Have you seen the Matrix movies? Specifically, that scene where Keanu Reeves is told “there is no spoon” and suddenly the world he thought was reality is revealed to be just a construct of the Matrix?

I want to give you a moment like that.

See, as a newer Project Manager, I’ve been trained mostly in an Agile environment, because, as we all know, Agile is considered the more modern, preferred methodology.

You were probably told that Agile was born from advancements in technology and engineering that required project managers to move at a faster pace, produce deliverables more quickly, and be more nimble in the requirements of those deliverables.

That’s not untrue, but what if I told you that project management was never meant to be done in a waterfall environment.

That’s right. There is no spoon.

When I say this to people, many of them scramble to pull out their dog-eared copy (or three-layers-buried electronic file) of the paper “Managing the Development of Large Software Systems” by Dr. Winston W. Royce, written in 1970 and considered the Big Bang of traditional waterfall project management.

Go ahead, pull yours out now, or click the link. I’ll wait.

The catch is, you have to read the whole thing.

When you do, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Royce does outline the methodology of traditional plan-driven waterfall project management– where system requirements lead to software requirements which lead to analysis, then program design, then coding, then testing and finally operations. It’s a lovely one-way stepping stone approach.

But keep reading…

If you dig a little deeper into Royce’s paper, you’ll see that he turns right around and criticizes his own methodology . . . “I believe in this concept, but the implementation described above is risky and invites failure.”

Royce goes on to state that because the testing phase doesn’t occur until the end of the of development cycle:

“The required design changes are likely to be so disruptive that the software requirements upon which the design is based and which provides the rationale for everything are violated. Either the requirements must be modified, or a substantial change in the design is required. In effect the development process has returned to the origin and one can expect up to a 100-percent overrun in schedule and/or costs.”

Is your spoon bending yet?

Royce is basically pointing out in his paper defining traditional waterfall project management that traditional waterfall project management doesn’t work without including Agile strategies, including an iterative approach (repeating processes), involving the customer, and fixing problems along the way revealed by testing.

I don’t say this to attack waterfall. There are less complicated, more certain environments where a traditional approach can work. However, the truth is, project management has always favored an agile approach, and with the increasingly complex nature of business and technology, that’s not changing.

But that’s okay. That’s a good thing. Because being more agile makes us better project managers. The agile paradigm is messy and complicated and frustrating at times, but it’s a necessary part of getting things right. As project managers, we can learn to embrace the complexities of today’s project management world and guide our clients to the other side, where success awaits.

As Morpheus said to Neo, “Remember, all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”

If, as a project manager, you feel ever-the-more pushed out of the gently flowing river of traditional waterfall into the 6 to 8 foot waves of the Agile Sea, just know that Agile wasn’t something the world of project management made up to torture us.

As Royce’s paper proves, Agile was always there from the beginning.

We just didn’t have a name for it.

To learn more about Agile or traditional Waterfall project management, check out our Introduction to Agile Project Management or Best Practices in Project Management class.

About the Author

Alex Kinder, PMP®, has over four years of progressive experience in the IT industry, growing her expertise to manage short and long-term contracts for a variety of customers to ensure consistent delivery of services that meet customer needs. As a Project Management Professional, Alex consistently delivers optimal results on time and on budget. Alex is adept at enterprise resource planning as evidenced by her heavy involvement in helping to manage Peoplesoft Upgrade Project for Lexington Fayette Urban County Government. 

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