The Root Cause of Water-Scrum-Fall


Water-Scrum-Fall is the norm in many organizations today.  Despite the attempts of scrum coaches and consultants, the weeds of waterfall grow back into the agile garden.  What causes this?  This article looks at the root cause for the water-scrum-fall phenomenon and makes a suggestion about how to address it.

The Root Cause

Water-scrum-fall’s reality is not the result of people being unwilling to adopt scrum.  It’s not the result of a lack of passion for agile processes and practices.  Nor is it caused by a lack of executive support.  The cause?

Capital budgeting

In companies that produce software for internal use water-scrum-fall finds it’s greatest adoption.  Internally used software is strictly accounted for by the regulations in SOP98-1 and this financial machinery is what guides the need to plan up front.

Capital projects are investments.  To determine an investment’s return you need to know the estimated initial cost, and estimated revenue ( or savings ) the project will create.  These things are estimated up front so that a decision can be made on whether or not to pursue the investment.  The up-front nature of capital budgeting compliments waterfall and BDUF. It is a core financial business process guided and regulated by FASB.  Think about that for a moment…and then read on.

Scrum practitioners run up against a wall with capital budgeting.  It doesn’t fit their operational practice for developing software.  Under scrum….we shouldn’t be designing, estimating and crafting the project up front.  Instead we should approach it incrementally.  The problem with this? It ignores how enterprise software development projects ( capital investments  ) are funded.  The result is that everyone compromises and innovates.  Water-Scrum-Fall is the child of this compromise.

The Challenge

Scrum and other agile practices pose a challenge to enterprise software development efforts and the capital budgeting process.  Indirectly they say “Why are we funding this as a capital investment?  It’s not.  It’s an ongoing operational cost and should be accounted for that way.  If we don’t plan on funding this software development effort for the long haul…then why are we doing it?”  Funding a software development effort as an operational expense, as is done within software companies, does fit the scrum operational practice better.  But again…the difference between a software development effort being labeled CAPEX or OPEX is guided by FASB.  It’s not up to the company.

How Do We Fix Water-Scrum-Fall?

I don’t think there’s a silver bullet here.  But in my last article, Is There a Better Way to Estimate Capital Projects? , I threw out a suggestion for how to estimate a capital investment using tolerances.  This bypasses the need for an up-front detailed analysis of what the the LOE ( Level of Effort ) would be for the project, but still gets the business what it needs: an initial funding point and resulting NPV that augments decision making.


So water-scrum-fall is a pragmatic reaction by agilists and IT professionals to work with the business and its financial processes.  Did the originators of scrum not understand the capital budgeting process?  Were they oblivious to the financial architecture of the businesses around them?  Maybe…but to their credit; they weren’t trying to address this.  Their focus was on how to do software in an adaptive fashion so that it more organically addressed the operational realities of manifesting a complex vision.

Stoos – Some Thoughts

Much of what has been written about Stoos is nebulous.  For those of us looking to latch onto something concrete….we’re left befuddled.  Rather than a deliberate bullet list of actions; the Stoos group posted a wishy-washy communiqué that seems more like a summary of their meeting and a regurgitation of their personal feelings and war stories.

So what’s the point?  Is there one?

References to the agile manifesto abound with Stoos.  And like the agile group….they were meaningfully vague.  In this lap dance of ideas it appears their point was just to get us all thinking again about how organizations work.   Fair enough.  Things start with questions and wonder-ings.  Nothing wrong with that.

Perhaps the only shrivel of ideological meat that provided some sustenance for us definitive types was this from Jurgen Appelo:

For me the most concrete outcome is the core idea of seeing organizations as “learning networks of diverse individuals creating value”

This gets the wheels rolling a bit.  Maybe he’s onto something here.  Perhaps, with social media, mobility, and agile thinking its time for a new type of organization.  A virtual one where human ingenuity is rewarded handsomely  and it’s not about doing a job….but seeking, driving and growing value and profiting from it.  Meaningfully.

