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Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Waterfall in Scrum Clothing

It was painfully clear the people from the vendor wanted to please us when they started using Scrum terminology to describe what they were doing. It's just a shame that they were still doing waterfall.

Sitting across the table from them at the kickoff meeting, the vendor representatives laid out their schedule. They told us what to expect with each sprint, listing out deliverables and so forth. Aside from the fact that this was all projected out ahead of time and left in no way to their development team, the sprints themselves were of irregular lengths. There were two week, three week, and even five week sprints, in no perceptible order or pattern. Finally someone asked them why the sprints were different lengths, and a project manager told us that this was necessary because some of the work couldn't be made to fit into sprints of a single length.

At this point, let me make two things clear:

First, in Scrum, the product owner prioritizes the backlog and the team selects what they can work on based on that prioritization. This involves discussion and even negotiation between the two parties, mediated by the scrum master. Though the ultimate goal of the project can be defined, we won't know  for certain what goes into a particular sprint until the team actually commits to it.

Second, work can always be made to fit within a defined sprint length, whether that's one, two, or four weeks. Every so often I encounter a team that insists they're special snowflakes with work unlike any other team's, and so they can't organize along these lines. They've always been wrong. Additionally, it's a really bad idea to have sprints go longer than four weeks, as this detracts from the agility of the team. They have fewer opportunities to respond to change the longer the sprint goes.

When the project came to a close, we were all invited to participate in a 'retrospective.' I thought this was weird, given that we were the client and not the team members. I was right. It was weird. This was an old-fashioned post mortem with the client that was shoehorned into the general format of a retrospective.

Waterfall is not my preference, but I far prefer it being presented honestly and on its own terms rather than dressed up in Agile garb and paraded around. Rather than being impressed with the vendor's effort, I questioned their wisdom.