How to transform from Waterfall to Agile development

Source: Pluralsight

Changing your development process is hard. It can cause production to slow down, create friction amongst employees, and asks difficult questions of your overall process. But just because something has always been done one way doesn’t make that the best way. Development transitions take time but when it comes to moving from waterfall to Agile development, that time is worth the results. 

Agile vs Waterfall: An overview

Waterfall has been around for more than half a century but, when thinking about software, the reason it’s now considered outdated is that it falls short when you’re looking at modern development projects. Waterful is a sequential methodology that is designed for things to happen in a specific top-down order. The software development of today is much more collaborative and iterative, especially in our hybrid work environment. 

Some business representatives may think increased communication takes away from coding time. However, more communication leads to less assumptions and misunderstandings between leaders and the development teams, leading to a better process and product. Additionally, the rise of usage of metrics like DORA, that emphasize shorter sprints and frequent collaboration, make it essential for developers to be able to constantly provide and receive feedback from coworkers and end users. 

The necessity of frequent collaboration limits the need for additional tasks being added during sprints. This reduces tech debt because of daily stand up meetings where teams stay on the same page with their workload and process. 

Avoiding the “Wagile” stage in project management

Transitioning your tech teams from waterfall to Agile takes time. The real danger of the process, however, isn’t the length of the process itself. It’s the potential for getting stuck in the intermittent phase known as Wagile.

It’s possible that organizational leaders might look at past successes they’ve experienced with waterfall and the current successes they’re seeing in the market with Agile and think they can have the best of both worlds with a “hybrid” method. If waterfall is great for repeatable, physical projects and Agile as a roadmap for those innovative, digital ones, why not just use both? If you’re seeking to get the benefits of both processes, the reality is that you’ll end up with none. You’ll get stuck in the inbetween. 

This middle ground is what we call Wagile. The only time your organization should be in the middle ground between waterfall and Agile is while you’re transitioning. You shouldn’t stay there very long or else you risk backsliding entirely to your outdated processes. A habit must be established before it can be improved. It has to be the standard in your life before you can optimize it and make it something more. You must give your teams the proper time to establish Agile and once it’s established, you’ll see improvement.

Approaching Agile vs Waterfall

When transitioning from Waterfall to Agile, you’ll find yourself in a three phase process. 

Phase 1: Understanding that Waterfall is outdated and deciding to transition to Agile. Inexperienced IT leaders and business contributors may assume the change to Agile is as simple as turning on a light switch. That everyone will be working in this new methodology and that things will be better from here on out. This will be the eventual outcome but it’s not instantaneous.

Phase 2: Your teams will quickly understand that the Agile transition takes some time. However, inexperienced individuals will assume everything will slowly improve incrementally, and they will eventually be Agile. We like to call this incline “the path of hope.”

Phase 3: Teams tend to enter phase three just as fast as they entered phase two. When an Agile transition starts, things won’t slowly get better. First, they’ll immediately get worse. If you are experiencing this right now, don’t get frustrated. It happens to nearly every organization.

Some people may resist change. Others may be on-board but lack experience to execute their aspect of the agile process. Changes can’t happen in a vacuum so you’ll likely run into sprint crunches and deadlines, causing teams to revert back to what they know to get the job done. 

These aren’t things to be ashamed of but if you’re not careful, they can create a permanent backslide. This third phase is the most critical and one of three outcomes will occur:

  1. Your leadership abandons the Agile transformation and returns to the waterfall methodology. 
  2. Your leadership realizes you’re in a Wagile state and make the effort to completely let go of the waterfall and Agile hybrid. This will allow/force teams to move to an Agile methodology. 
  3. Your leadership holds onto the flawed idea that a hybrid of waterfall and Agile methodologies is the best path forward. This will inevitably create a low performance environment indefinitely… until one of the other two outcomes occurs or the company goes out of business.

Identifying and resolving Wagile

There are a number of symptoms that can help you identify that your teams are currently stuck in the Wagile stage. Our step by step Agile transformation guide will help you spot these symptoms and resolve them for your entire tech team. Reading this blog is the first step on your path to a more collaborative and dynamic development team. 

Download our full guide to receive step by step guidance on how to complete your Agile transformation, identify the symptoms of the Wagile phase, and discover our nine tips to excel at this critical aspect of modern software development.


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