Agile vs Chaos

Lionel Grealou Operations Leave a Comment


Professionals involved in innovation often claim to prefer agile rather than waterfall – which is synonym of bureaucracy and hindrance to creativity. There is a common perception that waterfall is about structure and sequencing logic, while agile ‘methods’ relate to creative (chaotic) development. 

  • Waterfall methodologies typically focus on problem validation, customer requirements, rigorous change management and sequential implementation cycles; typically driven by design / validation iterations, leading to well defined deployment phases. 
  • Agile teams focus on solution validation, launch preparation, scalability, flexibility and responsiveness, while welcoming changing requirements, parallel multi-tasking, with more integrated teams working daily on common objectives; they prefer face-to-face lean interactions, fast decisions, rapid feedback, shorter design-build-deployment 4-week iterations, trial and error collaborative approaches. 

Agile contradicts the traditional and structural waterfall way of working by allowing organizations to be more productive, allowing for smaller projects, more flexible schedules and collaboration. Many agile principles are borrowed from lean thinking (initially from lean manufacturing).

Implementing agile product or IT developments require strong leadership and vision. It relies on people, nonlinear things that are effectively impossible to predict or control, and that are highly dependant on entry and boundary conditions – ref. chaos theory.

Many (most?) start-ups operate in a context where the outcome expectations and requirements are built on the back of implementing the first iterations of the vision. Things are made concurrently and the scope remain very dynamic until late against fixed timing and cost targets.

However, agile can turn into chaos when:

  • No formal method is followed to manage the backlog of work.
  • Communication is ad-hoc and not as fluid and transparent as expected (lack of integration).
  • Cycles and retrospectives are not managed properly; sprints are not consistent.
  • Priorities are changing without traceability.
  • Actions are not consistency tracked.

In a nutshell, agile is based on chaos theory – however agile required methods and is not synonym of chaos. It relies on adaptability, transparency, traceability, collaboration and inspection.

What are your thoughts?


This post was originally published onĀ LinkedIn on 4 February 2016.