Those of us who work on the virtual cube-o-sphere today know that it’s not about showing up 9-5 and pleasing a boss.  If you’re a freelancer, 1099, contractor, inventor or entrepreneur you know it’s about finding your passion, networking and growing your value/brand.  Traditional organizations define what you should do for a salary.  Perhaps in the new Stoosian organization you define what you’ll do and share in the value it creates for the organization.  We dump stability for growth and a life’s mission.

The “A” Word

Over commercialized, overused and mis-applied the word “agile” has become synonymous with being better, faster, and cheaper.  The hype around the “A” word is nonsense.  Most of the software vendors, consultants, and marketers plastering agile on everything are simply capitalizing on the popularity of some ideas that aren’t even correlated with what their selling.

Agility is not a panacea. It’s not a software tool.  It’s not a product you can buy.  To my opinion it was a state of mind, a way of approaching problem solving.

It’s now lost that meaning.  It’s original luster is awash in a sea of hyperbole and advertising.  When someone says they’re agile or they practice agility….I no longer know what they mean.  It might be that they read a book, they use some self-professed agile software tools, they have a poker planning card set, they bought a CSM certification, or they recently attended some conference on agile software development.   Stop Agilizing Everything was written in protest to the fluff, and monetization of agility.

Will it stop?  I doubt it.

Instead it will kill itself through abuse. Eventually it will become the worn fad of the day.  In disdain and disgust we’ll turn our backs on the “A” word and seek something with more substance.

The Coming Breakup of Scrum


Scrum, probably the most widely adopted agile software development practice, is cracking up.  The signs are evident and this article discusses the trend and what it means for agilists today.  If you practice scrum, are thinking of using it, or have used it in the past you’ll find interest in this article.

Oh yeah?  Prove it!!!

It’s a truism that rapid growth and popularity put a strain on organizations, movements, ideas…….or ,more fundamentally, the people comprising these very human vehicles.  As an idea ferments and then exponentially amplifies to encompass a wider politic of devotees and admirers there is the impending fog of dissent with the origin, the core.  From this comes splintering, debate and eventually more novelty and innovation.

Fine, but what about direct evidence for the rift in scrum?

03/05/2009 – Scrum But…Test.  Jeff Sutherland.

09/15/2009 – Ken Schwaber resigns from Scrum Alliance

06/15/2010 – Ken Schwaber establishes

04/20/2011 – The CSM certification wars

07/26/2011 – Forrester calls Water-Scrum-Fall the norm

08/02/2011 – Bloggers Suggesting Scrum Variations

10/06/2011 – Scrum Extensions announced – allowing modification to basic scrum.

As the agile movement hybridizes and evolves scrum is feeling the brunt of this pain. The forces of hybridization are ripping scrum into distinct camps whose views are aligned with their respective organizational needs.  Who are these camps and what will ultimately happen to scrum as this spider web is tugged from it’s anchors?

The Camps

The Enterprise – Most enterprises don’t build software as a core part of their operations.  Projects here are usually centered on delivering some base set of functionality for a fairly fixed price.  Stability and low cost of operation are prized.  The organization doesn’t usually see this as an investment…but as an expense to be managed and tracked.  The pressures enterprise software development groups face at the capital planning phase and the release phase have sculpted the Water-Scrum-Fall that’s prevalent.

The Software Companies –  In contrast to the enterprise, software companies build software as their core product.  It *IS* their operation.  Software companies see their products as an investment and it’s life cycle is fairly unlimited, or at least tied to the life-cycle of the company.  Pure scrum works in  these companies fairly well.  There’s usually still pressure to reduce the number of production releases but on the planning side managing features in a backlog fashion is workable, even preferable when you have a product that has a potentially unlimited lifespan.

The Startups – Startups face a different set of pressures from their venture capital investors.  The need to rapidly introduce new features and create value to customers and investors by gaining a competitive advantage quickly is paramount.  Startups are tearing scrum towards the Lean Startup methodology professed by Eric Ries.   The focus here is continuous delivery of new software: stability be damned.  Usually these startups don’t build software that’s mission critical or life threatening.

