Hybrid is most popular with publicly funded establishments, as they prefer to stick to the classically linear and sequential (traditional Waterfall) approach of software development that they are used to, rather than to try Agile. Usually it’s hard for them to detach from Waterfall because of their long history with it. The longer an organization uses a traditional method like Waterfall, the harder it is to look in the direction of Agile.
What hasn’t helped the embrace of Agile in public organizations, especially in government establishments, is the shackles of project governance, the entangling bureaucracy, and the scepticism within the workforce that usually emanates from their fear of change. These peculiar man-made challenges have all, in a way, become the forces working against the adoption of Agile in most publicly funded organizations. Organizations in the private sector are more open to change because of the need to remain competitive. Even at that, it’s never easy, as change usually is driven from the top down, rather than from the bottom up. The more open-minded an organization is, the faster it can adopt Agile.
Agile is not prescriptive, and therefore it does not prescribe rigid principles and technical practices for organizations wanting to adopt it. The best an Agile coach or consultant can do is to make recommendations for an organization, and those recommendations usually will take into account the company’s values, culture, goals, and so on.
The notion of Agile not being prescriptive has brought about the emergence of a new era for Agile skeptics, especially in the public sector. In most government establishments in New Zealand, including some private organizations, Agile is now partially adopted alongside Waterfall. It’s called the “Agile-Waterfall” Hybrid.
Agile . . . all the way
To be truly Agile is far more than just combining non-Agile and particular Agile frameworks or processes. Tom Reynolds, of The Agile Mindset, believes that “you need to open your mind and free your spirit; you have to wholeheartedly embrace change, inspect and adapt everything you do, and be prepared to try and fail on the way to your goal. You must embrace your teams, trust them completely to get the job done, and create an inclusive environment that fosters trust, courage, and transparency, whilst maintaining a sustainable pace at which they can work. You must fully adopt an Agile mind-set, and only by doing this can you hope to become truly Agile.”
Most organizations dread adopting Agile fully because of the cost and fear of change. To go Agile all the way is to want to take full advantage of Agile, which also indicates that you believe in the Agile Manifesto and are prepared to adopt its principles.
One towering Agile principle is the “Working software is the primary measure of progress” principle. It is on this pretext that a lot of organizations introduce Hybrid to their development teams. There is no discrediting the fact that the Agile-Waterfall Hybrid can help yield customer or business value of some sort, but it can be short of the benefits that can be derived from proper Agile. Some of these benefits, among many others, are:
- Stakeholder engagement
- Early and predictable delivery
- Predictable costs and schedule
- Allowance for change
- Focus on business value
- Focus on customers
- Improved quality
The truth is that if it’s not Agile, it will not become Agile, and you cannot derive the maximum Agile benefits from it. The crux of my assertion is that you can only get the full benefit of Agile when it’s done properly, and that means you have to open your mind and free your spirit, you have to wholeheartedly embrace change, inspect and adapt everything you do, and be prepared to fail, be open to learn from it, and carry on to your end goal.
Unlike a Hybrid framework, the combination of some Agile frameworks (or technical practices from those frameworks, like Lean and Scrum) and Extreme Programming, or even the Kanban approach, is preferred and could yield some positive, long-lasting results.
The other popular reason some organizations give for adopting Hybrid is the challenge of distributed software development across many continents and time zones. Ironically, spotify.com, with its distributed software development, succeeded with Agile by organizing its international team into small clusters that it calls “squads.” It treats those units like individual start-ups. Each squad is fully autonomous and focuses on a specific function within Spotify’s product. That organizational approach is key to quickly developing and delivering software updates without interruption. (Credit for this analysis goes to Jeff Sutherland.)
Although Agile and Waterfall differ drastically, the combination of the two has become popular and, according to Agile skeptics, helps fill in many of the gaps left by each individual method on its own.
The reality now is that Hybrid has become preferred by most organizations. One problem is that while they are using Hybrid, they still erroneously call it Agile.
Now that we know that the “preferred evil” has come to stay, it will suffice to know the reality and work with it, especially for consultants who find themselves in the middle of supposedly Agile projects. Here are a few pointers to help you to know that it’s not Agile.
You find out that:
- Your feature team uses “Agile,” but a component team and product owner use a traditional approach.
- Your planning is done up front and is not emergent.
- Backlog management is assisted by software version release planning features.
- Not every sprint item/task is collectively owned.
- There is task handover/handoff.
- Change is not sweeping but conditional.
The adoption of true Agile development cannot be an Agile-Waterfall Hybrid, even though this still yields results. I recommend the adoption of true and full Agile, and the approach must be predicated on its core values.
In the words of the Manifesto, we value:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
One thing to bear in mind is that Agile is not prescriptive, is not a silver bullet, and does not have all the answers. An Agile-Waterfall Hybrid may yield results, but they are never as optimal as those yielded by using full Agile.