Scrum vs Waterfall in Five Words


On a CSPO course today, I got the following “question” from the participants:

“Benefits of Scrum vs. waterfall in 5 words”

🙂 Never had to put so concise.

So here’s my try:






Not a statement, but five words nonetheless.

But those weren’t the first five words that came to my mind. The first was:

“Scrum projects kick waterfall’s ass”

Not the most politically correct, though :).

But the whole topic is a bit unfair. It’s like asking the benefits of shoes vs. gloves for your feet. This isn’t really a question should we use waterfall or Agile for a software project, because both processes are valid in appropriate process context. Plan-driven approaches are highly valid for predictable environment whereas Agile is for complex environments. Also, there are situations where significant pre-planning is just necessary, because of excessively long feedback cycle or massive rework costs.

Mike Cohn, in his recent book “Succeeding with Agile”, poses this issue as a balance between “anticipation” and “adaptation”. In every situation, we do at least a little bit of anticipation and a little bit of adaptation. How much of each we do beyond that depends entirely on what we are doing. If we are ordering an expensive server with a couple of month’s delivery time, it probably makes sense to do your homework in advance. The only trouble with traditional thinking is that it does not sufficiently recognize the need for adaptation because of the expectation that projects are fundamentally predictable (and claiming that we just don’t know enough of it yet).


What would have been your five words?

2 Responses to “Scrum vs Waterfall in Five Words”

  1. Marko Taipale Says:

    “Do whatever works for you” :o)

  2. Stefan Höhn Says:

    I love that post. I actually gave an agile course today in switzerland and asked my participants to come up with their five words. At least of two yours appeared as well on the whiteboard:

    – Transparency
    – Flexibility

    I would actually add two more words
    – Trust
    – Discipline

    The reason is that I think that there is no other approach that is more feasible for building trust than agile methodologies. Also I tend to stress the word “discipline” all over the course because it is so important to follow some very few rules but those very consequently (while many spread the myth that scrum is “agile” hence chaotic…)

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