Agile Practices for Waterfall Teams

NK Shrivastava, PMP, RMP, ACP, CSP, SPC4 is the Keynote Speaker at PMINEO's 2017 Professional Development Day.  NK has been a recognized Agile PM thought leader for over 10 years.  He is the Founder and CEO of RefineM (, a consulting and coaching firm based St. Louis, MO.  NK will be recognized as one of the contributors and reviewers of the upcoming sixth edition of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). He will be listed in the Final Exposure Draft Review section for his contributions during the production of the draft version of the guide. Being credited as a reviewer in this manner is both a testament to NK's influence in the field of project management and an acknowledgement to his commitment to further the overall body of knowledge as a professional consultant and trainer. 

We thought you might enjoy a preview of his PDD presentation addressing the same topic.

Shrivastava-NKNK is the lead instructor at RefineM and delivers most training courses conducted by RefineM. NK is CEO of RefineM and an experienced and certified Project Management Consultant, Risk Management Professional, and Agile Coach. He is a highly accomplished, strategic, and business savvy consultant with more than 25 years of experience in project management and 10 years of experience in Agile, and has led many successful agile transformations, coaching engagements, and training sessions. He is adept at initiating and maintaining large, complex projects on track while managing and mentoring teams of project managers and spearheading process improvements. 


Agile Practices for Waterfall Teams

Published on LinkedIN By: NK Shrivastava, PMP, RMP, ACP, CSP, SPC4

March 24, 2017


On a waterfall project, the bulk of the value is delivered at the end of the project. On an agile project, value is delivered incrementally through iterative cycles with the highest-value items prioritized, increasing customer satisfaction. Many organizations with traditional, or waterfall, teams struggle to transform to Agile. There could be many reasons such as; (a) they don’t have the support or resources/funding from the senior leadership, or (b) their code/functionality may be so intertwined that delivering in small chunks is not practically possible, or (c) the nature of their projects may require detailed upfront planning and/or one big bang delivery, or (d) the majority of the team members are nearing retirement and they don't want to change, or this, or that. 

The good news is that even if teams cannot fully transform to Agile, practicing Scrum, XP or KANBAN, they still have ample opportunities to improve their agility (satisfying customer through early and continuous delivery, inspecting and adapting on a regular basis, responding to the changes quickly, and more). There are several key Agile practices that waterfall teams can utilize and improve agility without going through the full Agile transformation and staying within the waterfall umbrella.  

AdobeStockTeamLet us talk about a very common practice that Waterfall teams perform. Usually they do "lessons learned" at the end of the project. What is the use of that? Not much. Usually, this remains a boring and merely a documentation exercise to satisfy a project process that someone developed. That is why several teams either don't do it or even if they do it, not many people attend it. How about using "Retrospective" practice of Agile instead? What if a retrospective is done, say every month, for a year long project? Don't change anything just practice "Retrospective" every month, learn from the past month and make changes to improve things in the next month. A Waterfall team can gain tremendous benefit by doing frequent retrospectives since they will be "inspecting and adapting" on a regular basis. It would be great if they can do it 2 times a month or even every week. The beauty is that this practice can easily be implemented with teams still staying within the boundaries of Waterfall. 

There are several other such practices that can help Waterfall teams improve their agility.


What these practices are and how waterfall teams can implement them? 

Many organizations with traditional, or waterfall, teams struggle to transform to Agile. The struggle could happen for many reasons: 

·         They don’t have the support or resources/funding from the senior leadership. 

·         Their code/functionality may be so intertwined that delivering in small chunks is not practically possible. 

·         The nature of their projects may require detailed upfront planning. 

·         There may be other reasons why they can’t transition to Agile. 

The good news is that even if teams cannot fully transform to Agile, they can still improve their agility. Read on to learn more about ten key practices that can be utilized by waterfall teams to improve their agility without going through the full Agile transformation and staying within the waterfall umbrella. 

1.    Maintaining a Backlog or Prioritized List of Requirements – Maintaining a backlog helps teams stay focused on the highest priority activities. Even though in waterfall projects the entire functionality is delivered in one big bang implementation (or in phases for larger projects), staying focused on what is most important is still valuable by enabling better resource utilization and giving stakeholders more control on what gets done first and what gets done later.


2.    Progressive Elaboration – Further refining requirement details as the project progresses helps to enable early and continuous delivery. Again, this practice is hampered in waterfall due to its structure, but many projects can benefit from a phased approach or the use of rolling wave planning.


3.    Smaller Iterations – Iterations between 2-4 weeks enable agile teams to benefit from more constant customer feedback, requirements elaboration, and continuous improvement through retrospectives. On a waterfall project, teams can seek more frequent reviews and touchpoints with the customer to achieve this ideal.


4.    Daily Standups – Daily standups are a 15-minute meeting to share progress, review the daily plan, and identify obstacles to success so barriers can be removed. Daily standups help teams become more self-organized, and even in command-and-control structures, teams can use daily standups to improve their work by identifying show stoppers sooner than later.


5.    Retrospectives – Retrospectives provide an opportunity for teams to Inspect and Adapt so they keep moving on the path of continuous improvements on a regular basis. In retrospectives, teams identify what is going well and what could be better, and determine action items for improvement. Waterfall teams can do retrospectives on regular intervals (say once a month) and make improvements as the project progresses rather than doing Lessons Learned exercise at the end of the project, which may not be very beneficial since the project is already over.


6.    Frequent Review/Demos – Frequent reviews / demos allow the team to better absorb customer feedback and respond to change. In addition, they increase customer satisfaction by giving customers greater involvement in the product. Waterfall teams can set frequent checkpoints with key stakeholders to get the same benefits very similarly to Iteration/Sprint end reviews.


7.    Use of Wireframes for UI Design – Wireframes is a white board exercise to outline the user interface (UI) structure in a simple manner so the team and the customer can brainstorm and develop a common understanding of UI without investing lot of time and resources creating UIs that users may not like. Waterfall teams can utilize wireframes for better UI design without changing their waterfall process.


8.    Visualize Work through Kanban Board(s) – Kanban Boards are visual representations of workflow using a physical or digital board with columns and swimlanes. Waterfall teams can utilize Kanban board to visualize their work, identify and resolve bottlenecks quickly to maintain a smooth workflow.


9.    Limit Work in Progress (WIP) – Teams operating at maximum capacity work slowly, like cars stuck in a traffic jam. By limiting WIP, agile and waterfall teams can develop a sustainable flow that keeps them at optimum productivity levels.


10.  Customer Involvement Throughout the Project – Engaging customers more frequently increases their satisfaction, lets the team stay ahead of changes, and results in more relevant project deliverables. All teams, whether agile or waterfall, should engage the customer regularly. 


Adopting any of these agile practices may not transform a waterfall team to Agile but will greatly improve their agility and help them improve their project delivery outcomes.


Learn more about this topic and hear his engaging presentation by registering for the 2017 PDD to be held at the Holiday Inn - Independence on May 25, 2017.



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