How to Successfully Transition from Waterfall to Scrum

February 26, 2016

One of the most common conversations I’ve had with clients over the last few years is how to move from a traditional or waterfall style of development to using Agile and Scrum.  Based on those discussions and years of experience leading and supporting these transformations for my clients, I’ve compiled this short guide on planning and executing an agile pilot or an agile transformation in your organization.  
Making the change to an Agile approach is not simple or risk free.  Many organizations have tried and failed.  In the guide, I’ve outlined some of the patterns that have led to success as well as pointed out some of the common traps that others have fallen into.  Though there is no one perfect pattern, by following these guidelines and running small experiments, you too can successfully navigate the change from what you are doing today to success with Agile and Scrum.  We recommend an approach that consists of Planning, Training and Coaching.  I've summarized the information below and you can get the very detailed whitepaper here: How to Successfully Move from Waterfall to Scrum 

To effectively use Scrum, you will need to do some planning up front to make sure you have the right people, processes, support and tools in place.  You will need to plan for the Scrum roles and a complete, cross-functional development teams that can take items all the way to done.  Identifying a qualified and interested person to be the Scrum Master is an important consideration.  You also need a clear and prioritized backlog of work for the product and identify a Product Owner who can be engaged and empowered to manage that backlog.  You need to determine a sprint length that works with your product and other dependent teams.  You need to plan for how you will work best with dependent teams and vendors.  Finally, you need to plan for organizational support including looking at the potential barriers the team will face, the governance requirements, and interfaces beyond the team.  

Because Scrum sounds pretty simple, many people are tempted to skip training entirely, or save money by using internal trainers that haven’t used and don’t fully understand Scrum.  Those short term savings can have huge long term costs.  You are going to want everyone to understand and buy in so spend the time and effort to do it well.  Hire trainers that have done this before. 

We offer role-based training for organizations launching new Scrum teams.  This includes Agile and Scrum Training for Teams, Scrum Master Certification, Scrum Product Owner, and Agile for Leaders training for those managers and leaders who need to understand and support teams.

Like training, coaching is an area where some organizations feel they can cut corners.  Don't do it!  The challenge is that using Scrum or other Agile approaches requires a change in thinking and habits.  People tend to resort to old habits, especially under stress.   

My primary coaching when working at the team adoption level is on the Scrum Master first, then the team and Product Owner.  The Scrum Master is the best candidate to become the internal champion and so an investment in their development is warranted, and they will continue to support the agile transition after external coaches like myself are no longer needed.  The Scrum team and product owner are also be a focus of Agile Coaching.  It will depend on the maturity and behavior of each of these groups and gauge that to drive coaching behaviors.  

For a simple Agile Adoption of one or a couple of teams, coaching is needed most in the first couple of sprints.  I find that after 4-6 sprints, the teams are able to self-organize and continue to mature and improve under the guidance of a skilled Scrum Master.  However, it is in those first couple of sprints that people need Agile Coaching support to change their thinking and habits.   

Coaching of the leaders and helping them to create an environment for Agile to succeed can take more than a couple of sprints.  Coaching Agile leaders to support Scrum Teams is a critical part of an overall Agile Transformation.  You can read more about the leaders role in an Agile Transformation here.

Please click below to download your version of the Guide: