Implementing Agile Methodology Development into a Waterfall Model

Managing complex projects requires careful structuring. Waterfall and Agile are two popular delivery frameworks used to plan and execute projects. The Waterfall model is a more rigid structure where each project phase is completed before moving on to the next, while Agile can be a flexible approach to project management. What Is Waterfall Project Management…

Implementing Agile Methodology Development into a Waterfall Model

Managing complex projects requires careful structuring. Waterfall and Agile are two popular delivery frameworks used to plan and execute projects. The Waterfall model is a more rigid structure where each project phase is completed before moving on to the next, while Agile can be a flexible approach to project management.

What Is Waterfall Project Management

The Waterfall model is a traditional project management model that follows a linear, sequential approach. It involves a well-defined and structured process where the requirements analysis and design phases are completed before implementation and close-out. The project progresses through each phase sequentially, and the output of one phase becomes the input of the next.

Implementing Agile Methodology Development into a Waterfall Model

Benefits Of The Waterfall Model

The benefits of the Waterfall model include:

  1. Predictability – The Waterfall model follows a structured and linear development process, which makes progress relatively predictable. Each phase is completed before moving on to the next, and the final product is well-defined at the project’s outset.
  2. Simplicity – The Waterfall model is straightforward to understand as it follows common sense. The linear progression makes it easy to follow, and the requirements are well-defined at the beginning of the project.
  3. Well-suited for shorter projects that have a clear start and end date, the Waterfall model can assist in the efficient accomplishment of development goals because there is limited time available to gather requirements, design, and develop the product.
  4. Documentation – The Waterfall model is usually well-documented, which makes it easier for compliance, security, and regulatory departments to review and participate.

While the waterfall model may seem outdated in today’s fast-paced business environment, it still has a place in projects requiring a well-defined plan and outcome within a specific time period. It should be noted that risks can arise around tight budget, deadlines, and scope definitions. However, the predictability and structure of the waterfall model give it an advantage in these specific situations.

Limitations Of The Waterfall Model

The waterfall model has some drawbacks including: 

  1. Inflexibility – The rigid and linear nature of the waterfall model makes it challenging to respond to changing internal and external forces. 
  2. Increased Risk – Testing often occurs at the end of the development process. Therefore, errors or problems in something such as code may not be detected until later stages of the project. Markets and ecosystems may have shifted during the project which could make your product irrelevant or less attractive, this will reduce the Business Case.
  3. Lack of Client Involvement – Clients may not be fully aware of what the final product will look like until it is complete, which may lead to dissatisfaction with the final product, and all the bruises that could follow.
  4. Cost and Time overruns – If requirements and designs are not entirely clear at the start of the waterfall development process, it may lead to cost overruns due to changes requested by clients or stakeholders as one progresses.
  5. Slow Progress – Since each phase must be completed before moving on to the next, the project’s progress may seem slower than the Agile framework. 
  6. Awkwardly Timed Team Allocations – Each phase requires different skill-sets. The allocation of people in a “in-out” fashion could lead to longer onboarding lead times. It also takes time for people to get up to speed, causing longer turnaround times as well.

Overall, the Waterfall model is an excellent fit for projects with clear and well-defined time windows, objectives, requirements, and design specifications. However, it may not be the best fit for longer-term initiatives that require more flexibility and adaptability.

What is Agile Methodology Development

Agile frameworks are a flexible and adaptive approach to project delivery that involves iterative, incremental development. It focuses on short-term goals and continuous improvement, allowing for changes or pivots to be made at any point in time. 

Implementing the elements of Agile Methodology Development into a Waterfall Model

Principles of Agile Frameworks

The Agile Frameworks are based on the following twelve principles:

  1. Customer satisfaction through continuous customer inclusion and feedback
  2. Embrace changing requirements even if in the middle of development
  3. Frequent delivery of working product
  4. Collaboration between business stakeholders and developers throughout continuous product progression
  5. Naturally motivates individuals and fosters trust by design.
  6. Face-to-face collaboration among team members and all stakeholders
  7. Working product is the primary measure of success.
  8. Maintain a sustainable pace of work with a balanced workload for the team
  9. Continuous attention to quality, technical excellence, and good design 
  10. Simplicity of design and the removal of waste
  11. Self-organizing teams are best suited to make decisions quickly
  12. Reflect regularly to improve team performance and adjust behaviour as needed.

These principles provide a structured framework focused on delivering value to clients by emphasizing communication, collaboration, and flexibility. 

Benefits of Agile Frameworks

There are many benefits to Agile models, including:

  1. Adaptability – Agile frameworks provide a flexible approach to project delivery, which is ideal when working with complex initiatives that require a more dynamic approach.
  2. Continuous improvement: Agile frameworks allow for continuous improvements during the project lifecycle as honest feedback on every iteration is taken into account.
  3. Collaboration – Agile promotes collaboration between the team and the client. Regular interaction between all stakeholders leads to better results and more trusting relationships.
  4. Transparency – Agile frameworks emphasize transparency throughout the project lifecycle. Visibility into progress and issues makes it easier to identify and address potential concerns.
  5. Faster delivery – Agile frameworks break down large work packages into smaller and more consumable batches that can be delivered quickly, encouraging greater flow and allowing the team to provide customer value faster.
  6. Increased Customer Satisfaction- Because Agile frameworks encourage continuous customer involvement, it ensures that client’s needs are met and final products meet their expectations.
  7. Risk management – Agile frameworks mitigate risk by delivering incrementally, allowing for regular reflection and risk analysis. 
  8. Empowers the team – Agile frameworks empower the team to make decisions. It encourages teamwork and collaboration, leading to better team performance and higher levels of employee engagement.

