Sunday, April 13, 2014

Can agile survive in a Waterfall world?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser, last year I joined a Northern Virginia-based IT solutions provider to the Federal Government, to build up their agile division. For months we have been trying to scale Scrum, but are under constant internal and external pressure to change the way we work.  In your opinion, what I'm trying to do, is it even attainable?  Can agile survive in a Waterfall world? ~ Simon P.


Stop right there. Take a step back from the ledge.

First, it will help you to realize that you are not alone. Far from it.  We are ALL living in a Waterfall world. While we are off iteratin’, our company leaders are off Waterfallin’. And even though they are smart, dedicated, wonderful people, they just can’t seem to understand the value of Scrum, or any of the other agile methods.

But there is a solution. There is a way that agile and Waterfall can coexist. And the effects can be beautiful.

Strengthen agile – don’t CHANGE it.

To be able to scale Scrum, you need to strengthen your agile values in two places. The first place to strengthen agile is within your own company. This won’t be easy. I bet if I were to look through all of your departments, not just software engineering, but accounting, marketing and sales, operations, I would find that your CEO, CIO and COO are off living in a Waterfall world. That's one reason Scrum projects can’t scale and why you might feel you're not getting much traction.

The second place to strengthen agile is in your interactions with external forces. By trying to change what you are doing, the Federal Government is actively, but probably un-knowingly, weakening your agile values. And if it’s a struggle between the Federal Government and agile, we all know who is going to win!

Both of these battles are winnable, Simon. Keeping in mind that you are still relatively new to the company, you should not expect victory this year or even next. The issues are just too big. But if you start working on techniques you can use to strengthen agile, you will be able to build a process integration layer to get your agile teams to talk to the business leaders. This will help you win the internal battle. And when you are winning the internal battles, you can persevere in the face of pressure from the client, and win some external battles too.

The CMMI is the perfect tool to help you do that.

By using CMMI as a framework (as opposed to slavishly adhering to practices) you’ll be in a position to work with the Waterfall mindset of both your organization and your client.

How does this happen? Consider:

First, the CMMI provides a framework for your agile teams to talk to the business leaders, helping them understand how well agile methods are working for THEM, and to communicate important information to other stakeholders like middle management, customers, and accounting.

Second, the practices that CMMI makes available to you include those that help bring greater clarity and strength to the Scrum ceremonies themselves (the “Specific Practices” in the CMMI), and those that help strengthen the understanding, adoption, and continuous improvement of the agile values and behaviors (the “Generic Practices” in the CMMI).

For these reasons, and many others, the way to make agile survive and flourish in the Federal Government is to make it stronger. And the way to make agile stronger is with CMMI.

Don't CHANGE it - make it better!

Since you are in Northern Virginia, Simon, you may be interested in a keynote presentation I am giving nearby on the topic of using the CMMI to strengthen agile. I’ll be speaking at the QUEST Conference in Baltimore in April. Check out the details:

WHAT: Keynote presentations
TITLE: Agile Resiliency: How CMMI Will Make Agile Thrive and Survive
WHERE: Quality Engineered Software and Testing (QUEST) Conference: Baltimore, MD
WHEN: April 7-11, 2014
HOW: Register for QUEST

I hope you can make it, Simon. You’re sure to come away with lots of new ideas for helping your Scrum teams survive and thrive the Waterfall world. And that will be a beautiful thing.

Like this blog? Forward to your nearest engineering or software exec!

Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, author, and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations. Jeff has taught thousands of students in CMMI trainings and has received an aggregate satisfaction score of 4.97 out of 5 from his students.

Visit for more information about engineering strategy, performance innovation , software process improvement and running a successful CMMI program.

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