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In the ever-evolving world of project management, new approaches and methodologies emerge to meet the diverse needs of different projects. One such method gaining popularity is the "sandwich" hybrid project, also known as water-agile-fall. 

This unique approach combines the structured and sequential nature of the waterfall methodology with the flexibility and iterative practices of agile. 

What Is Water-agile-fall?

Water-agile-fall, as the name suggests, represents a fusion of three project management approaches: waterfall, agile, and waterfall again. In a traditional waterfall model, projects progress through a linear sequence of predefined stages, with each stage relying on the completion of the previous one. 

Agile methodologies, on the other hand, embrace a more iterative and collaborative approach, allowing for continuous improvement and adaptation. Water-agile-fall aims to strike a balance between the two by incorporating both structured planning and flexibility.

The waterfall methodology is a sequential and linear approach where each project phase follows a predefined set of processes. It is best suited for projects with well-defined requirements and a stable environment, such as physical product development and capital projects.

Conversely, agile methodologies emphasize flexibility, collaboration, and iterative development, and are commonly found among development teams. It is ideal for projects with evolving requirements and uncertain conditions (software development would be an example). 

By combining these two methodologies, water-agile-fall aims to leverage their respective strengths to adapt to different project scenarios. Find out more about agile vs waterfall here.

Why Is Water-agile-fall So Prevalent?

Water-agile-fall has gained considerable traction in the project management landscape due to its ability to strike a balance between structure and flexibility. 

By adopting water-agile-fall, organizations can capitalize on the strengths of both waterfall and agile, providing them with a versatile framework that can be tailored to suit their specific needs.

One reason for the prevalence of water-agile-fall is that it allows organizations to maintain a sense of control and predictability in their projects. 

The initial waterfall phase provides a structured foundation upfront, ensuring that critical requirements are identified and risks are mitigated early on. This helps stakeholders feel confident in the project's direction and minimizes the chances of costly rework later, before initiating agile methods.

Furthermore, water-agile-fall accommodates changing requirements and customer feedback through its agile iteration phase. 

By embracing continuous improvement and collaboration, teams can adapt to evolving circumstances, incorporate feedback, and deliver incremental value throughout the project's life cycle.

How Does Water-agile-fall Work?

Now, let's jump into how water-agile-fall functions in practice. The water-agile-fall approach consists of three main phases: the waterfall phase, the agile iteration phase, and the final waterfall phase.

During the initial waterfall phase, the project team follows a predefined set of workflows, such as requirements gathering, planning, and design. This phase aims to establish a clear scope, define project objectives, and identify potential risks and dependencies. While this phase resembles traditional waterfall methodology, it is crucial to recognize that flexibility and adaptability are still valuable even in this structured approach.

Once the waterfall phase is complete, the project enters the agile iteration phase. Here, the team shifts gears and adopts an iterative agile process, where they work in short cycles or sprints. 

The project requirements are broken down into smaller, manageable tasks, allowing for frequent feedback and collaboration. This phase promotes flexibility, adaptability, and continuous improvement, ensuring that the project remains aligned with evolving needs and goals.

After the agile iteration phase, the project transitions back to the final waterfall phase. This phase involves integrating the iterations and finalizing the project deliverables. 

It includes testing, documentation, and any remaining tasks required to complete the project. The final waterfall phase ensures that all loose ends are tied up and the project meets the defined objectives before its conclusion.

How To Use The Water-agile-fall Methodology

Now that we have explored the concept and implementation of water-agile-fall, let's discuss how you can effectively utilize this hybrid method in your projects. Here are some practical steps to consider.

1. Assess Your Project

Evaluate the nature of your project, its requirements, and the level of uncertainty involved. Determine whether a hybrid approach like water-agile-fall is suitable or if a pure waterfall method or agile methodology would be more appropriate.

Get more info on when to use which methodologies here.

2. Define the Waterfall Phases

Identify the key stages and deliverables for the initial and final waterfall phases. Clearly outline the goals, milestones, and dependencies to establish a structured foundation for the project.

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3. Plan for the Agile Iteration Phase

Determine the duration of the agile iteration phase and break down the project requirements into smaller tasks or user stories. Define the sprint lengths and establish a collaborative environment that encourages frequent feedback and adaptation.

4. Foster Collaboration and Communication

Emphasize effective communication and collaboration among team members, stakeholders, and end-users. Encourage regular meetings, demonstrations, and feedback sessions to ensure everyone is aligned and working towards the project's objectives.

5. Adapt and Learn

Embrace the agile principles of continuous improvement and adaptability, as laid out in the Agile Manifesto. Encourage the team to learn from each iteration, incorporate feedback, and make necessary adjustments to deliver incremental value.

A Real Life Water-agile-fall Methodology Example: Building A Mobile App

To gain a deeper understanding of how the water-agile-fall method functions in the real world, let's explore a practical example involving the software development of a mobile application. 

This case study will shed light on how this hybrid approach can be effectively applied, emphasizing the advantages it offers throughout the project's lifecycle.

Phase 1: Waterfall—Setting the Foundation

Our journey begins with the initial waterfall phase, where we focus on establishing a solid foundation for the project. Imagine a scenario where a startup is developing a mobile app for an innovative health and fitness concept. In this phase, you and your team will do the following. 

