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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Are you Waterfall? How passé!

Funny meme about Agile project management

A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

Why do so many organizations rush to use Agile terms and processes when they haven’t analyzed their highest and most appropriate use within their ecosystem? For those unfortunate project managers whose senior leadership heard about Agile once and now believe that it is the wave of the future (whatever that is), they are forced to adopt some of the terms and techniques.

This is called a “hybrid” approach. Like Frankenstein. Or Deadpool. Or the Hulk. Or seedless grapes. Wait, Seedless grapes are actually a very good hybrid! Even if they are being munched on by people who protest Genetically Modified Organisms without getting the irony.

But I digress!

Why do Agile project managers look down at their Waterfall colleagues with such disdain? In a word, jealousy!

It all begins with the PMBOK®, and even that title is offensive to someone who is being Agile. The PMBOK is a Renaissance book in the sense that it contains the accumulated knowledge of the project managers that came before, and it is even in the Sixth Edition. Who needs 756 pages of actual knowledge! Life began yesterday. Or maybe 2005.

There is no equivalent Agile document, just a couple of dated documents and a bunch of hip new terms. No wonder Agile adherents feel a bit intimidated.

If that weren’t enough, the PMBOK even claims that it includes the “Standard for Project Management”! The Standard? What are the Agile adherents looking at when they need guidance? They are hitting the internet and looking for something! Anything!

What about Ethics? The PMBOK views ethics as being so important that they even have a separate document! And not just ethics, but Professional Guidelines that practitioners can be held to. What do the Agilites have? Just some values. And kind of vague values at that. And certainly no Professional guidelines that they can be held accountable to. It must be the wild west over there!

The Agile Core values show how limited the methodology is, for example they value working software over documentation. I suspect all those Agile processes don’t really work that well when you are actually building stuff! That has got to be a career limiter. That is why they focus on and elevate “knowledge projects”!

But not all projects are “knowledge projects”. There is an entire world out there where buildings and bridges are planned and built. There are times when the wings of the airplane must match up exactly to the fuselage, and the locomotive must fit exactly on the track. That requires extensive planning in advance and a detailed and elaborate plan.

Agilites don’t plan like that… They are more about “being agile”, not intensive planning. Planning is so last year!

Finally, they still use the triple constraints! While I personally feel that dropping the triple constraints is a tremendous mistake (see my earlier article at www.projectmanagementforum.net), Waterfall project managers have evolved beyond scope, cost and schedule! The Agilites haven’t. In this one area they are clearly behind the times.

But because they are being Agile, the took the triple constraints and flipped them upside down! Remember the triple constraints chart that looked like the side view of an actual pyramid? They actually turn it upside down and balance it delicately on one of its points. Weird! Who wants to have a foundational chart that looks obviously upside down? No Pharaoh would ever build anything like that! But Agilites don't build things.

The implication of the spinning upside down pyramid are even worse!

A waterfall project manager sits down with the customer and asks what they want. They analyze the work, come up with a schedule and a budget. Everyone agrees, and the project manager follows the plan. Here is a simple example. You want to build a house, so you go to a builder and agree to a floor plan and all the details down to the color of the siding and the location of the power outlets. You determine what it is going to cost and how long it is going to take, then the house is built! No scrum sessions, no servant leadership – just production and predictability!

The Agile model is different. They use the upside down balanced pyramid model!

They ask you how much money and time you have. Then they start working until the time and money are gone! Because they are focused on “value”, you should be a happy customer. Right… Who would want to do that kind of work? You can see why they focus on leadership and meetings. Sticking to a schedule stuff is tough stuff. And old school. And kinda boring…

Even Waterfall’s requirements are boring. They get detailed requirements, decompose them until they understand the work, then develop a schedule and cost. How yesterday! Agilites are customer focused, so they get user stories. Then they group them together into sprints where they track delivered story points. And they never defer requirements. What they can't get to is put in the backlog list where it is groomed. How many Waterfall projects can say nothing got deferred?

Now you know why Agilites take exception to waterfall! Waterfaller’s have knowledge, history and well understood processes! Agilites are on the bleeding edge of project management.

And who wants to be there?


I hope you took the last two posts for what they were - a (hopefully) humorous look at Agile and Waterfall. I plan on getting a little bit more serious and compare and contrast some of the differences between the two models. Finally, I am scheduled to be a guest speaker in several upcoming conferences in the New York and Washington, DC. The first will be on a panel hosted by the Performance Institute discussing emerging trends in Predictive Analytics with colleagues from several prominent consulting firms. If you are this conference, please look me up!


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