5 Steps to Transition an Organization from Waterfall to Agile


5 Steps to Transition an Organization from Waterfall to Agile

April 4, 2023

According to the Project Management Institute, 71% of organizations are using Agile in some capacity. This is because Agile provides more flexibility and several benefits. Agile project management can make teams more productive, it can improve the customer experience, increase profits, ROE, and the quality of products, among several other benefits. However, making the switch from traditional project management to Agile can be tricky. So, what steps should an organization take to transition from Waterfall to Agile? This article covers five steps to help organizations make this cultural change successfully.  


Step 1: Identify the Change Leaders  

Successful Agile transformation requires an internal change leader. Ideally, this is someone in the company who is knowledgeable about agile and committed to organizational change. An Agile mindset can be taught in a later step, if necessary, but the leader must be committed and willing to fill this role. That leader may then decide to involve an Agile coach for support, especially if the leader does not have experience with Agile or if they are short on time. Bringing in a coach or consultant who has experience with organizational change, comprehensive understanding of Agile, and extensive coaching skills can be very beneficial. Transitioning from Waterfall to Agile is a large investment and having a coach to guide the process can minimize pain and make the change easier for everyone. The key is to have a willing leader who is empowered to lead the transformation.  

Step 2: Perform Discovery & Identify Goals 

Discovery by the Agile leader and/or an Agile coach is a crucial second step. Discovery typically takes no more than two days and includes senior leaders in the organization, change leaders, and anyone else who is a part of the transformation team. The discovery process has two parts. The first is determining what the vision is for the team/organization with Agile, answering why the organization is moving to Agile, what goals they want to set to achieve that vision and creating a high-level roadmap to achieve those goals and the vision. Creating a roadmap helps employees prioritize items to work on now, next, and later without being too specific, which makes this a simple, yet effective resource.  

The second part is co-creating a fit-for-purpose Agile operating model. This means figuring out what process will work best for the organization and the kind of work being done. Then, everyone decides on a model together. An organization should decide on a model based on what will work in their environment. For example, an organization that provides a service may not find Scrum effective because it could be difficult to determine the time needed for their tasks. This model should include what tools are needed and what metrics to use to track progress. 

Step 3: Invest in Agile Education 

Successful Agile implementation takes not only a change in various tools and methods, but also a change in mindset. Training should take place on two to three levels, depending on the size of the organization. The first level is senior leaders (VPs and C-suite executives); the second level is the team level. If the organization is large, it can be helpful to add a management level in the middle for senior managers, directors, etc. Level one should focus on Agile leadership and mindset, answering how is an Agile leader different than a conventional leader? How can they develop an Agile culture? This primes senior leaders to be able to answer questions and understand how to better help their teams transition to Agile. The middle level should look at their role in Agile as a middle manager and how they can help their team and organization. They learn an Agile mindset and how to be a good Agile manager. At the team level the focus is on fundamentals, principles, practices, and methods. The team looks at how to implement the model in step two and how it will help them reach their goals. Each step of the training process should include refinement of the operating model and by the end it should be very clear to team members how this model is going to function to meet their goals and solve their problems. 

Step 4: Setup for Success  

Setting your organization up for success is about both implementing and sustaining the Agile model. Each team may decide that a different process works better for them whether that be Scrum, Kanban, a hybrid model, or something else. Different models or variations of those models may work better for different teams. So, in this step they can begin implementing those processes, identifying what tools will be effective for each team, begin collecting metrics and reporting them to see what progress each team is making. To sustain these new ways of working, Agile champions should be identified. This may be one or two people in each team who are enthusiastic about guiding the team and keeping them on the Agile track, so they don’t fall back to previous ways of working. 

Step 5: Make the Transition  

Step five should include extensive coaching with a focus on the “why” behind everything the team is doing, and to help them realize their potential. Change leaders and upper management should coach and mentor Agile champions in this step to prepare them to sustain Agile ways of working when the change leaders may not be as available moving forward.  

Transitioning an organization from Waterfall to Agile can be a daunting challenge, but by identifying change leaders, conducting discovery, investing in Agile training, implementing a refined operating model, and with extensive coaching, your organization can reap the many benefits of Agile.   

Looking for an experienced Agile coach / consultant to help your organization transition from Waterfall to Agile? Click here to learn more about our Agile Transformation Services. 

Searching for Agile fundamentals training for your team? Check out our Agile Fundamentals public training or contact us to learn more about customizing an Agile Fundamentals course for your team with an experienced RefineM instructor. 


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