Software

The sly return of Waterfall

No-one does Waterfall any more of course, we’re all Agile incrementalists. It is just that a lot of things are difficult to tackle in increments. You can’t get a great design, for example, or a visual style guide without a lot of user testing and workshopping. From a technical perspective you need to make sure your scaling strategy is baked in from the start and to help support that you will also want to have a performance testing framework in place. You’ll also want to be running those test suites in a continuous deployment process, because its hard to create that after the fact.

In short apart from the actual software you want to do everything else up front.

Waterfall existed for a reason, it tried to fix certain issues with software development, it made sure that when you finished a step in the process you didn’t have to go back and re-visit it. It made you think about all the issues that you would encounter in creating complex software and come up with a plan for dealing with them.

Therefore I can see all the exciting enticements to make sure you do something “up front because it will be difficult to solve later”.

However Waterfall had to change because it didn’t work and dressing up the same process in the guise of sensible forethought doesn’t make it more viable than its predecessors.

It can be really frustrating to have a product that looks ugly, or is slow or constantly falls over. It is far more frustrating to have a stable, beautiful and irrelevant product.

Occasionally you know that a product is going to take off like a rocket, as with fast-follow products for example, and it is going to fully payback a big investment in its creation. However in all other cases you have no idea whether a product is going to work and therefore re-coup its investment.

Even with an existing successful product major changes to the product are just as likely to have unexpected consequences as they are to deliver expected benefits. Sometimes they do both.

What always matters is the ability to change direction and respond to the circumstances that you find yourself in. Some aspects of software development have seen this and genuinely try to implement it. Other parts of the discipline are engaged in sidling back into the comfortable past under the guise of “responsibility”.

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