Moving from Waterfall to Agile is a change itself, known as Agile transformation, which can result in a high level of resistance. Employees and stakeholders across the whole organisation not only must embrace a new culture, they have to adopt new tools, skills, behaviours and practices.

Before going to the role of Change Management when moving from Waterfall to Agile, we should do a short recap to understand the main differences and the pros and cons of these two approaches.

What’s the difference between Agile and Waterfall?

What is Waterfall?

Waterfall is the traditional and linear approach to development and project management, where the next phase begins only after the previous phase has been completed.
In the Waterfall method, planning and designing are part of a straightforward process that allows the teams involved to know in advance what the project will produce.
On the other hand, this same aspect can be hard for customers to understand, as they only have a list of features and requirements to visualise what their project will be. The customer will only see the result as soon as it’s almost finished, and there may be changes from the initial requirements.

What is Agile?

Agile follows an iterative approach and involves team-based activities, face-to-face communication and a fast pace.
Tasks and schedules are replaced by time boxes which are conventionally called sprints. Each sprint has a defined timeframe and a list of deliverables prioritised by business value. At the end of each sprint, the project team and the customer review the work done, to then go on with the following sprints.

The high customer involvement of Agile can be a strong advantage in terms of project ownership, but on the other hand it may be a problem for customers who don’t want to be involved. Plus, due to its iterative nature, the full scope of the project cannot be determined upfront, resulting to a possibly more frequent refactoring.

Why Agile?

According to Prosci®’s Change Management and Agile Report, there are three organisational motivations for the transition:

  1. Increasing the speed of delivery of a higher quality product and to ensure customer centricity in a competitive and changing market
  2. Ensuring client satisfaction and continuous engagement to address her/his business needs throughout the process
  3. Optimising efficiency and flexibility for a faster benefit realisation and customer involvement.

The role of Change Management

Transitioning to Agile is a culture change, an organization-level change that has to be managed properly. Prosci® reports that «the more effectively the move to Agile was managed, the more effective the organisation was when using Agile approaches on its projects».

In an Agile vs Waterfall perspective, not only Change Management needs to adapt to the new approach, but the new methodology requires an increased Change Management involvement.
While transitioning to Agile, Change Management needs to follow the same iterative structure, with the same activities performed at each sprint.
In our experience, we believe building an Enterprise Change Management capability within your organisation is the best way to support the transition and help your company maintain the Agile methodology in the long term.

Supporting the transition

Like in any Change initiative, practitioners will encounter resistance to the Agile approach or obstacles like maintenance of waterfall practices or a lack of executive sponsorship, but they will also find there are some contributors to a successful transition. These change-positive factors can be found in:
Strong executive sponsorship, who demonstrate adoption and usage and explain the reasons for moving to Agile
Communicating effectively and in a timely manner, balancing the amount of communication provided to impacted groups
Formal training in Agile to ensure adoption and usage throughout the organisation
– The presence of Agile experts in the effort that will add credibility to the presentation of the approach to impacted team members

How long does the transition to Agile take?

There are no fixed times, it all depends on the uniqueness of your organisation and your Change Management capability.
In Prosci®’s research participants reported an average time of 1-2 years (41% up to 1 year, 23% 1 to 2 years), while a minority (9%) reported that it took over 2 years for transitioning. Another 27% was unsure or the transition was ongoing. In our experience this can sometimes be accelerated with good consulting support.

The majority shifted from Waterfall to Agile relatively quickly because of the circumstances at the time of transitioning: they either needed to end a pending project and to get quick buy-in from impacted groups.
Those who reported a 1-to-2-year timespan started applying Agile to individual projects to then roll it out organisation-wide, after some reviews to apply the lessons learned.

Agile vs Waterfall, where are you in the transition?

We all know how hard it can be to promote the adoption of a single change, let alone a whole new culture. In the Agile vs Waterfall debate, Change Management is ready to adapt and give you a body of knowledge and strategies coming from seasoned practitioners in order to deploy a successful transition.

Get more insights in our Big Theme about Agile and Change Management.


Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash