How to Transform from Waterfall to Agile

How to Transform from Waterfall to Agile

There are at least two reasons why traditional waterfall (or predictive) project management has been a go-to project management approach — it provides more control over the project. It also produces comprehensive documentation along the way that can be valuable for future enhancements. However, this control doesn’t always allow for the flexibility needed by some organizations or projects.

The need for flexibility is just one reason organizations are making the shift from waterfall to Agile. They’re finding that Agile projects tend to be more successful than non-Agile projects. These projects are more productive and get to market faster, key factors for businesses that want to quickly meet the needs of their customers.

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Six Steps to Transform Your Project Management from Waterfall to Agile

Making the shift to Agile requires a bit more effort than just sending out a memo. Learning how to transform from waterfall project management is a cultural shift that requires a clear purpose and commitment from everyone involved. The first step is to identify what works and does not in your current system. This helps you determine why you’re choosing Agile.

1.     Educate Yourself and Your Team on Agile Project Management

Before you can convince others that Agile is the way to go, you need to know why it’s better than what you’re currently doing. Start by learning how Agile project management works, what makes it different from waterfall project management, and which tools are available to help you implement the new system.

2.     Find What Agile Methods and Tools Work Best for Your Team

Agile methodologies cover a range of processes, and you’ll find several tools designed to help your team organize their work. You don’t have to — and should not — implement all of them at the same time. Instead, zero in on the methods and tools that will work best for your team. Learn about how the common methodologies work, including Scrum, Extreme Programming, Kanban, and Adaptive Software Development.

3.     Establish a Mindset for Agile Transformation

The shift to Agile starts with management’s mindset. You have to understand the benefits of Agile, believe in its ability to improve practices, and be prepared to do what it takes to see the transformation through to completion. Be prepared to explain the reasoning behind the shift and stick with the decision.

4.     Be Adaptable to Change

Remember that you chose Agile because you believe it will benefit your teams and your business. Be prepared to embrace the change and adapt to it. You may need to adjust your timelines and expectations along the way.

5.     Enhance Your Agile Teams Communication and Collaboration

Communication is an essential element of Agile project management. C-suite executives need to talk to employees and take opportunities to stress the value of Agile. It’s just as important to give team members opportunities to communicate and collaborate in casual ways. You don’t always need formal meetings to get ideas across.

6.     Use an Agile Coach or Consultant

A surprising number of executives — more than half — report hiring a consultant to help their teams make the shift to Agile. Coaches and consultants have an in-depth understanding of Agile frameworks and principles. Ideally, they also have real-world experience helping organizations complete their Agile transformations and can apply this knowledge to your business.

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Methods for Transforming from Waterfall to Agile

Just like no two organizations are exactly the same, there’s no single method for implementing your waterfall to Agile project management transformation plan. You have to find the methods that best suit the needs of your business, your team members, and your goals. However, the following methods are a good starting point for easing into the transition.

Define Your Objectives and Goals

You need clearly defined goals and objectives for your Agile transformation. This starts with what you want to see change within the organization as a result of the implementation. However, it’s also important to establish timelines and a series of small goals to mark progress toward the shift.

Build a Cross-Functional Team

Cross-functional Agile teams are a key element of Agile project management. Unlike silos, these teams join people with different areas of expertise and diverse perspectives to work toward a common goal. This leads to better productivity, decision-making, and problem-solving throughout the project’s lifetime.

Implement Iterative Sprints

In Agile, iterations and sprints are the time periods designated for completing the work on the project. Typical iterations fall within one to four calendar weeks. During that time, teams complete specific planned tasks that eventually lead to project completion. Iterations, or sprints if using Scrum, tend to be shorter durations, and this can be an advantage when your teams are learning to implement Agile as it creates opportunities for early successes and reduces the chance of a project stalling.

Use Kanban Boards

Kanban boards are highly useful tools for visualizing work and improving efficiency among teams. The system features a series of columns and task cards that designate what everyone is working on, what needs to be done, and what is complete. Kanban boards help limit “work-in-progress” so tasks get completed in a timely manner.

Review and Adjust as Needed

You need a plan, but you also need to review and adjust that plan as needed. After all, isn’t that why you’re considering Agile? You want the flexibility to rework a plan before you get to the end of the project. You’re going to run into obstacles along the way, and sometimes the best way to deal with waterfall to Agile transformation challenges is to adapt.


Your organization can reap the benefits of Agile project management when you take the time to understand how it works and what makes it the right approach for you. Making the switch to Agile may seem daunting at first, especially if you’re working on large projects. With the right mindset, a clearly defined plan, and effective training, you’re setting your team up for success.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO