Why Agile and Waterfall Approaches Don’t Mix

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Q: Agile vs. waterfall: On complex projects, could there be a hybrid that delivers results and realizes predictable value?

Author Steve Berez responds: We argue in the book that Agile is empirically the best approach to innovation when customer needs (or the best way to meet them) are uncertain. This is true for most software development, for example, as well as for many other customer solutions.

Adopting Agile improves customer experience, shortens time to market, and increases productivity. Plus, Agile team members are happier. On the other hand, a waterfall approach may be more efficient when the complete design of the product being built is known with certainty at the outset.

Agile and waterfall are grounded in contrasting ways of working, and, in our experience, blending the two approaches together for a single project or product rarely yields the best of either approach.

That is not to say that organizations should shift all their innovation to Agile teams overnight. During a period of transition, it is common to have a mix of waterfall and Agile teams running at the same time. There are various techniques for coordinating teams working within these two methods. For example, an Agile team should have a product roadmap to help identify future dependence on waterfall teams. The waterfall teams can then schedule this work. And, in the meantime, the Agile team can proceed with other parts of its backlog until the items requiring the waterfall work are ready to proceed.


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