responsible for, which is an improvement over only having access to a basic requirements document created in the traditional Waterfall approach.

  • Developer-Driven Estimates: In the Agile framework, the power to estimate and plan is in the hands of the actual developer. There is an emphasis on empowering developers by having them provide the estimates for feature development and detailing tasks before agreeing to work on them. The team actively contributes to the prioritization of work and creates an air of confidence that they aren't taking on a job that is too big to handle.

  • Condensed, Focused Delivery: By only working on work that fits within the team's iteration, velocity and capacity, developers can focus on what needs to be delivered over a small period of time and apply all their energy to that set of tasks.

Becoming Agile Changes the Way You Do Business

Many companies have found that becoming more Agile truly does change the way you do business. Here are some companies that attribute much of their success to the Agile way they work:

  • Google credits their success in the fast-paced delivery of timely updates to an Agile-based mindset for all applications. Their beta testing approach is structured around Agile methodology; they build their MVP applications, release them to beta testers early and often. From there, they are able to incorporate the voice of the customer and change requirements and development approaches based on constant feedback from users.

  • Spotify credits their whole business approach to the successful creation of an Agile environment and aligning their organizational structure accordingly. Spotify organizes their employees into specific “squads.” Each squad is responsible for building and maintaining a specific function of the Spotify app. By taking this approach, Spotify can assign each squad their respective tasks without running into the fear that one bad commitment will break the entire platform.

  • 3M was looking to lower its software product development cost while increasing the quantity of net new applications, and that required a new way of working. The organization opted to shift to Agile’s scrum methodology for software development. Moving from Waterfall to scrum required many changes, including the creation of self-organized teams, but the payoff was worth it.

Whatever Your Agile Journey, Credera Can Help

All of these companies wanted to decrease time to market, improve innovation, or reduce waste, and they all leveraged an Agile approach to improve the way they do development. If your company is ready to make the leap to an agile way of working and change the way you do business, whether your transformation is full-scale or incremental, you don’t have to go it alone. We here at Credera are ready to help! When it comes to Agile, we believe we have the right resources, processes, frameworks, and people to be a partner who can help your transformation be seamless and successful, no matter what the journey looks like for your organization. Reach out to findoutmore@credera.com to start the process and let us help you on your journey.

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