Merging Waterfall and Agile: Across the Seven Seas

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Summary:
This s the story about how an onsite/offshore team delivered a fixed-bid project using agile practices. The delivery effort was very successful. This article highlights our approach, challenges and successes.

This is the story about how an onsite/offshore team delivered a fixed-bid project using agile practices. The delivery effort was very successful. This article highlights our approach, challenges and successes.

Gingerly Steering Away From Waterfall Toward Agile
In early 1990s a consulting practice at our company was created that specialized in delivering large fix-bid retirement administration systems. This practice delivered systems using a custom waterfall approach wherein requirements, design, development, testing amp; rollout phases were executed sequentially. The client spent significant time early in the project and then would finally see the system after the project had spent over 70% of its resources.

While it varied from project to project, the group generally delivered systems in two releases, the first one approximately 18 months into the project and the second one 12 months later. In our situation, the team was experiencing delivery challenges and had incurred significant variances on the first release. Our leadership (client amp; consulting firm) was unhappy and losing confidence.

The project delivery executive determined it was time to do something different. He proposed changing our delivery script and moving things earlier in the lifecycle.

Our Practice Executives Weigh In
Once our practice executives found about our intent to do iterative/incremental development, they hit the panic button. The practice had tried similar approaches before, but thought of it as a laboratory experiment. They had a number of fires burning and little appetite for something different. They hit us with a barrage of questions:

"You have a large offshore component (approx. 60%). How do you plan on managing work iteratively with them?"

"This is a fixed-bid project, what part of it don't you understand"

"Fixed-bid projects need to have signed-off requirements and firm scope, and iterative approaches don't apply, do they?"

"When and how will you baseline scope?"

All great questions! We knew this approach would work, since we had seen similar things work at a dotcom venture, but we recognized this was lot bigger and complex (approx. 65,000 hrs of effort). We could articulate some things but did not have all the answers. We knew we had to adapt.

Fortunately for us, our project delivery executive led the way and posed the questions back to the group saying, "What other options do we have?" He reflected that something had to change or else the end result would be similar to previous delays and cost overruns. After more discussions it came down to the practice executives staring us down and saying "Okay, in that case you will have to make this work and you are accountable for the outcome." We were not quite sure if this was a vote of confidence or a threat, but we believed in this approach a lot more than waterfall.

Our First Move
One of the most valuable recommendations our delivery executive provided was for us to visit the offshore team. We had two offshore centers in Chennai and Bangalore. For this one week orientation/kick off, we got both teams in Chennai and instead of focusing on technical and functional orientation (which had been the norm until then), we used Lego toys, tennis balls and tinker toys to play games that focused on creativity and innovation.

The group had a blast! We then discussed the new iterative/incremental approach.The team seemed open minded. We followed up with detail sessions with team leads who ultimately were going to lead them on the new path and be our eyes and ears 8000 miles away. This was a very different approach than what this group had been used to. They had been used to taking orders and

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