Agile Practices for Waterfall Teams

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Agile Practices for Waterfall Teams

February 21, 2017

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. Over the following months, we will elaborate more on each practice and how it can be adapted to waterfall teams.

RefineM helps organizations and team transform to Agile and also become more agile. Contact us to learn more about our Agile Transformation services.  

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