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Agile or Waterfall

A few days ago, thinking about companies that transition from Waterfall to Agile, it made me wonder about my own work experience.

Before coming to Sweden, 5 years ago, all I knew or worked with was Waterfall. And, back then, I didn’t even know that it had a name, I just thought work is work:

  • top-down management
  • just come to work, do your job and get paid
  • maybe, if one has a good relationship with the management, even get promoted

Even so, I liked my job, I was doing what I liked, I was having fun at work through working and got inspired by colleagues who were better than me. Competition was what made me want to be better. My aim was not to be better, but at least reach them, have their confidence and skills.

So, now, going back to Agile, what is the difference? How did I work in an Agile environment, compared to a Waterfall one?

Agile way of working, as described online, means several things:

  • I would say that it is not really a ”way of working”, as…
  • it is a set of tools, made to divide the work, measure and iterate it
  • under this umbrella, there are Scrum, Kanban, Spotify, SAFe, combinations of 2 or more and even others that have either not been named yet or are just specific to projects or companies

What is the difference between ”divide, measure and iterate” and Waterfall?

  • a more stable product, through each version could be contained, measured and celebrated
  • better/more communication inside the team, at each one’s desk or through meetings (stand-ups, workshops, retrospectives and planning meetings)
  • the entire team sits together (when I worked as a tester, we were separated from the developers)
  • develop and test the game as a team, instead of roles. When working Waterfall, there was a back and forth between us (testers) and developers, until a feature was agreed on by both these sides or, easier, it was removed
  • a visible plan for the next 3 months or more (when I was working Waterfall, we were just working towards the release date, see how much we can do until then, release it and patch it later)
  • iteration is not part of Waterfall (after each sprint (a 1-4 week work period), the Product Owner, together with the team, decide on what to do in the next sprint, based on the plan for the following months, what is left from the previous sprint, as well as the teammates’ availability and desire to work on those features)
  • feelings (they matter in Agile, not so much in Waterfall). In Agile, we want people to be motivated, driven and get the support they need. In Waterfall, we just did our job. If you are not happy, you can find another job.

Does it matter how a team, project or company works? Whether it is Agile or Waterfall? We need to go deeper, this is a question for the leadership of the company, not necessarily its employees. I think that a better question is ”What is the business impact and return of the investment (replace Waterfall with Agile)?”. Again, this is a (top) leadership question.

As a leader, I will try to answer the question. ”Why do I consider myself a leader?” is a question I have asked myself a few months ago and even wrote something about it, some time later. There are other questions that should be considered, along the better question, named above, like:

  • Where is the bussiness right now?
  • Where do we (as a company) want to head towards?
  • Estimates and costs, what do we expect to get if we use Agile, instead of continuing with Waterfall?
  • What are the risks of this change?
  • What do the employees think about this change?

The more I think about it, the more questions I get and the more questions I get, the more complex this change becomes. I can only use my experience for this questions and what helped the transition:

  • the employees (all of them) are on board with this change
  • hire or promote Agile people (Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches)
  • a sync between the Agile people and the leadership
  • support and trust towards the Agile people from the leadership
  • The Agile people have patience and support the team members and the project leadership towards this change
  • celebrate the change and support each other
  • Agile means openness and vulnerability. Some things will work well, some less and other won’t. We try and we find out together. There is no ” me vs you”, ”I say, you follow”, ”just do your work” or ”this is how we work”.
  • We are in this together
  • The heavy use of ”we”, instead of ”me” or ”you”. True story, I had a challenge with using ”we”, when I wanted to celebrate some team mates success. I said ”You did a very good job, congrats!” and the Agile Coach said that ”we did it, together” and I tried to grasp how would I included myself into the equation, as most of the job was done by them, not me. Using ”we” does not mean necessarily mean that all have to be actually included. Instead, it can mean that we are not alone. We celebrate our success together and we think about how to avoid failures, what we can learn from them and what we can do if they happen again. This is ONE BIG REASON why ”we” is better than ”I” or ”you”. Yes, in a competitve environment, you want to be appreciated, you want to feel different, better than others or have some perks others don’t. What about when things go wrong, when you are having difficulties, when you don’t know what to do. Would you ask for help or would you just be you and HOPE that it would turn out ok, maybe pass it to someone else? By the way, ”they” still exist, you can still talk about other teams or projects, a chance for you to learn from them.
  • discussions with the stakeholders (a happy stakeholder can mean a successful project). From experience, if him/her/them try it and give their impressions during product development, this can reduce or eliminate the risk of product failure

So, going way back to the questions, before the better one, the ”Does it matter how a team, project or company works? Whether it is Agile or Waterfall?”, I can write this:

  • as an employee, not really. You would still work as you work, if they (the leadership) want something else or do their own experiments, they can talk to you, you would still work like you work. No matter if Agile or Waterfall, work is still work.
  • as a leader, oh yes, it matters a lot, like crazy a lot. Because the leadership has expectations from the company leaders. So, as a leader, you will have to change how you work or, I would say, hire or rent someone who has experience and learn from that colleague. Also, as a leader, you will have stakeholders, so you would have more discussion with your team. You would become a middle man, between the stakeholders and your team. One of the persistent question is going to be ”How much can we deliver?”.

How would it be if you start or have started a company by working Agile? Well then, half of the battle would not be needed to be fought, you would just need people skilled in working Agile or, if you are (the only) one who has good knowledge, you can promote and support it.

Cosmin Fota

[email protected]

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