Waterfall is done. Where is the debate now?

It is important to note that waterfall is over.

Dr. Royce defined waterfall in 1970.  See his paper here.

His son, Walker Royce, said that waterfall was over, and said we are on to iterative and incremental now.  He said this before we started calling it agile (before the Agile Manifesto was written).  See his book here.

Long ago, in the 1980’s, the DOD established standards that mandated waterfall.

But since then, and for 10 years now, DOD has gotten rid of those standards, and is trying to learn to become agile.  And the standards now mandate agile.  Although I am not sure that the DOD people and culture are really there yet.

So, what is the problem or the question now?

Well, there is no longer a debate about waterfall vs agile.  That’s over.

Side note: It can be said that agile is waterfall in very small sashimi slices.   OK. But that is not really waterfall redux.

The problem is: we have lots of different agile flavors.  We have scaling.  And we have unprofessional agile.  (There are many other names for it, including Flaccid Scrum, Scrum-Butt, etc, etc.)  I consider the later to be the biggest problem.  It gives “agile” a bad name.  And it is silly and unprofessional.

Now, between good agile and unprofessional agile, there really is no debate.  Well, the debate is “when does it become unprofessional?”  And the answer to that probably depends on both the people and the situation.

Where is the real debate?

I think, right now, it is over a few questions.

  1. What are people?  And how do we best work with them?
  2. How much process is enough, and when does it become too much?
  3. What is the role of the manager and other people outside the team?
  4. How fast can we change an existing org?  Where is the best place to start?  And out how far do we imagine the future?
  5. What is the best kind of team, and what are the most reasonable trade-offs?
  6. Assuming the team needs certain kinds of skills to be “really” successful with agile, what are those skills (or what is that knowledge)?  And then how and when do we get that to them?

Note that question #3 implies that everyone in agile agrees on the value of  a team, and what a “team” really is.  I do not think that is settled…as implied by my questions #1 and #5.

Note: One of the current questions is about scaling.  Especially, how do you have 3+ team work together.  This debate is not going well, in my opinion. Too much emotion and not enough facts.  I feel this debate is covered, to some degree, by my 6 questions.

I am not sure these are the best 6 questions, but they are close.  In my opinion.



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One thought on “Waterfall is done. Where is the debate now?

  1. Rogerio Manso - MGP, PMP

    Hi Joe,
    You always promote good discussions as usual.
    Agile vs Waterfall discussion MAYBE is over IF we scope this discussion to IT projects.
    In my humble opinion, waterfall (as well agile) will be always an option depending the type of project. It’s common to compare waterfall vs agile in a software development context, but there’s not much discussion outside this domain.
    Some researches already demonstrated agile is not for every type of projets, but mainly for software development.

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