Culture Shock: Reevaluating Methodologies to Realize Success

By M. Duvernet

According to common theory, methodologies are adopted by organizations to promote maturity toward business process optimization. Methodologies have been around for a long time and there are several that are very widely used across all sorts of industries. To name a couple of the most popular ones, there is Waterfall, and Agile. Once adopted these methodologies become very deeply embedded into an organization’s culture. Yet, sometimes cultures are really where things are known to get stuck.

So, how is it that some organizations know how to use their methodology and are able to optimize their business’s maturity model, while others struggle with achieving the highest level of optimal maturity? Can an organization that has been using the Waterfall Methodology for twenty years adopt a new methodology, like Agile, overnight and realize success?

Let’s begin by comparing the Waterfall methodology with the Agile Methodology. Methodologies began to gain momentum back in the 1950’s with the coming of the commercial computer age. Computers all need software which involves software development (the coding), and to lay the foundation for developing the software there needed to be a method to manage it.

The Waterfall Methodology began to gain traction in 1970 in an article by Winston W. Royce. He wanted to emphasize the importance of defining a way to critically view a common workflow for the popular practice of developing software. However, the original idea came from Herbert D. Benington, who gave a lecture at a symposium on advanced programming methods for digital computers back in 1956. This method gained popularity in the manufacturing and construction industries, industries where any last minute changes were extremely costly and often impossible to correct. At its core Waterfall is a sequential design process often used to show the steady progression of a phased process flowing downwards toward completion.

Example of the Waterfall Method:

……….>Design (Development)

The Agile Methodology became popular back in 1974 when E. A. Edmonds introduced an adaptive software development process. It is considered a lightweight method in comparison to other heavyweight methods that do not allow for rapid change. Aside from allowing for rapid change, Agile consists of a group of software development methods that promote adaptive planning, and timed-boxed iterative approaches to better manage the changes that may arise. It is based on iterative and incremental blocks of time, and user stories to define the requirements toward identifying a solution. The core strength of Agile is based on its ability to promote and encourage the quick collaboration of cross-functional teams to embrace change so as not to impact project progress or the desired solution. The Agile Manifesto was first published in 2001.

The Agile Manifesto states:
“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions – over processes and tools
Working software – over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration – over contract negotiation
Responding to change – over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

Basically, these methodologies differ in the way in which they can embrace change. While methodologies are embedded in organizations culture, these cultures, on the other hand, are not so easily changed. The methodologies that are so deeply engrained into an organization can often be buried so deep, over the course of time  that many of the employees have simply forgotten why the methodology is so important to their own business model and the overall success of their organization.

It becomes even more complex when you think about the combinations of business types – Public sector (government = no shareholders), Private sector (any company with shareholders) , or Non-Profit (no shareholders) – and the various methodologies they may use to get the work done. The Private sector is way ahead when it comes to using the Agile Methodology. That is because they realize that their success depends on the products or services they produce, and that time is money.

Where would you find a methodology in an organization? Methodologies reside within an organization’s Project Management Office. Since Project Managers have been around over 30 years longer than Business Analysts the PMO will have already determined a methodology for the organization. However, organizations can sometimes do things the same way for so long they settle into a pattern of complacency and become stuck.

Plus, if an organization decides that their Waterfall Methodology does not work as effectively as they would like it to work, and they want to begin to use Agile instead – or some flavor of Agile – if the process of changing the methodology  is not managed well it can lead to just more project delays and frustration. Largely this happens because the methodology the employees have been using for so long has made such an impression on them that they resist change. Changing their understanding has to be addressed first, in order to really effectively incite change regarding the methodology being used.

It is somewhat impractical to think that “we will just learn as we go,” for then the employees believe that practices are just being made up and additional friction and stress are the result, and project progress suffers. Understanding “Why” a different methodology is used over another one can make all the difference. And ensuring that everyone knows “How” progress will be achieved toward the time-boxed iterations is another. One of the best investments, if your organization is moving away from a Waterfall Methodology to an Agile Methodology, is to engage a real master of the Agile method, like a real Certified Scrum Master who can lead the way.

Then when it comes to the overarching business model and ensuring that your organization maturity level can actually begin to mean something, the whole team will begin to think differently about the importance of the methodology. For if an organization has spent many years at level three of a five level maturity model, striving for optimal maturity, then someone at that organization might want to take a serious look at the methodology being used.

We all have seen how the manufacturing jobs no longer populate the pages of the Want Ads and how we have become a nation with plenty of service jobs. If an organization is struggling with making timely progress on projects, and suffers from delays on delivering quality products or services to the customer, maybe it is time to reevaluate the methodology. As reevaluating the methodology can greatly enhance the customer service aspects as well, as the user stories basically allow for the analyst to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and figure out the best way to provide the needed solution.

There are plenty of Fortune 500 companies out there who have made the investment in establishing a methodology that serves to optimize their ability to change in order to adapt to the market and the needs of their customers. However, there are plenty of other companies that still struggle with the day to day processes of trying to make progress – trying to overcome inefficiencies that just seem to mount at every turn.

Ultimately when an organization using Waterfall or an iterative approach needs a change – when management senses that the culture needs a shock to kick-start a new process – then the evaluation of the methodology begins. If optimization toward organizational maturity is the goal, then it is time to look at the method in use and have a new methodology adopted across self-organized teams, one team at a time, to ensure that the culture “Rocks” and that real success is achieved.


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