When it comes to developing cutting-edge software, organizations are constantly looking for new efficiencies. They eagerly evaluate new methodologies on that quest. In that context, although Waterfall and Agile have long been used by organizations to improve process efficiency, minimize risk, drive scalability, and/or enable continuous integration, today, many are realizing the benefits of using both methodologies together. But making this hybrid scaled “Waterfall + Agile” model work requires a lot of careful planning. Read on to learn more!


The basics of the Waterfall model

One of the earliest approaches to software development, Waterfall incorporates a sequential process where all work is done in a phased manner: start, requirements, design, build test, implement, finish. The model demands careful planning and execution and is known to be extremely rigid. As is apparent, developers developing software using the Waterfall model cannot see the finished product until the end.

The basics of the Agile model

An iterative approach to software development, the Agile model helps build software incrementally, instead of in a phased manner. Developers can do a little bit of everything all the time, repeating the same cycle over and over again until the product is complete. Since smaller pieces of the product are completed along the way, Agile allows for frequent inspection and adaptation.

The hybrid scaled Waterfall + Agile approach

In reality, it is rare to find a software organization that uses only one software development methodology, because both Waterfall and Agile offer their own set of benefits: on one hand where the Waterfall model makes software development easy to understand and manage, Agile helps reduce bugs and improve time-to-market while increasing the quality of deliverables.


Therefore, many organizations end up merging the Waterfall and Agile models to leverage the combined benefits of both and this is what we have often done too. We often deploy a hybrid scaled Waterfall + Agile approach that combines some elements of each methodology. By presenting a single, unified view of software development tasks, it enables teams to make the most of a robust framework and pave the way for the efficiency they need in software development while getting the best out of centralized decision-making.


Making hybrid scaled model work

We have seen, as have many others, that Waterfall and Agile when used together, can help in boosting software delivery outcomes. However, since both the models are independent and carry some degree of organizational and code-level dependencies, integration can lead to conflicting methods and expectations and can even put common delivery objectives into serious jeopardy.


Since these challenges can impact software development quality, timelines, and cost, here are some effective practices that can be applied to enable successful integration between these two approaches.

  1. Undertake collaborative requirements analysis: Although the Waterfall model is largely based on big upfront requirements and design and Agile on continuous analysis, making the hybrid scaled model work requires the development teams to carry out requirement analysis in a highly collaborative manner. Joint requirement analysis can make it easier to identify (and resolve) issues and dependencies while providing everyone with the holistic visibility they need into the entire process.
  2. Create targeted milestones: Instead of creating long-term milestones, for a hybrid scaled model to work, it makes more sense to create targeted, short-term milestones. Building Program Increments with 2-week sprints is a great way to ensure a seamless Scaled Agile execution methodology. Such an approach will help developers get an insight into features that need to be completed by the end of each program increment – rather than towards the end of the development cycle.
  3. Focus on building mockups: Since one of the complaints is that the Waterfall model restricts developers from seeing what the product looks or works like before it is fully developed, mockups can help the teams see what the product will look like – even before actually developing the underlying functionality. When Waterfall and Agile come together to build mockups, they can also constantly test assumptions as well as the different parts of the software system in isolation for usability and functionality – instead of at the end once the product has been developed.
  4. Enable frequent integration: Another important aspect to keep in mind for the hybrid scaled model is to enable frequent integration. Instead of integrating different aspects of the code at the end of the project, it makes sense to integrate them continuously and more frequently across the software development lifecycle. Such frequent integration allows development teams to quickly deal with integration failures if any, and restrict them from impacting the quality and/or timeliness of software delivery.
  5. Prioritize and reallocate, if necessary: To enable some level of flexibility in a hybrid scaled model, it is also important for the stakeholders to identify inter-team dependencies and minimize them as much as possible – so teams can work as independently as possible. It is also important for teams to refine requirements of Program Increments, prioritize dependencies so issues are known early, and reallocate stories and tasks for quicker turnaround.

Our experience has been that embracing the hybrid scaled Waterfall + Agile model can do wonders for your software development organization when you approach it consciously. That means you will need to undertake collaborative requirements analysis, create targeted milestones, focus on building mockups, enable frequent integration, and prioritize and reallocate your dependencies. The resulting software outcomes could be special.