October 4, 2013 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Agile Project Management
If Waterfall Is a Trip, then Agile Is a Journey
By Chuck Snead
A project is like traveling from coast to coast by car. And few analogies are better suited for demonstrating the ideological differences between Waterfall/Traditional and Agile project management methodologies.
For a Waterfall/Traditional project, the primary concern is getting to the destination (and only that destination) on time and on budget. Therefore, every leg of the trip is planned out in detail, the hotels are booked, the maps are marked, the car prepared, etc., before the trip is commenced. Daily distance traveled is compared against the map to record and verify progress. The amount of money spent each day is compared against the projected budget to ensure the cost is within tolerance, and so on. And the job of the trip organizer is to ensure that both of these metrics stay on track for the course of the trip.
Doesn’t sound like very much fun, and trying to drive cross country adhering to a projected trip plan while dealing with the innumerable issues and deviations bound to occur on such a trip can be very nerve racking, indeed! However, for people who routinely make the trip (such as truck drivers), maximum efficiency through standardization and repeatability may be the preferred strategy.
In comparison, while the destination is certainly important for an Agile project, what is learned on the journey there is significant as well. Therefore, while an Agile project may have fixed budget and time constraints, it is left up to the travelling team to decide day-by-day the best course for getting from point A to point B within the given time and budget; especially important if – as with product development vice manufacturing – this is the first time the team has made the trip.
Treating the venture as a journey instead of a trip allows many things to happen. First, as we all know, a lengthy trip never goes according to plan. Tires go flat, cars break down, roads get closed, detours occur, and many other distractions manifest themselves along the way. Thus, allowing the team to predict and adjust the journey based on current traveling conditions allows for a more realistic overall trip. Second, if the team gets ahead of schedule, or they feel the learning is beneficial to the overall success of the journey, the team may decide to take a detour along the way to view sights and experiences not originally envisioned as a part of the plan. Third, embarking on a journey is much more fun and engaging than following along on a pre-planned trip, which helps to keep team spirits up and improve the result. And, finally, if the team – and journey owner – come to realize that a different destination is preferable than the one originally envisioned, that is a perfectly acceptable outcome as long as the destination meets the spirit (and justifies the cost) of the trip.
This is not to say that a journey will not have important milestones to accomplish along the way, or that the team may alter the destination as they see fit. Even a family vacation will have certain parameters and objectives. However, by placing as much value on the experience gained during the trip as the successful arrival at the destination, a project may very well produce something at least as important as the originally proposed deliverable: an engaged and highly energized team that will be greatly motivated to engage in the next journey!
Chuck Snead is a Project Management Professional (PMP), PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), and Certified Scrum Master (CSM) with over fifteen years of experience managing Waterfall/Traditional and Agile projects, for both the private and public sectors. He also has a Master’s degrees in both Information Technology and Business Administration, and he teaches various IT and project management courses as an adjunct professor. You can read more articles from Chuck on his blog.