How Waterfall Methodologies Stifle Enterprise Agility

In this age of sweeping digital transformation and accelerated change, organizations are recognizing that depending solely upon the drawn-out process of waterfall methodology is no longer sustainable if they are to remain competitive and relevant.

Enterprise infrastructure must incrementally embrace evolution from monolithic architectures in response to the escalating pace of technological innovation, ever-changing consumer needs and demands and the failure of a long-running single project focus.

EA Must Continuously Adapt

Traditional enterprise architecture (EA) frameworks struggle to manage the impact of disruptive technologies and systems that are agile and flexible. An architecture design approach that embraces continual evaluation and iteration is better equipped to navigate change and capitalize on emerging trends and innovations. Adaptability, in this context, may be defined as the fluid ability to modify, restructure and recreate the architecture in relation to changes within and external to the enterprise. It involves the early identification and rapid response to new product concepts, important trends, events and consumer demands; developing a “from the outside in” perspective.

This adaptability, or ‘evolvability,’ quotient enables the flexibility and agility to deliver services and products reliably in this new development norm. Enterprise leaders are quickly acknowledging the need to inject a more open and agile format into their enterprise’s processes, at least in some measure, to succeed in today’s unpredictable environment.

The Waterfall Model Constrains Enterprise Agility

Traditional organizational architecture can impose limitations on an enterprise’s ability to successfully reach its digital transformation goals. The up-front model, with a focus on one long-range project, can slow productivity and choke creativity. While planning is needed as agility scales, the detailed technology life cycles with large timeline projections are no longer effective or profitable in meeting the business mandates that drive enterprises forward. Enterprise leaders are increasingly abandoning the five-year architectural plan for one that is designed to evolve with the ever-changing software development environment.

Enterprise architects must now develop and promote adaptive methods that support agility in order to appropriate the value of new technologies like AI, machine learning, big data, IoT and intuitive tools that enable advanced analytics and enterprise-wide collaboration. A less intentional architecture, decomposed into smaller units, can be managed by autonomous cross-functional teams that are accountable to peers and managers with shared strategic objectives, bringing all fields into a coherent whole.

A continuous architecture design with no end state, guided by iterative changes, will fluidly address the changing needs of the enterprise. A shift from a project-oriented to a product-oriented management mindset leads to faster learning cycles, shorter time-to-market, higher quality and increased revenues.

The Attributes of a Flexible and Adaptive EA

An open architecture designed to evolve in an ongoing manner and enable agility will include many beneficial characteristics and principles. Flexible and adaptive EA:

  • Provides product-centricity that connects software development to business goals;
  • Explores multiple solutions simultaneously with shorter analysis, testing, experimentation cycles and progression to eliminate weak solutions;
  • Empowers autonomous, cross-functional teams with clear accountability roles and alignment to a shared mission statement and effective information sharing;
  • Enables flexible and efficient resource allocation driven by changing demands or activity levels;
  • Strengthens an evolving roadmap that shows vision and targets, open to the whole enterprise, to allow input and questions for collaboration, cohesion and transparency;
  • Facilitates incremental changes to software architecture in a continuous manner;
  • Provides a continuous integration and delivery model with automatic testing for ‘good enough’ MVPs to keep the business moving forward.

An adaptive EA allows for timely decision-making as agility scales, ensuring that the right products are delivered at the right time in alignment with business initiatives. When design accountability is distributed across the enterprise, consensus on complex decisions involving diverse stakeholders is more easily attained.

The business rewards of transitioning to an adaptive architecture should be an easy sell by examining and tracking the monetary, time and customer success gains. The evolution toward adaptive enterprise architecture can reap numerable benefits. In addition to fostering an enterprise culture of continuous improvement, it accelerates and improves development cycles, journeys and outcomes for stakeholders and customers.

Adaptive EA addresses the inherent uncertainties and complexities associated with dynamic business changes. It can deliver the rapid incremental changes, capabilities and benefits that a waterfall model inhibits. The agile and open methodology, empowered to continually evaluate and modify, provides visibility into project requirements and feasibility to reduce risks typically experienced with a traditional design and waterfall methodology.

Making the Transition to an Agile EA

Transforming enterprise architecture to a more adaptive and agile model will require planning and investment. A necessary first step is to assess what the enterprise goals and objectives are in making the transition. To what degree is the organization ready and what needs to be in place in order to move forward?

Investing in an enterprise-wide training program of agile technologies, principles and methodologies will develop a cohesive and cooperative mindset that overcomes resistance to change and optimizes transition success.

Of utmost importance is the development of a culture of communication, from the C-suite down across all stakeholders. A shared vision must be communicated and encouraged within a collaborative framework to cultivate enterprise-wide buy-in and acceptance of changes from waterfall methodologies to current roles and practices. In the migration to agile, there can be many obstacles, but by adopting an incremental approach with frequent reassessments an enterprise can ease the transition.

Jordy Dekker

Jordy Dekker is Chief Evangelist at ValueBlue. Jordy has 20+ years of experience in the field of Enterprise Architecture and was the Lead EA at various organizations. He has a thorough understanding of market developments, has led organizational transformations to a modern way of working with EA, and is experienced in building Management-driven solutions that accelerate growth. Jordy’s insights have been instrumental in creating the BlueDolphin platform, and continue to steer its development today.

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