The Purist Methodologists – Among these are the various scrum trainers, agile coaches and general agile philosophers who profess a puritanical approach to scrum.  Their insistence on a dogmatic approach to scrum are rooted less in practice and more in theory.

What are they doing to scrum…where are they taking it?

These groups are doing what’s natural.  They’re catering scrum to their practice and profession of application life-cycle management ( ALM ).  But this tug of war for scrum’s future is changing it.  Instead of a simple, one-size fits all methodology, it’s becoming a framework of patterns & practices.

You can see this through the introduction of scrum extensions, which is a natural way of recognizing the various groups that have adopted scrum in some fashion.  With scrum becoming an umbrella concept, it’s importance is melting away.  It will devolve and eventually disappear. Instead the extensions, much like design patterns in software development, become the value added pieces that development teams will use and rally around.  Each camp will likely pool certain extensions, patterns as their ‘methodology’.   In time, these flavors of scrum will tear it completely apart.


Scrum’s popularity will likely be its undoing.  But is this something to be avoided or stopped?  Hardly.  Hybridization and evolution of scrum is a natural process that is both pragmatic and necessary.  Jeff and Ken’s baby is growing up and leaving the agile house.  The original agile manifesto signatories accomplished their mission; they broke the one size fits all ALM world down.  The new heterogeneous landscape of practices and patterns, while less clean than the bi-polar world of agile vs waterfall, is primed with greater opportunity for innovation.

Two Agiles

We all know this.  But it sometimes gets lost in the haze of execution.  There are two agiles.  The first is the philosophy, the belief system which is represented by the agile manifesto.  The second is the agile practices that were an outgrowth of the agile manifesto: scrum, xp, crystal, dsdm, etc.  Commonly, when people talk about agile…they’re talking about one of the practices that were an outgrowth of the manifesto.

What should be clear, but often isn’t, is that the agile manifesto doesn’t mandate the use of scrum, xp, waterfall, or one of the others.  In  fact, by blindly adopting one of these without considering the context of your project…you’re being anti-agile.

Stop Agilizing Everything


Agile universities, certifications, agile consulting, traveling coaches, planning poker card sets, agile software products, agile modeling, agile arm bands, countless agile books and the crazed cycle of agile conferences.


The buzz cycle is in overdrive and it’s electrocuted the business world with the promise of faster, better and cheaper.  This article is a plea to stop.  Stop all the hype, the opportunistic profiting, and the marketing.

Good Intentions Turned Ugly

What started out as a challenge to the software development community to think outside the box ( invent, create ), abandon a one size fits all model to approaching software development and execute your projects in a pragmatic fashion that takes account of the context you’re working in….has turned into a marketing machine of horrible dimensions.

There was a time when people talked agile and you knew they were on the vanguard; trying to solve the real problems.  They cared.  They were passionate, deliberate, and informed.  Now, when you hear a colleague professing agile…they’re most likely drinking the kool-aid poured by the snake-oil agile coach from Denver or San Fran.  The formulaic response to the core problems is all too familiar and draining:

  • Poor Requirements – You need user stories and iterations.
  • Defects in Software – Continuous integration and TDD will solve that.
  • Bad estimation – Use planning poker.  It always works.
  • Change Management – Break it up into iterations and embrace the changes given in iteration reviews.

I’m not knocking these techniques.  Many are novel inventions that do have their place in SD/AD.  But instead of being offered as potential options, patterns, techniques to solving a problem among many other potential solutions; they have become a sales pitch by the opportunist preying on desperate CIOs.  Buyer beware.  Bubbles pop and my gut says the needle to prick this balloon is getting very sharp and close.

Let’s stop agilizing everything. Good ideas, tools, and techniques don’t need the word ‘agile’ pre or post fixed to be worthwhile.

Come Back Home

So turn off the scrum-o-matic. Wipe the agile makeup from your face, and put the kanban sequin dress away. There are still problems to solve.  We haven’t unraveled this thing called software development.  It’s devilishly vexing and we need good minds focused on it.  Become neo-software-amish, come back home to the forest of software trolls and invent/create again.

