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Use Waterfall to be agile

May 26, 2016

I'm sure you've heard of Waterfall, ever heard of Water-Scrum-Fall? Ever heard someone in a product development group tell you “they use a hybrid-agile approach”? There’s a million ways people continue using a traditional, phase gated, software development lifecycle approach and marry it with an agile framework or methodology. They might put familiar labels on key meetings or blocks of time to get some of the benefits they learned in an agile class. The might use the word ‘Sprint’ to describe a chunk of time when some type of work happens or use 'daily standups' as a way to keep the project manager up-to-date on the work done the day before.

I’m not writing to tell you that you're bad, evil,  doing it wrong, or the agile gods are going to strike you down. I am going to write about how to be mostly-successfully using a phase-gated approach and still be agile. Yeah, sounds kinda crazy, right?

Here's how to do it:


  • At the senior leadership level, allow no project to be longer than one-month of work including design, developing, testing, and whatever else you need to consider your one-month project complete. This reduces the risk of building the wrong thing

  • Get funding only for the one-month project, a small bet reduces financial risk.

  • At a portfolio level, ensure the most important one-month projects are done first and aggressively limit how many one-month projects you have going on at the same time across all your small project teams. This will maximize your spend on the highest-value initiatives

  • Ensure the entire project team sits really close together for the one-month project. Ideally they all sit in a conference room together with laptops. This is where their Waterfall development would take place. This helps remove the communication waste of excessive emails, conference calls, etc.. and the cost of delays associated with typical corporate communication

  • Your project team should only be working on one project, which your portfolio management team has already set to be a number one priority for the company. This reduces context switch waste people experience when attempting to do more than one thing at the same time.

  • Give the team full autonomy to make decisions about how to work more effectively together to get the one-month project done. this reduces the need for your management teams to be burdened with tracking and controlling the system.

  • Keep the project teams together for as long as makes sense. People often work better together after they get to know each other and have gelled


There you have it. you can be more agile and still use Waterfall. Will you do it?


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