To many, sprinting through Scrum feels suspiciously like Mini Waterfalls; others state that that is merely a “bad smell” and Scrum is not just a series of mini waterfalls.
Which is correct?
Although the odor may be pungent, to me it seems correct that a Sprint marathon really is just a series of mini waterfalls, at least at the important levels.
Let’s see what they have in common:
1) The delivery date is clearly defined; in Waterfall, that delivery date may be months or years in the future, and in Scrum that delivery date may be the end of the current sprint, but either way, they are fixed. The only difference is the time scale. To me, they are the same in this regard (fixed delivery date)
2) Fixed scope during execution cycle; in Waterfall, the requirements are known up front and don’t change during the execution stage, however long that may be. In Scrum, the requirements for the current sprint is known up front, and change is not allowed (must reset sprint anew). In both cases, changing requirements during execution is unacceptable. Once again the only difference is the length of the execution period. Thus, they are the same in regards to their inflexibilty to incorporate change during an execution phase
3) Status Reports, Meetings, & More In waterfall, there would be weekly staff meetings, progress reports and the like. In scrum, the situation is the same; there are daily status meetings and burndown charts. Once again the only difference is the time scale
4) Sequential Execution In Scrum, (especially “Type A” Scrum), sprints are sequential and build upon earlier sprints. They do not overlap. This is no different from waterfall, where one phase is done before another and they happen sequentially. Either can choose whether to go horizontal or vertical during these phases.
5) Retrospectives In Waterfall, after a project there is a “post mortem” at the end of the execution phase to reflect on what went on and what to change in the future; in Scrum, there is a “retrospective” at the end of the execution phase (Sprint) with exactly the same goals. The difference? Once again, none beyond the time scale.
So, we can clearly see, that Scrum is not a radical, innovative, revolutionary approach. It is merely an evolutionary and reactionary approach that optimizes for short term planning, compared to waterfalls longer term planning type approach.
Scrum as a series of Mini Waterfalls? Yes, that does seem to be the case.
The relabelling of titles and frequent lip service to intangibles like “empowerment” do not change the overriding mini waterfall nature of the method; waterfall could and often does easily allow for self organization, freedom to choose tasks, etc.
The only tangible difference is short termism versus long termism, and if the waterfalls are “mini”, then they become equal in their short term outlook. To be absolutely clear, “mini waterfall” means one that is 1-4 weeks long.
Please understand that point — some commenters below seem to have missed it — I’m comparing it to a MINI (=short timeframe) waterfall.