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The Agile Journey

Transitioning from Waterfall to Agile

04/30/2014 by Steven Ziselman

Change is inevitable. The journey from comfortable to new, however, is never easy. The journey from Waterfall to Agile is no less bumpy. Entire fields of study have focused on the concepts of change and cultural transformation, yet dealing with human beings seems to be no easier now than in decades past.

Organizations looking to transform from development practices steeped in Waterfall to Agile can take several approaches to move from point A to B. The big-bang approach, switching to Agile all at once, will certainly send a clear message and quickly expose bottlenecks, contrarians, and skill gaps, but is it any less effective than a more moderate, phased approach?

The key is really not to present Agile as cafeteria-style approach, where adoption efforts can simply include choosing random techniques to adopt under the Agile flag. Let's use Scrum as a specific implementation, for the sake of example. Teams choosing to adopt Agile/Scrum need to understand the roles involved and how they are core to the framework that promises benefits. Similarly, the key ceremonies cannot be overlooked or amended to eliminate all that is fundamentally influential. Daily Scrums and retrospectives, to name just two of the ceremonies, cannot be overlooked or too severely bastardized to accommodate current institutional practices or a general resistance to change. The cultural transformation that is so intertwined and instrumental in achieving the benefits from Agile are driven by the mantra of inspect and adapt. Without close personal communication and interactions among the team members, with a willingness and openness to identify course corrections, Agile will not be successful no matter how it may be legislated within an organization.

Can teams see benefits with something less than "true" Agile? Likely yes, but to call it Agile is a disservice to those who work tirelessly in the Agile field to spread the knowledge. Teams and individuals need to feel empowered to self-organize as well as have the organizational courage to call out practices that do not provide value. The adherence to these key aspects of Agile/Scrum, along with the organizational support to "fail quickly" and adapt, will help smooth out the bumpy journey to Agile.