27 July 2021

Agile in a traditional waterfall organisation

Written by Graham Joyce

Agile concept with blurred city abstract lights background

Agile delivery methodologies are no longer new. However, for organisations seeking to implement Agile at the enterprise level or within particular teams and departments, the challenges are very current and, at times, can seem insurmountable. This is due in part to the nature of the guidance and training available, which is often the first point of engagement for many. Guidance, training and specialist expertise in any subject area can often be grounded in idealist scenarios, with organisations fully embracing the Agile mindset from top to bottom, with a client base and stakeholder community hungry to provide the fast iterative feedback on products – upon which Agile Delivery relies. For those working in organisations that are more than ten years old, this can all seem a bit ‘other worldly’. I’m sure it works within a tech start-up, but can it really work here?

In reality, of course, the canvas is never blank. We are likely dealing with a Business Change or Transformation (another one!) and more than likely not from a steady-state. We will have legacy processes, clients, staff, tools and cultural habits, most likely matured over many years of Traditional or Waterfall delivery approaches and governance models. The good news is that Agile, both as a mindset and as a formal methodology, is an excellent way to confront these challenges.

Although grounded in the technology and software industries, Agile approaches are equally applicable to more traditional organisations. Like any methodology, including Waterfall ones, tailoring is fundamental to success. By taking those elements from which you can derive value and perhaps quietly ignoring those that do not, the new sense of urgency and focus will provide a breath of fresh air to almost any enterprise or any scale. Tremendous benefit can be achieved through simply BEING Agile (flexible, time-bound and consistently aligned with customer value) without necessarily DOING Agile (the ceremonies and processes championed by the guidance and accredited training).

By starting now, starting small, and of course, correcting as you go, an organisation’s Traditional/Waterfall legacy does not need to be a barrier to success. You will likely find the blockers quickly and have a suite of approaches to navigate them. As you start to see early benefits, you can use this as a foundation to challenge some of the sacred cows anchored in a Traditional mindset. If you don’t see the early value, perhaps your sacred cows are serving you well, and you are already as Agile as you need to be.

Finally, it is critical to appreciate that your people will ultimately be the determining factor in the success of any change initiative. As Generation Z gains a larger footprint within your workforce, it is interesting to consider what ‘Traditional’ really means to them. Of course, they have been living the Agile mindset from the very outset, so perhaps the canvas is more blank than you think!

Ask Graham Joyce about the benefits of using the agile methodology