An Experiment In Scotch

I write to discover what I believe

Is Agile The New Waterfall

I ran across this presentation claiming that agile is the new waterfall, that by following some method of agile dogmatically, you are merely substituting one dogma for another and you have failed to gain any learning or understanding. While this may very well be true in certain cases, it reminds me of the opening line to Anna Karenina: All happy families are alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Many people say that you should take the pieces of agile that work for you, use them and discard the rest. If you’re dealing with a team that is already functional, this works. Teams that are already highly functional can take any process piecemeal and work it out because they are already functional. Teams that are dysfunctional are dysfunctional in hundreds of different ways and allowing these teams to choose what parts of any methodology they implement leads them to reinforce their dysfunctions instead of fixing them.

For teams that are highly dysfunctional, picking and choosing pieces of any methodology will undoubtedly result in failure, not because they chose pieces of waterfall or pieces of Six Sigma or pieces of agile. It will fail because they are already dysfunctional and the best way a methodology can help dysfunctional teams is by applying the entire methodology, sorting out later what pieces do and do not work once understanding has been achieved. We, as proponents of whatever methodology we prefer, do these teams a disservice when we allow them believe that doing pieces that “fit” will lead them to greater function.

Dogmas aren’t created to immediately impart understanding. That only comes wisdom and experience. Music students play all scales over and over, dogmatically. They do that because eventually, that dogmatic approach will lead to higher understanding about their craft. If a music student looks at scales and says “I’m only going to play the C Scale”, they will never gain the ability to understand how knowing all scales makes them a better player. The student must play all scales to gain the most benefit and understanding. In fact, music students should play their weakest scales more in order to improve more. In the same way, I believe applying any methodology in whole to dysfunctional teams has the potential to do the same thing, more quickly than doing it piecemeal.

Methodologies aren’t designed for functional teams. They don’t NEED them. Methodologies are designed for dysfunctional teams, ones that need help not because of their methodology but because of underlying issues with the team or the environment. Taking the pieces “that work for you” from any process results in only focusing on your strengths and avoiding your weaknesses. Do that will never lead to success will never lead to a stronger team, only a more unbalanced team.


  1. Sheik Yerbouti

    April 30, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    I tried to read this, but I got bored and only read a few parts of each paragraph.

  2. I find that people that advise a strict and absolute interpretation of agile are those that are the most inexperienced in it. They lack the skills to know what works and what doesn’t, so they merely follow it dogmatically. It’s all they know how to do. What is your experience with agile that is providing the basis for your assertions?

  3. Scotch Drinker

    May 1, 2009 at 7:32 am

    Sheik: I cater to the ADHD crowd.

    Bob: So if I understand correctly, in your experience, the most inexperienced people in agile tend to dogmatically follow all aspects of a particular flavor of agile. Is that correct? If so, I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences because that’s the opposite of what I’ve seen, both in agile and in general. In my experience, a team new to agile picks and chooses the pieces that fit in their current process, aka dysfunction.

    Plus, I’m not sure you’re really disagreeing with me. People who are the most experienced in agile with the ability to know what works for their teams tend to already be on functioning teams. I feel like that’s just supporting my point.

    Teams that are new to agile need to dogmatically follow it until they gain the experience to pick and choose what pieces work best for them, especially if they don’t have a coach or mentor which is true for probably 95% of them. Advising a dysfunctional team to pick and choose what pieces of agile they think will work is a recipe for disaster exactly because they don’t have the experience to KNOW what works.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.