Agile-Carolinas Mtg: Waterfall vs Agile – key discussion points

Agile started as a reaction to Waterfall (cf. definition of waterfall in Dr. Royce’s paper).

Perhaps not so much a reaction to Royce’s Waterfall, but to how Waterfall was being played in the wild.

The reaction was expressed many ways, but a simple short explanation is in the Agile Manifesto (4 lines) and the Agile Principles (12 items).


Date: Thursday, July 22, 2021

Time: 5 – 7 pm EDT

Format: Online (Zoom)


In this session, we will have an organized discussion of some key issues.

Here are some key questions:

  • do we always understand agile well? (No)
  • do we always understand waterfall well? (No)
  • is agile in complete contradiction to every idea in waterfall? (Of course, no.)
  • so, how do we talk about and explain the differences between waterfall and agile?
  • have some “agile” people gone too far?  (Yes.) And could they learn by talking through key concepts that some associate with Waterfall?
  • will talking about Waterfall very much lead to people abandoning key concepts in agile and reverting to Waterfall in a bad way? (Yes, there is definitely that risk.)


Here are some key examples we will discuss:

  1. What are some aspects of Waterfall SDLC and/or Project Management we should remember (keep) as we embark on Agile?
  2. Do some senior managers (who we assume have prior experience with Waterfall or Project Management) seem to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”? (When they start “going agile”.
  3. Waterfall has a strong emphasis on leaving sufficient time for requirements gathering.  Does this often get short-changed with “agile”?
  4. Waterfall has a strong emphasis on planning.  Does this often get short-changed with “agile”?  Should we in agile not have at least some idea of the end when we begin?  (Cf Steven Covey)
  5. Often the use of agile leads to the Business side taking no responsibility for “requirements” (or details of the stories).  And then leads to further frustration and lack of progress.  Is this how agile will be more successful?
  6. How do we balance “knowing what we are doing” vs “discovery”?   Are we in agile too much in “discovery” mode when we could easily and quickly “know” and be more effective?
  7. Waterfall (at least as practiced) typically has a notion of “put all projects into flight”.  Agile (when done well) seems to recommend the notion of “each Team should focus on one project at a time”.   Are we not hurting real Agile by continuing to accept that practice of a Team trying to work on multiple projects at the same time?
  8. How do we remember (and use) the good ideas in (good) Waterfall?  How do we leave behind the bad ideas in “waterfall” (as practiced)?  How do we go forward more successfully with (good Agile and not bastardized Agile?
  9. How do we avoid (more) these demons:  low motivation, task-switching, feeling stretched to the limit, wasted effort, undue stress, and inevitable rework?
  10. Can we use some version of the triple-constraint concept (scope, date, budget and quality) to be more successful in Agile?  This can come into play, for example, when senior managers revert to acting as though everything in the portfolio is a priority and should be progressing simultaneously, but then wonder why progress is slow and nobody can tell them when anything will be completed because team members are constantly context switching.
  11. How do we address managers who think that agile-scrum is magic, which by itself will make all problems magically disappear?  And enable the Team to increased productivity “a lot” “just by doing Scrum”.

We may reframe these questions and similar questions before the meeting. (You may make suggestions now.)

But we hope you can imagine a lively discussion.  And that this discussion will HELP YOU as you try to do agile-scrum better and better.

Two challenges:

If you feel we are forgetting Waterfall too much – how do you express your concerns convincingly?

If you feel we are staying too stuck in Waterfall – here at AC, in a relatively safe environment, how would you explain agile more effectively to a person transitioning from a “waterfall” background?

Hone your skills!!!




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