28 September - 30 September 2016

Churchill College, Cambridge, UK

Don't go chasing waterfalls

Steve Wells Sky

Session type: Case Study
Session duration: 45 minutes

Slides from session

The slides used for this session are available to download from here.

About this Case Study

Although we all think our teams are agile, and don’t do that nasty old-fashioned ‘waterfall’ stuff, many teams do, in fact, have mini-waterfalls in their development processes - and these cause a multitude of problems. The waterfall is very much an agile anti-pattern, and needs to be avoided at all costs.

The argument in this session is based around scrum, but the reasoning applies equally well to any agile framework or process.

What is a mini-waterfall?

In the 'Scrum Guide', only 3 roles are recognised in a scrum team:

  • product owner
  • scrum master
  • developer

The idea is that the whole team takes responsibility for getting the job done. Some developers may have specialisations, but as far as scrum is concerned, they are all 'developers'. In many teams, however, other roles have crept in, so the team looks more like this:

  • product owner
  • scrum master
  • analyst
  • developer
  • tester

In this scenario, the analyst and testers typically are not developers (in the normal, non-scrum sense of 'people who can code'), so we have immediately created a waterfall. The analyst works with the product owner to define stories which are passed over, complete with acceptance criteria, to the developers. The developers write the code, and hand it over to the testers to test.

Sound familiar? Well, it’s not Niagara Falls, but it is a waterfall. In 'classic' waterfall, development and testing phases might well take many months; this kind of 'agile waterfall' may only be a few days in each phase, but it is nonetheless a waterfall, and should be avoided.

Is this really such a big issue? The waterfall phases are only a few days long, and we still have stand-ups and retros so surely we’re still being agile and doing scrum? Well, no, we are not - these mini-waterfalls create all kinds of issues - like knowledge silos, the need for 'sign-off' by some team members, inefficient use of resources and, most importantly, lack of team ownership and responsibility.

In this session I'll examine these issues, why they happen and show you what we did at Sky to remedy the situation. Scrum has its detractors, but don’t throw the baby out (or over the waterfall?) with the bathwater…

About the Speaker

Steve is a scrum master at Sky, the UK's premier broadcaster and broadband provider. He has over 10 years of agile experience and has been instrumental in agile transformations in a number of companies. With a substantial background in traditional and agile management, he can spot the difference between being agile, and saying you're being agile.


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