1. Requirements Gathering

The project team collaborates closely with stakeholders, including fitness experts, nutritionists, and potential users. Detailed requirements are documented, outlining the app's features, user stories, and design specifications. This phase is reminiscent of traditional waterfall, ensuring a clear scope from the start.

2. Market Research

Concurrently, market research is conducted to identify trends, competitors, and user preferences in the health and fitness app niche. This data is used to inform the project's direction and ensure it aligns with market demands.

3. Comprehensive Planning

A detailed project plan is created, encompassing timelines, resource allocation, and risk assessments. This phase emphasizes predictability and risk mitigation, characteristic of the waterfall approach.

By the end of this initial phase, the project team has a well-defined project scope, a comprehensive plan, and a clear understanding of the app's target audience and market placement. Stakeholders are confident in the project's direction, and potential risks have been identified and mitigated.

Phase 2: Agile Iteration—Building and Adapting

With the foundation in place, the project transitions to an agile project. This is where the water-agile-fall approach truly shines for software development, as it allows for flexibility and adaptability in response to evolving needs and insights.

1. Breaking Down Requirements

The project requirements are further broken down into smaller, manageable units, often referred to as user stories. These user stories are prioritized based on importance and feasibility. For instance, the development team might prioritize basic functionality like user registration and login in the initial sprints.

2. Sprint-based Development

The development team works in short, time-boxed iterations known as sprints, typically lasting two to four weeks. 

During each sprint, they focus on implementing specific user stories. This iterative, agile approach ensures that functional increments of the app are delivered at regular intervals.

3. Continuous Feedback

Regular meetings are held with stakeholders and potential users to gather feedback on the app's evolving features. This feedback is invaluable in shaping the app's development process.

For example, feedback might reveal a preference for a particular workout tracking feature, leading to its prioritization in subsequent sprints.

4. Adaptation and Evolution

The agile iteration phase emphasizes adaptability. If market trends shift, or if user feedback suggests a change in direction, the agile team can pivot accordingly. This flexibility ensures that the app remains aligned with user expectations and current market demands.

Throughout this phase, the project is in a state of constant evolution. The development team learns from each sprint, iterates on the product, and adapts to changing circumstances. This dynamic approach ensures that the project remains responsive to user needs and market dynamics.

Phase 3: Final Waterfall—Bringing it All Together

As the agile iteration phase progresses, the project gradually transitions to the final waterfall phase. This phase is dedicated to integrating the iterative work and ensuring the project meets its defined objectives before release.

1. Integration and Testing

The increments developed during the agile phase are integrated into a cohesive whole. Extensive testing is performed to ensure the app functions smoothly, and any bugs or issues are addressed.

2. Documentation and User Guides

User documentation, such as tutorials and guides, is created to help users navigate the app effectively. This documentation ensures that users can make the most of the app's features.

3. Final Polishing

The app undergoes a final round of refinement, where any remaining tasks, such as performance optimization or fine-tuning of user interfaces, are completed.

4. Release and Deployment

Once the project team is confident that all objectives have been met, the app is prepared for release. It's deployed to app stores, and marketing strategies are executed to promote its availability.

The final waterfall phase provides a structured and controlled environment to ensure that all project goals are achieved, and the app is ready for launch. This phase emphasizes quality assurance and the delivery of a polished product.

In this real-life example, we've seen how the water-agile-fall method effectively combines the structured planning of waterfall with the flexibility of agile in the development of a mobile app. This hybrid approach allowed the project team to establish a clear foundation, adapt to changing requirements and market dynamics, and ultimately deliver a high-quality product.

By understanding the principles and practices of water-agile-fall and tailoring them to specific project needs, organizations can confidently navigate the complexities of modern project management, ensuring successful outcomes in dynamic and evolving environments.

The key takeaway here is that water-agile-fall offers a versatile framework that can be adapted to a wide range of projects, providing the best of both worlds in project management methodologies.

So, Is Water-agile-fall Any Good?

Water-agile-fall represents a unique and effective hybrid project management method that combines the structured nature of waterfall with the flexibility of agile. It presents an opportunity for organizations to strike a balance between control and adaptability, ensuring successful project delivery in dynamic environments.

By understanding the principles and practices of water-agile-fall and tailoring them to specific project needs, organizations can confidently navigate the complexities of modern project management, ensuring successful outcomes in dynamic and evolving environments. 

The key takeaway here is that water-agile-fall offers a versatile framework that can be adapted to a wide range of projects, providing the best of both worlds in project management methodologies.

Moreover, by considering the nature of the project, the merits of the methodology, and the capabilities of your team, you can make informed recommendations or decisions on the optimal approach for a new project. 

While water-agile-fall may not be suitable for every project, its ability to integrate structured planning with iterative development makes it a valuable option for many organizations. 

By understanding the principles and implementing the steps outlined in this guide, you can confidently leverage water-agile-fall to navigate the complexities of modern project management and drive successful outcomes and level up your project management!

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By Mark Machin

Based in Vancouver, BC, Mark leads the capital projects and infrastructure advisory practice with a major professional services firm. He brings 5+ years of experience in engineering and project management, and a passion for the natural and built environment. His work with projects has taken him all over the world.