WDMP Championship – Agile vs Waterfall

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, I’d like to welcome you all to the World Development Method Paradigm championship match, coming to you live from Snail Arena.

Two boxers. One very large...

Wait 'till I fall on you!

In the red corner: Towering at 9’5″ it is daddy’s favourite – “The Waterfall”. He big, he’s strong. When he starts something – he sees it through. You just got to love his ceremony. How he walks in all-knowing what’s the job on hand. He’s in it to win it. He as an aura of confidence only someone with utter knowledge of lies ahead can have.

He’s been here before. He’s visualised this battle over and over again. In the press conference before the match he promised to take this all the way to the 13th round and win it by points. He’s planning to use the first rounds to gauge his opponent and plan his attack.

In the blue corner: He’s short, he’s quick he’s, aham, agile it is mum’s favourite, the new kid on the block it is Agile. Judging from the pre-match interview he has only a rough idea of what’s going to happen. He knows his opponent but says he’ll take it one round at a time. He too expects this match to go all 13 rounds, but he expects to knock out his tired and old and grumpy opponent.

We can now reveal that Agile has taken a new trainer lately. He’s been tipped to win many matches before but ended up in a total blunder. He lost his way mid-way through the match even though he was making superb progress early on. We hope to bring you more on this later.

Both opponents are ready and we’re just waiting for the referee to start the match.

Round 1

And we’re off. Both opponents eye each other, but Agile starts punching first He is throwing small punches at his rival. I have to say the punches are directed all in one place. Oddly, Agile keeps asking his rival “does that hurt?” every few punches. Is this a new type of trash-talking? Because he can learn from the Italians.

At the same time Waterfall, as he is renowned for, is just walking around Agile seemingly gazing or evaluating him. He just seems content taking the punches while understanding the task ahead. This is what he calls “the planning stage” I just hope for him that he starts dealing some punches before it is too late.


Well, I am not going to list the next thirteen rounds. But the text so far, I hope, provides a good intro to this post. Take a cup of tea now, it is going to be a long one.

The question Is Agile just a hype is quite a relevant one. So I’ll start with just a bit of background.

Agile ain’t new

Nope, everyone who studied computer science was shown two diagrams… one describing a waterfall and another an iterative process, with a shape of a snail

An agile or iterative processs

A waterfall development process

Both of these development process existed since the dawn of man kind, let alone computers. They both represent two very different ways to achieve a goal.

If something’s worth doing – it is worth doing right

Both agile supporters (some call them evangelists) and opposers would agree that you can mess up even the most fool-proof solution. You could break the unbreakable. Definitely in the world of software. So if you are going agile you’d better do it right, otherwise you’d end up no better than you’ve started.

Now, I am not going to go into why is waterfall bad. Because it’s not. People delivered and will deliver working software with it. I know – I did it more than once. It has its problems.

The Agile Revolution

Evolution in a company is something that comes from the top. The company works at evolving and improving. But many times in order to adopt agile you go through a revolution as it comes from the ‘people’. Where a team starts breaking the current process and doing something different. This is referred to, sometimes, as ‘staircase’ agile as teams meet in the staircase not to draw attention to the change they’re going through.

Other teams notice something is working better in that other team. All have issues but somehow that team broke the mould. But how? So they start to do the same. Soon enough a revolution took place and the company re-adjusts its processes to support agile.

When I say soon enough I mean anywhere between immediately and never.

Et tu Brute?

No, I am not an agile evangelist. Though this post may make me appear as if I am. I just know that to me it appears much more natural to software development.  Most, if not all, good developers develop iteratively. No one writes a thousand lines of code and then tests them. No one builds ten different features and then checks if the first one works, let alone compiles. We all write a bit, test, write more etc’.

But if waterfall, or any other way of developing software works for you – do it. If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it is a phrase that holds quite firmly in our business. But I want to tweak it a bit – if it ain’t broke, maybe just refactor it.

See what I’ve done there? I said all good developers and included myself in them. That is the benefit of writing this blog. I can lie as much as I want to.

We all want guarantees

Yes, we all do. Our clients want them, our bosses want them and our employees want them.

So how do you guarantee that you won’t fail with agile? I won’t be presumptuous enough to claim I have the answer. I will say that like anything in life you need to try, try harder and then some more. You need to learn. Learn from your experiences and from other’s. And then do it again and improve. In other words – be agile learning to be agile. Agile is a state of mind, not a full-blown process. It is up to you to fill it with enough process. Not more, and not less. Keep evaluating and learning.

So is Agile a hype?

Yes. If it is a hype. But not just. It has substance. If you provide the substance. You could follow other’s substance – use SCRUM or RUP or anything else. But remember to keep learning.


About snailonabike
I cycle, I run, I live, I have a family, I write code for a living, I have an opinion

One Response to WDMP Championship – Agile vs Waterfall

  1. Rod Tatem says:

    Az, as with most of these things I think it comes down to money.

    The reason why waterfall is most popular is to do with the customer wanting to know exactly what the entire design is and cost of the design before signing up to paying for it – which you can understand.

    It’s quite rare for a customer to agree to pay for you to go off and build a prototype and then to agree to pay for it to be tweaked to be exactly how they’d like it.

    Personally, I think the best projects are ones where both the customer and the provider have a good understanding, are flexible and ‘agile’ within every stage and both agree to build this into the process up front.

    It always looks expensive to review everything and to allow changes following those reviews but the end result will be so much better if this is allowed!!

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