"It's a phenomenally bad practice, but so many people are doing it, they think it's a good idea." So says Scott Ambler, Chief Methodologist for IT at IBM Rational, about the anti-method known as water-Scrum-fall.
Recently coined by David West, a senior analyst at Forrester, the water-Scrum-fall term describes the "goofy" manner in which many organizations are managing the design, development and deployment stages of the application lifecycle.
Water? That's a throwback to the traditional method of application development where all of the detailed work such as requirements gathering is done up front in the early stages of the project. Scrum? That's the Agile process that's only allowed to fester until the traditional requirements gathering and up-front work has been completed. This is as Agile as the water-Scrum-fall aficionados will get, despite the fact that they're pretty sure they're being Agile from start to finish. The 'F-Word' in the water-Scrum-fall anti-method is the old-school mentality that stifles the agile process by taking over the deployment process, damming up the Agile flow of quick releases, essentially cutting the Agile process off at the knees.
Scott Ambler says he's witnessed the water-Scrum-fall phenomenon first hand. "Organization will have this questionable requirements and architecture process up front where they think everything through and do a big, detailed requirements spec. Then they'll throw it all over the wall to a development team who will then work in an Agile manner. That team then hands off into the release process which will be this screwed up traditional thing that takes several months because the release guys don't trust the development guys."
Sympathy without tolerance
Of course, Scott Ambler isn't completely without sympathy for those who have found themselves wondering WTF after suffering through a WSF process. "It's often a cultural thing." Says Scott, indicating that organizations who have traditionally embraced a waterfall method struggle when making the move towards being more Agile. But being sympathetic doesn't imply tolerance. "We’re pretty adamant about desperately avoiding this goofy up front stuff and this goofy back end stuff."
The bottom line? You're either Agile or you're not, and if you're not, don't mess things up further by trying to squeeze in Agile methodologies where they won't be helpful. Water-Scrum-fall is not a happy median between Agile and traditional methodologies. As Scott Ambler says about water-Scrum-fall, "We definitely don't want to be promoting this."