Software Feature Dilution


Business analysts, requirements managers, and project managers will find the greatest interest in this article.

Software Product Planning

It occurred to me last week during one of our weekly iteration planning sessions that one of the most esoteric methods around product planning is deciding which requirements to turn into software features.  The more rigorous approaches look at the cost of the feature, the potential impact to ROI ( assuming there is one ), and the demand.

What’s wrong with this approach is that it considers the features and resulting requirements in isolation from one another.  By not considering how each new feature affects the existing product as a whole teams can and do end up with products in which the original feature set, that made the software successful, become diluted.  Those of you who’ve worked with me know my favorite example is CA’s Remedy product, but I think one could find other examples: the Microsoft Office suite of products may be in this camp.

Feature Dilution:  A Formula

So how would one go about constructing a measurement for feature dilution?  First – some assumptions:

  • You know or can retrieve the cost associated with the original marketable software release.
  • You know or can calculate the benefit ( ROI ) for the original marketable software release.
  • You have an estimated cost and benefit associated with any potential new software features.

Ok, so knowing these let’s construct a model for software feature dilution.  We’ll adapt a formula from the world of finance.

V – Value of sofware after Feature dilution =

((O x OP) +(N x (∑ IP1, IP2….IPn))) / (O + N)


O = original number of features

OP = Current NPV of product ( could use ROI too )

N = number of new features to be added

IP1, IP2, IPn = NPV of each new feature.

If you run this formula through some examples in time what you’ll find is that as a product matures new features need to continually generate greater returns to justify value to the original product and ultimately diluting the existing feature set.

This is exactly what should happen if we want to avoid the fate of an overly complex and unmanageable software product.  Just like stock market share dilution the product management team needs to justify that further feature dilution will grow the value of the product in terms of existing functionality…..not just that it will add to revenue.


Simplicity in software design has always been something great software architects knew yielded great products.  With this formula I hope I have provided at least a start to measuring simplicity in software.

I’m Skeptical on Agile – Sell Me


This article will address a common reaction to those presented with the possibility of adopting agile in their enterprise: skepticism.  CIOs, application development managers, directors, and senior architects will glean the greatest insight from this but development professionals and project managers will find interest too.

On Being Skeptical

As a software professional your skepticism is not necessarily misplaced. There are plenty of agile coaches in the market today professing to deliver faster, better, and cheaper on a regular basis.  Their message is honey in the ears of the right executive.  It becomes even sweeter when you consider the economic climate that many businesses are facing today.  There is opportunism here and it would be well advised to vet any agile coach.

How do I know an agile coach is worth the money?

I’ve devised a simple matrix ( below ) to help guide one in validating an agile coach.

Weight Coach 1 Coach 2 Coach 3 Coach 1 Score Coach 2 Score Coach 3 Score
Number of Projects Managed 3 2 17 3 6 51 9
Years of experience in SD/AD 2 5 24 7 10 48 14
Highest Budget Management Experience ( 1 = true, 0 = false ) 1 1 1 0 1 1 0
Number of References Validated 3 3 8 1 9 24 3
CSM Certification ( 1 = true , 0 = false ) 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
PMP Certification ( 1 = true , 0 = false ) 1 0 1 1 0 1 1

27 126 28

So let’s talk through this matrix a bit.  First, I give pretty heavy weighting to experience here.  In truth we’re not just looking for an agile coach we’re looking for someone with the battle scars of being in the AD/SD world and knowing when and where agile works vs more predictive methods.

We also want to know that they’ve actually implemented agile methods in other places hence the need for validating references.  The key word here is “implemented”.  There are plenty of folks who can regurgitate the agile manifesto and paraphrase the thinking of leading agile theorists, but agile coaches should show a track record of making it happen.

