The missing links: Steppingstones from waterfall to agile and back again

To say that organisations can’t afford to be set in their ways is an understatement. To keep doing things the same way as the world evolves at an ever-faster pace is a value proposition that no C-suite leader could possibly sell to their board and shareholders. This is perhaps even more the case when it comes to technology. In their latest Keeping Us Up At Night report KPMG found that close to half of CEOs (44%) are feeling challenged by digital transformation and optimisation and extracting organisational value from it. And, according to the survey, it’s a problem they’re expecting to become even more critical in the next three to five years.

Michael McColl – Principal Consultant

Playing to our strengths

Given this very uncontroversial idea that innovation in technology is a positive, it’s pretty staggering that so many tech projects are bogged down by a fixed and polarised set of rules and tools. On the one hand we have the Gantt charts of the waterfall methodology. Much loved by project managers and their senior stakeholders, they give a clear view of timelines to measure progress by. But once a development team get the green light, they’re more likely to be using an agile approach, with DevOps technology to track epics, features and tasks. This iterative journey doesn’t have the classic waterfall milestones that are familiar and reassuring to project managers and the C-suite they report to.

Not all organisations run with these two methodologies working in parallel. Some will use one or the other, but this two-stream approach is pretty common. And given both methodologies have been around for quite some time, it’s surprising to see how long it’s taken for an effective hybrid solution to emerge. By taking the best of both methodologies, no stakeholder has to compromise. Developers can deliver the best product for the customer (which is, after all, better for the organisation) while leaders can keep an eye on schedules, budgets and other metrics. At least that’s the ideal scenario.

Tools to bridge the gap

Working out the kinks in a hybrid waterfall/agile project journey isn’t easy. It’s tricky to try and match up the defined, linear and altogether more predictable process of waterfall with the collaborative, cyclical and open-ended agile model. The traditional tooling solution for this is a kind of patchwork of spreadsheets, word documents and ticketing apps, which takes a lot of human effort to manage and stay on top of.

As a solution that leans heavily on humans for the detail and to transfer information from one format to another, it’s going to be error prone and inconsistent. Not only that, but the humans using this imperfect system are likely to ‘see’ the project and the value of different types of information in a different light depending on whether they’re looking through a waterfall or agile lens. As solutions go, it’s far from ideal as a way to ensure line of sight for project teams and transparency for senior stakeholders.

Enter a new wunderkind of the hybrid model – TaskTop. Tasktop acts us a Universal Adapter, enabling bi-directional integration with ANY tool (legacy, modern, or homegrown), whether it sits within or outside of your Systems Development Lifecycle (SDLC). For getting the best out of Gantt Charts and Dev Ops boards as a project management combo, it’s the velcro between the two that project and product managers have been waiting for. Used correctly, Tasktop can capture the impact of sprint outcomes on deadlines and milestones, goals and risks.

Overview Architecture: HB Azure Devops Review

A look under the hood

The diagram above gives you a bird’s eye view of the crucial role TaskTop can play in transferring critical data between our PM software – like PlanView Pro for example – and our DevOps tooling and view. So just how does that little blue square do so much heavy lifting?  Here’s a very simple two-step explainer of how it works:

Step 1: Ticket gets the green light

When the product team are moving requirements or tasks from their backlog to an active status on their Azure DevOps board, this triggers the next step.

Step 2: Tasks surface on the Gantt chart

Any tasks or requirements attached to the upcoming iteration on the DevOps board take their place on the Gantt chart-timeline in PlanView Pro with a possible change of dates, depending on the associated release schedule.

The impacts of DevOps actions have been captured on the Gantt chart, but there’s another missing link to be resolved. What explanation can our project manager offer his senior executives when asked why a timeline or milestone has slipped? This is where another TaskTop feature comes into play – the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). In this view, different ticket types in DevOps are mapped to more familiar entities in PlanView Pro or MS Project. They can be seen as requirements, change requests and reviews.

Underneath this view sits another, more granular level of detail – the sub-tasks list. Or project managers can switch to a quantitative view to track progress to completion for tasks or requirements. Between these views and the associated reports available, they can likely get to the bottom of what exactly is impacting schedules and risks and take this back to senior stakeholders.

Back to basics: people and process

While this tooling can go a long way to resolving the process mismatch for a hybrid methodology, it’s only one part of a successful solution. There’s also that culture clash that needs to be resolved as well as some process therapy to get the working relationship between waterfall and hybrid tasks and reporting in the best of shape.

Ultimately the technology is still used by humans and – to a degree – they’re left to interpret the data it delivers at each point in time. While TaskTop can eliminate the error and double handling of the data and provide project and task views. What makes sense from the Waterfall and Dev Ops perspectives can get lost in translation when the right processes and communication channels haven’t been properly defined.

As with so many aspects of running projects well, the automation and data provided by tooling is critical but really only as helpful as the people and processes it supports. It’s why Hummingbird are advocates for uniting PPM (the technology) and PMO (the people and process) as the two essential foundations of excellence in project methodologies and outcomes. Whether you’re wedded to waterfall or all about agile, or open to hybrid offers, it’s the people and process element that you can’t afford to overlook when exploring new technology opportunities on offer.