Waterfall, Agile, And Making The Bed

11 Jun, 2012

The more I work in an Agile development environment as a designer, the more I come to terms with the strengths and weaknesses of both the Waterfall and Agile methods.

unmade bed

Waterfall certainly has it’s appeal to those of us who want to take the time to think through (control) every potential nuance of the software. Clearly, the designs are idealized (perfect in the mind of the design team), but the product and experience are viewed more holistically. Whereas Agile projects tend to be more focused on the individual components/features—sometimes at the cost of the experience overall.

When done right, the Agile methodology allows teams to be more… well, agile. Designers and developers work together to observe, tweak, and tinker in order to iterate the experience. This ability to experiment, to be nimble, making constant improvements to the functionality, is not typically something that can be done in a Waterfall environment.

Where I tend to experience the most friction is when I’m working with software developers who—although trained in Agile—come from a Waterfall background. These developers are used to being done. They’re accustomed to receiving documentation, possibly making some changes collaboratively with the design team, and during the QA phase, but once the code ships, they’re finished. On to the next. To succeed in an Agile environment, this mindset must be eliminated.

Creating software in an Agile environment is like making your bed. You’re never really finished making your bed. Sure, you made your bed this morning before you left for work, but tomorrow morning it will need to be made again. You’ll wash the sheets. Buy one of those ergonomic neck pillows to sleep more comfortably. Maybe you get a new blanket, or swap out the flannel sheets when the weather gets warm. At some point, you’ll even have to buy a new mattress. All of these observations and changes are intended to improve your overall sleep experience, and they’re ongoing.

A developer who has a Waterfall mindset wants to make their bed once—really well. If you’re working in an Agile shop, make sure that your team is willing to routinely strip and remake the bed.

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