Integrating Agile in a Waterfall Practice (Part 1): What Are We Talking About?
(This is the first article in a five-part series on this topic where we will discuss how organizations can approach or refine their Agile delivery methods.)
As project and program managers or PMO leaders, we are always looking for ways to add value to our organizations. For us, that means adopting delivery methods and processes designed for the most efficient and effective means of delivery while ensuring customer satisfaction with the deliverables. By now you have heard the stories of organizations who have incorporated Agile, or completely transformed their delivery organizations to Agile and achieved significant value-driven successes for their customers.
In this five-part series, we’ll discuss what Agile is (and isn’t), better understand why and how you would want to integrate Agile into your project delivery model, considerations for coming up with an Agile integration strategy, and look at some helpful tools you can use as you run your teams with Agile methods.
Project Management Life Cycles Defined
However, before we can explore why and how to integrate Agile into your delivery methods and processes, let’s take the time to understand what some general delivery methodology terms mean. If you were to ask any number of project managers or PMO leaders you will likely find some differences in how each interprets the meanings of life cycles such as “waterfall,” “incremental,” or “iterative.” Let’s start with paraphrasing how the Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition describes these terms:
- Predictive – formalization of the entire project’s scope based upon a clearly defined set of requirements, then providing for cost and schedule baselines which predict what should be done, when it should be done, and for how much to a high degree of accuracy and precision throughout the project life cycle.
- Iterative – project scope is built upon the general assumptions and objectives for the project. With the delivery of that scope broken into individual cost and schedule segments, starting with those clearly defined and estimated with the goal of more clearly defining and delivering the remaining scope in phases until the final product is delivered.
- Incremental – the approach to scope in this method is like iterative in that the initial scope delivered is that portion which can be most clearly defined and estimated. However, the timeframe is fixed with the goal of delivering as much of the project scope as can be, with the goal of adding functionality until the final product is ready for delivery.
Any one of these could be considered “waterfall” even though that term is most often used in context with the predictive life cycle. In any case, the approach is taken so the project is delivered with certainty against an agreed set of requirements and does so with as much information (as to scope, cost, and schedule) as is possible. In doing so, risk and investments are managed closely.
What is Agile?
The fourth life cycle the PMBOK® Guide describes is the Adaptive life cycle. By using the term adaptive, it is primarily referring to adapting to change. In this approach, we understand the need for change and then adopt processes which not only allow for but can also be fine-tuned to rapidly absorb change into the project’s deliverables. The most often used adaptive methodology is called Agile.
In the Agile method of delivery, we employ several techniques to quickly adjust and deliver based on clarifying requirements as we work. Each segment of work is time-boxed, and we want to set the level of resources to be as consistent as practicable for each segment. We put together a cross-functional team including all the needed and representative skill sets (both business and technology) with which we strive to work as closely as possible each day. As soon as a feature is ready for use we ensure it is released to the customer to capitalize on what the project is delivering.
Comparison of Project Management Life Cycles
Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of each of these approaches:
You may have noticed by now in each of these life cycles the common denominator is they all intend to control change. In a predictive life cycle, we expect change to be minimal once we set our plan in motion after clearly articulating the requirements. In iterative and incremental, we are essentially doing the same thing, but just for that portion of the scope we understand with certainty. In Agile, or adaptive, we are controlling change by focusing on absorbing the change rapidly. In every case, we are striving to do the “right thing at the right time in the right way.”
If our goal is doing the “right thing at the right time in the right way,” our focus then is on delivering value to our customer. For example, imagine building a physical structure without a thorough understanding of the requirements. What if the change you find after you’ve completed four out of ten stories of the building creates new specifications which impact the way the foundation is designed? That would certainly generate costly rework resulting in significant cost and schedule impacts, which erodes the value of the approach for our customer.
Likewise, organizations get impatient and frustrated if they are unable to quickly capture market benefits from new technologies or rapid changes in organizational structure and strategies. In those situations, an agile approach is desirable as we deliver the highest value requirements in shorter bursts while continuously adapting to shifting needs and priorities.
So, which of these delivery methods add the most value to your organization? As you may realize by now the answer is dependent on several considerations including organizational, technological, market, and innovation factors. As technology and organizational advancements increase in rapidity, there is a greater need to include Agile methods in the delivery organization as the method which provides the best value in its delivery model.
As we continue to explore this topic in the next blog, we will explore in more detail what we mean by Agile and begin the discussion of how you would integrate it or refine your integration of Agile into your project or enterprise delivery models.
1. Project Management Institute, Agile Practice Guide – First Edition, Project Management Institute Inc., 2017, Table 3-1, Page 18.