Budgetary management experience, in my opinion, is essential.  If they haven’t managed the dollars/euros/yen around a capital project ( or operating costs ) then they may have a very misguided notion of why projects succeed or fail.   The CSM or PMP who was merely accountable for a timeline with only a misty concept of how it related to money is ill-equipped to profess a transformation of your SDLC process.  Why?  Agile techniques profess delivering software in iterative cycles ( every 2 weeks ).  If some level of requirements aren’t complete by the end of each iteration you have two options on a fixed bid capital effort:

  • Don’t do that functionality.
  • Postpone it until you do have the capital available.

This sounds fine in theory, but the truth is that every system has some minimal set of requirements that must be completed for the software to be functionally usable.  If the money runs about before the agile projects succeeds in delivering this minimal functionality then your project will be seen as a failure.

Certifications show learning of theory.  I weight them low, but still think its practical to have these ( Certified Scrum Master and Project Management Professional ) if an agile coach is selling himself as a professional in software development delivery.  They should understand and know agile as well as more traditional management concepts and techniques.

Lastly, you should realize that agile adoption is not just a function of the agile coach.  The organization needs to be willing and able to accept the changes agility will introduce.

But my current process works, so why should I switch to agile?

If you have a working process and there is no immediate need to push you to agile then you should take the time to map out a strategy for your development shop.  Agile can be beneficial and Ryan Martens at RallySoft does a decent job of articulating when agile methods can benefit a development project.  His rendition of the Uncertainty vs Complexity diagram proposed in Stand Back and Deliver gives an AD manager a basic tool for plotting his/her projects along these two broad metrics.


What are the benefits if agile is applied to the right type of projects?

Better Risk Mitigation – Agile methods emphasize iterative delivery of software.  A standard cadence and check point to the project sponsors allows for defects, requirements misunderstanding, and general issues surrounding the effort to be mitigated on a timely basis.  Couple this with a daily stand up meeting where team members determine how to resolve issues and coordinate work and risks to the development effort are generally better managed.

Testing starts earlier – Agile development emphasizes vertically slicing your application and developing functionality incrementally.  This is a technical challenge, but assuming the development team can tier the system architecture this way, then your testers can usually start functional testing much earlier in the development cycle.

Increased Sponsor Satisfaction – Project sponsors are involved routinely through agile.  The developers have a direct line to the customers.  This continuous feedback loop usually leads to better communication and understanding between the team and customer.

Stronger Team Accountability – It takes time, but as the team culture shifts from command and control to a collaborative effort where developers take responsibility, collectively, for their work; the team begins to see how their efforts help/hinder the project.   An adjunct to this is an increased sense of pride in their work and kinship with each other.

What do I need to watch out for when adopting agile?

Cultural Shift – This can’t be under weighted.  Agile places greater emphasis on the team managing itself and its day to day activities. Subtly, agile preaches two things:

1. Development team and customer working together.  Meaning other managers and IT leadership have a de-emphasized role.  Your risking attrition by some of your better players if you ignore this.  Proper coaching and preparation for this change and its effect on roles and responsibilities is essential.

2. Team stepping up and coordinating activities among it’s members.  This is normally done by a PM or Dev manager or even a senior technical leader.  Some methodologies, like Scrum, emphasize a new role ( scrum master ) to take on the facilitation aspects.  For developers unaccustomed or uncomfortable with organizing and planning this may be difficult.

“Documentation is not needed”  – You may hear this from some agile coaches and theorists.  The original agile manifesto emphasizes working code over documentation, but as a development professional you’ll need to decide if this really makes sense  for your project.   Some of us have regulatory and legal reasons for documentation.

Dogmatic Views – I wrote about some of this in Bad Attitudes of Agile, but some team members will see agile as a very strict set of practices and may twist the theories and methodologies to suit their own ends.  By its very description agile is meant to be a flexible approach to software and application development not a rigid set of rules that cannot be altered.  There are the pragmatic agilists and then there are the agile zealots.  Watch out for the latter.


Benefits can accrue from agile methods.  These benefits, for the right projects, should result in better quality, reduced cost and schedule variance associated with requirements misunderstanding and defect management, and a more complimentary relationship with your customers.  As mentioned earlier skepticism is not misplaced, but by looking for an opportune experimental project to introduce agile a development manager can assess its applicability for his/her shop.