One of the hardest things in business is change. In fact, there’s a whole discipline in the business world related to change management! This is why, if you’re looking to switch from waterfall to agile, you might be more than a little nervous.  

It’s true that making big changes in your organisation can be difficult and becoming agile is definitely a big change! Here’s what you need to know to make the transition a little smoother and easier.  

The Difference Between Agile and Waterfall 

If you have already tried to implement methodologies based on waterfall in your organisation and failed, you might be wondering how you will ever be able to “go agile.” After all, waterfall, with its linear structure and defined hierarchy is much closer to a “traditional” style of business than agile.  

Agile might not exactly be chaos, but it can feel a little like that if you’re used to creating a plan and not deviating from it. However, the truth is, agile might actually solve some of the problems you’ve had implementing waterfall – or any other organisational and management style!  

The focus on finding and fixing problems that agile is built on can be used to identify and solve issues in your organisation too.  

A Mindset Shift 

The big step that you’ll need to take when switching from waterfall (or something else) to agile is mostly in the mindset shift. When you are used to linear, sequential processes, it can be hard to switch to something that is more iterative and collaborative.  

It’s hard to accept the idea that you might need to move on from a task before it is perfected, complete something else, and then circle back to improve the task that you started first. But it is one of the most effective ways to get things done and delivers proven results.  

Some Teams and Projects Work Better with Waterfall 

Before we get to how you can get ready for and implement agile in your business, we should also mention that sometimes, it’s not the best approach.  

When you have clearly defined milestones, deadlines, and deliverables, it might be better to stick with a more structured approach like waterfall. This is especially relevant in highly complex environments or programs such as in compliance or construction where I’ve seen Agile fail, not for lack of trying. 

Sometimes, that means taking different approaches in different parts of your organisation. You might use an agile approach when it comes to managing internal projects, but apply waterfall principles when completing task-based, deadline-driven projects for clients.  

Finding the right way to manage projects and solve problems isn’t always an all-or-nothing approach. Sometimes, you can choose what you want to use, and where, to get the best solution for the team you have. That’s where the magic happens. 

How to Get Agile 

The truth about any big change in the way you operate your business is that it will never be easy, and there will never be an ideal time to make it happen. If you want to move towards agility, you don’t have to wait for a specific day, or even until your team is at a certain point. There are things you can do starting today, that will help to move you towards greater agility. These include: 

  1. Assess Where You Are Now

The most important thing in making any change in your business is knowing what needs to change. So, if you’ve been operating with loose procedures and mixed-up processes, the first thing to do is figure out how they all fit together. Spend some time paying attention to what you do and how you do it and making notes about what your process is. Removing what little structure you have today may be the thing that undoes all your efforts.  

  1. Involve Your Customer

 Agility requires us to involve our customers more in the process. Instead of only getting their input at the beginning and end of any project, create opportunities for feedback along the way. This allows an agile business to find out early on if the customer desires any changes, or if there’s something they’d rather have done differently. Which allows us to change course along the way. We especially use this technique when it comes to building project management offices, it’s built with the customer, not on their behalf. 

  1. Get Your Team on Board

 Creative people and teams tend to thrive in an agile environment, but if they’ve been working in a traditionally structured office, it can take some time. They need to get comfortable with the idea of a flatter more collaborative work structure. Make sure that you explain the agile process to them, and the benefits it will bring. Help them to adopt new ways of working through experimentation and feedback loops. 

  1. Encourage Adaptation

 In a traditional project management structure, everyone adheres to the project end goal with a measure of tunnel vision. There’s no time or appetite to explore new ideas and innovation along the way, especially when we have had the scope agreed upfront and the budget doesn’t typically allow for it. Agile encourages a new kind of adaptation. So, get your team used to looking for opportunities and ideas to make the end product better. Bring out that entrepreneurial spirit.  

  1. Change How You Measure Progress

 When you use agile for your project management processes, it can be a little harder to measure progress than in a system like waterfall where there is a lot more structure, gated controls, formalised reporting, and more rigidity. Get team members used to reporting their progress based on tasks being done or not done and visualising this using a variety of tools, showcase progress, show don’t tell. Instead of just focusing on percentages. No one wants to get to 100% only to find out that we delivered the wrong end result. 

  1. Allow for Uncertainty

 When you are planning or estimating a project in a system like waterfall, there’s a high demand to plan and estimate in great detail and do everything upfront. Anything you miss is often seen as a mistake. The agile mindset acknowledges that there is a level of uncertainty in any project and builds those possibilities into planning and estimating using various techniques such as story point estimation. So, you know ahead of time that things may change along the way, and that it’s not an error but an opportunity when change beckons. 

  1. Communicate Constantly

 Traditional project management systems, use formal methods of communication like long drawn out meetings with a cast of thousands, where team members are expected to unload everything. Often from a report that was created several weeks prior, where the information becomes outdated. Agile teams don’t wait for formal meetings to communicate with other team members. Whether it’s a peer or a project manager they need to talk to, or customer feedback they need to get, they take care of it as soon as the problem arises. This means you don’t have to wait for a weekly meeting, to address an issue. 

Organised Chaos 

 At first agile can seem like organised chaos. Everyone is focused on delivering their part of the project, and no one seems to be in charge. But when you get used to the collaborative constantly changing approach of agile, and see the results it can deliver, you’ll see the value in this adaptable quick-change approach to delivery. Most importantly, ensure you build a culture of trust that will take care of the rest.  

If you need help making sense of the chaos get in touch with our team. 

Contact us, so we can help you create a straightforward, results-oriented framework that connects governance, delivery, and culture to help you thrive and organise. 

If you’d like to engage Fatimah as a coach/advisor for your organisation to help you make sense of the chaos, then you can reach out to her by email at