Nine Signs of Waterfall

even if you do agile, you might still smell them

On my CSM classes there is a module on comparing the two mindsets: agile vs. traditional. That part of the training is there to help the participants to grasp how this 'agile thing' is different to the status quo they might have experienced in traditional project management organizations.


Happily these days I meet more and more people who have never experienced what we call the 'tyranny of waterfall' - big long death-march projects that result in expensive failures and heavy blame.


Still, even if you work in a Scrum team and within a company that values the Agile thinking, the 'smells of waterfall' can be sensed.

Have you heard one of your team members saying: "I'm done" while the story is still in progress and yet to be tested?


Do you have a small group of people who are there to make all key project decisions and then inform the rest of the team?


Do you happen to face integration problems in your projects close to release dates?


Do you remember saying to your Product Owner (or to someone else): "Sorry, but this is not how it is described in the specification. It is a change request"?

If you're inclined to reply 'yes' to any of the questions above, then you should really watch out! The other waterfall smells might be also creeping right behind you, waiting to fight back.

Below is the full list of the nine signs of waterfall, that you as an agile practitioner should be keeping your eyes on all the time:

  1. Belief in magic: “we’re late, but we’ll catch up!”
  2. Command and control culture: manager decides
  3. Opaque project status: unclear until the very late
  4. Contract game: blaming culture and lack of trust
  5. Hand-offs: loss of knowledge, time and responsibility
  6. Silo thinking: “I’m done here”
  7. Late surprises: due to late integration and testing
  8. Change request process: changes are not welcome
  9. Unmet expectations: stakeholders, customers, users

The role of the ScrumMasters is to be guardians to the Agile and Scrum values and principles


These values and principles, if implemented consistently within teams and across an organization, prevent the waterfall behaviours and increase employee engagement, level of self-management, work satisfaction, product and service quality, and hence what's also important - the customer satisfaction.


So, dear ScrumMasters, watch out! If not us, who would spot this out?


Do you know more signs? Please leave a comment.

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Viktor (Monday, 22 June 2015 20:09)

    A very nice summary of what might be the separation between 'doing agile' from 'being agile'. If you're are agile, the signs should not be there!