I keep reading books and articles on Agile that are understandably extolling its virtues over Waterfall, but the good guys out there in the Project Management world had been practising the principles behind Agile long before it arrived on the scene.


The Waterfall world is full of big projects that have turned into disasters, usually associated with government, but the top Project Managers have been preaching that big means bad for a long time.  It doesn’t require a vast intellect to work out that big projects rarely deliver on time and budget and have a habit of turning into disasters.  More often than not, big projects come associated with budgets that have been paired to the bone, with all contingency removed and timescales that no-one really believes in.  They are riddled with politics, usually claim a sacrificial lamb or two and generally aren’t a lot of fun.  Who in their right minds would volunteer for that?

The sensible project managers have been pushing developing by increments for a long time –waterfall increments, but increments all the same.  Splitting big projects into smaller ones that can be delivered incrementally, reduces risk, delivers something earlier and allows you to better react to changes in your product’s market.  Where projects are concerned small is definitely beautiful.


The typical Waterfall project is portrayed as having users and developers highly segregated, but this isn’t my experience of Project Management, where regardless of the approach, the more interaction you can get between users and developers, the better the outcome.  Collaborative working has always been a route to more successful projects and the better Project Managers have been working this way for a long time.


Command and Control is the most damning label firmly stuck to Waterfall and I have to agree that I’ve met far too many micro managing control freaks in the Project Management community than is healthy for one group of individuals.   Delegation and challenge is where the more enlightened Project Managers have been for some time.  Why would I want to impose estimates, plans or my way of working on a group of developers?  You stick to what you’re good at, guys and I’ll stick to what I do best.  Telling you how to do your job isn’t anywhere on that list!

I certainly don’t want to spend my life asking developers which of their 100 planned activities they have completed this week, that’s for them to look after  – just give me a few milestones to monitor and I’ll be happy.

But I’d advise Scrum Masters to keep looking over their shoulders.  Just because Agile is in the world, this won’t stop the micro-managing Project Managers. They’re just pausing for breath until they can work out how to take control again!

So while it’s the vogue to give poor old Waterfall a good kicking, maybe there should be a lot more focus on how Project Managers approach running their projects.  Incremental, Collaborative, Communicative and Self-Organising has always been the best approach, it’s just that Agile has made an attempt to formalise it.  It’s a firewall holding the command and control freaks at bay, but they haven’t gone away, they’re still out there…… padding around like hungry tigers.

Training Project Managers in the principles underlying Agile is at least as important as training them to work with whatever development methodology that you decide to adopt.

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Read more advice on Project Management in Project Management for SMEs – available in print and ebook format.

Gren Gale is a consultant specialising in Project Management and Procurement and is owner of PM Results

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