By employing Agile models, teams can work more efficiently and effectively, delivering products that meet client’s expectations and provide greater value to their business.

Combining Agile and Waterfall

It is possible to combine the Agile and Waterfall models to maximize the benefits of each methodology while minimizing their respective limitations.

How Implementing Agile Methodology Development into a Waterfall Model Works

Reasons For Combining Both Agile and Waterfall

Agile models allow for iterative development, which enables teams to develop the product in stages, ensuring that features are designed and tested before being integrated into the final product. The Waterfall model, on the other hand, provides a structured, easily recognizable and aligned governance ethos that most traditional corporations or government organizations seek to satisfy highly regulated industries.

Instilling an Agile delivery framework into a Waterfall program or project can lead to faster, higher quality product delivery from a more engaged team, while maintaining a leaner governance and reporting structure. 

Implementing a Hybrid Model

Creating a “Wagile” delivery framework is never easy. Clear strategic direction with careful resourcing, planning, and execution with the right skill-set is the key.

Best Practices For Implementing An Agile Delivery Framework

In our opinion, the best way to set up a “Wagile” (Agile-Waterfall) hybrid approach as a project manager is to break the entire initiative down into levels of abstraction. The macro defined requirements being at the top and continuing into the more granular, micro tasks in order to achieve the objectives set by the strategic intent. This is effectively a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

Borrowing a few structural concepts from the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), you can identify and allocate the high-level (macro-defined) strategic themes required to deliver the end goal. You can move these themes from left to right on a Kanban board, using the Waterfall project phases. The product progression can be monitored and reported (ex. Waterfall Gantt Charts) in a more abstract easily understood fashion for executive stakeholders. Essentially, this is the highest level of governance and requires absolute transparency, traceability, and trust that the information is honest and timely.

Moving down a level, you can capture the milestones or objectives required to deliver the items identified and being tracked above. This can be the Program level which connects strategy to execution and ensures ultimate delivery. These milestones should be prioritized based on their dependencies, business value, size, and duration of effort. The Agelists will know that the best way to do this is through a Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) mechanism, which requires collaboration between leadership and ensures all are aligned in the order of work being executed. This prioritized order of work provides the backbone of the governance required at all levels. Additionally, it buffers the Agile delivery teams from the distractions that can occur between stakeholders, providing clear direction to the execution teams.

The lowest, but far from the least important, is where the teams get on with delivering the product. At this level, we firmly believe that the best way to run these teams is by employing an Agile discipline with iterative delivery and regular feedback loops. This will ensure the entire structure remains on track and the product remains relevant throughout development. It is at this point that the two delivery frameworks can clash and cause a great deal of confusion. By this, we’re referring to the practice of Agile teams looking to design, build, and test within the same team and work cycle. This opposes the need for Waterfall to have all requirements signed-off before development can start. The way to avoid the clash is to perform high level analysis and design at the Program level, which would be required to inform the prioritization process anyway. When the work package drops from the Program to the Execution (Team) level, they are able to break them down further and refine requirements (detailed design) during the Backlog Refinement and Sprint Planning ceremonies.

Large (normally listed) traditional corporations, non-profit, and government entities, often have no option but to follow the Waterfall phases. This is because of their need to satisfy regulations and industry norms while simultaneously complying with their Finance Department’s need to have everything defined to the finest detail. They’ll require a rigid project plan and inflexible budget prior to any funds being allocated. Normally, they’ll have an obligation to shareholders and the tax-paying public to show where the money is being spent, what the benefits will be, and when they will materialize. In these cases, there is no alternative but to execute and report according to the Waterfall phases. Here, there are two ways to employ Agile thinking and execution:

  1. Perform each phase of Planning, Designing, Building, and Testing with dedicated skill specific teams using an Agile sprint cadence, ceremonies, and feedback loops to execute on their specific work in a WSJF prioritized fashion.
  2. Once the Design is complete and requirements are signed-off, employ Agile delivery disciplines only for the Build and Test phases of the Project.

This process will, at the very least, encourage smaller prioritized batches being delivered with a higher degree of flow.

Remember that the key to implementing a “Wagile” hybrid model is to be flexible and adaptable in your approach. Monitor progress frequently and adjust your strategy as needed to ensure success.

Other Things To Consider

Train To Level-Set A Common Awareness Of Agile

Another best practice is ensuring that all team members are adequately trained in Agile and, potentially even, Scaled Agile practices with a clear understanding of how and why they should be applied. This might require additional training or hiring team members with Agile expertise who can help guide the process. It is also important to create an environment that fosters trust, communication and collaboration between team members that regularly look up and align to strategic goals. 

Gradually Introduce Techniques

Consider starting small and gradually introducing Agile techniques into the waterfall processes. This might involve incorporating Agile practices into only specific parts of the project, such as product design or quality assurance, to test their effectiveness before scaling up.

How Valstroom Can Help

At Valstroom, we can help you implement an agile-waterfall structure. We are leaders in project management, program management and portfolio management. Valstroom leads entrepreneurial innovation and digital transformation to enable quick, flexible responses to environmental demands. To see how we helped one of our clients develop an understanding of lean and agile practices, read this case study.


Regardless of the fact that it is simply not pure Agile, instilling Agile practices into a Waterfall model will definitely speed up and de-risk your project. It also provides organizations with a potent tool to manage large, complex projects with highly engaged teams of teams.. It does require proactive thought and careful  planning within a supportive organizational culture. The benefits of iterative and incremental development will  lead to a more efficient development process and higher quality products. It is possible, and we have successfully led numerous examples.

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