Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Waterfall vs. Agile values – and the Process Thunking Layer

Hey, CMMI Appraiser, when our former boss sold the company, we were a highly effective Scrum team. The new company has a traditional Waterfall approach, and management is telling us they want to see Waterfall behaviors like Gantt charts, big sets of requirements and structured activities. They also say, “But we also want to be agile.” How can they have it both ways? ~ Phil C.

Dear Phil,

The problem you are describing happens when leaders and engineers don’t share the same values. To be useful, values must guide behavior, but when values are out of alignment, so are behaviors. Some executives create the process equivalent of a thunking layer, by which they attempt to have it both ways.

What is a process thunking layer?

When Waterfall-oriented senior executives don’t understand what a Scrum team is doing, they have been known to create a layer of behaviors between the two groups. Similar to a custom written thunking layers like we used to write in the 90s so that 16-bit controls could talk with 32-bit controls in software, the process thunking layer is an interface that adds process overhead and more work to project in order for the two sides to communicate. This layer is not  a part of the functionality, but a necessary evil so they can understand the language.

You are probably seeing this in your organization, Phil. You have a corporate layer with Waterfall values, and a Scrum team with agile values. The thunking layer put in place to translate between the two might take the form of someone whose job it is is to provide that translation (darn, THAT'S why we couldn't have that 5th team member?).

For example, agile teams don’t usually have direct project managers, but if the corporate layer is insisting on traditional project data, they will often hire a project manager between the agile and the Waterfall layers. That’s an example of an organizational thunking layer. They would also realize they need a data layer to translate all the extra data the agile team has to produce because management doesn’t understand the values, methods and techniques of the agile team.

The impact of this type of thunking layer is damaging: Not only is the organization incurring unnecessary process debt and wasting time and money, it is also injecting noise into the system. It creates problems with both project data and requirements. Talk about having it both ways...badly!

So it’s not just lost money and time that cause a problem, but defects in the app that result in lots of rework and animosity between the parties.

Good news! There’s a better way.

To bring your Waterfall-oriented management and Scrum teams into alignment, you can use a values-based architecture that links Values, Methods, and Techniques. The organization will then be able to trace a direct link between the company’s values and how work gets done.

Phil, you can (and should) insist that management aligns the values with the methods and techniques of both Waterfall and agile. One way to do this is by applying a concept we call “Agile Resiliency,” a proven strategy for scaling agile by strengthening and reinforcing and tracing agile values, methods, and techniques. Agile Resiliency is about integrating the architectural strengths of the CMMI with your agile approach to help you make agile resilient enough to resist the pressure to change – and even scale and thrive. The Agile Resiliency Framework removes the thunking layer.

By definition, the Agile Resiliency Framework arms you with the tools you need to help leadership be successful. It provides a landscape for creating positive change by defining the roles of management and Scrum teams and guides the behaviors that everyone needs to exhibit. When you know what the right behaviors are, and what that looks like, you can use the Agile Resiliency Framework to strengthen your agile approach and help your senior execs understand what’s happening and why it is valuable from a business standpoint.

Get more information about helping your executive team develop an Agile Resiliency Framework on our September 11, 2014 Webinar: Agile Resiliency: Scaling Agile so that it Thrives & Survives.

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.

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