Waterfall, Agile and RISK + FREE CHEAT SHEET

Episode 82 - 26 Apr 2017

Thanks to James Allen for letting me know that the origin of the "Gang of Four" graphs is likely to be VersionOne. Check out the original article on the VersionOne (now website here:

Last time, we looked at the graph of VALUE. Today, we'll turn our attention to the graph of RISK.

If you thought I was critical about the value graph, wait until you see what I say about the risk graph!


40 graphs from across the web


Waterfall and Agile through the lens of RISK.

And stick around to the end to grab your free Waterfall vs Agile Cheat Sheet.

Welcome to Development That Pays

I'm Gary Straughan

I was reminded this week of the best boss I ever worked for.

An Irishman through and through

there was always a bottle of whiskey in his desk drawer

I hasten to add that that it only came out in cases of extreme need

Such as taking the edge off an all-nighter

When I take work to him for review

He's always start by saying that it was awesome

and he'd proceed,

line by line

to rip it apart

One day he must have seen the look of annoyance on my face and he said to me

"Gary, if you did

But before we do I took some comfort from that.

A week ago, I didn't know which of these was the original.

Thanks to James Allen for letting me know that the likely origin is Version One.

I've put it I have put a link to the appropriate article in the notes below.

Now that I know where it comes from

I feel slightly awkward about being critical of the graphs

But, hey,

If they didn't exist,

I wouldn't be able to comment

So it's all good,

By , I quick thank you to everyone who commented on the previous episode - on the graph of value.

We'll have a wash-up session on that one another time.

I thought we might have a quiet and respectful look

At the RISK graph

When I think about the risk of a project, there are two types that come to mind.

  1. The risk of missing a launch deadline.

  2. The risk of missing the mark.

Producing a product that nobody wants.

The first is inconvenient: a delay in recouping your investment

The second is a disaster: no chance of recouping your investment.


So let's stick with the risk of missing the mark.

The risk of Total Project Failure.

When a project misses the mark, why does it miss the mark?

Well, it's likely to be because we built something that no one wanted

And why did we build something that no one wanted?

Because we didn't know the customer well enough

We didn't learn enough.

Now, there are also several forms of LEANING.

Agile teams have retrospectives to help them to learn to be.. well... better agile teams.

This is NOT kind of learning I'm talking about here. ...

I'm specifically talking about learning about the customer

, about the market.

Lets try a graph of learning.

Actually no.

I'm going to do graph of the RESULT of learning:


(You'll see why that distinction is important in a moment.)

I'm going to label it "market knowledge" just so we're super clear.

Starting with a Waterfall project.

Just so I can keep track,

I'm going to bring down the stages of a Waterfall project.

Stretch it a little bit.

Ok, the project kicks off.

At the beginning of a project, the level of knowledge is low.

Through the Requirements Gathering stage

and I suppose during... MDesing pahse, the knowledge level goes up.

Actually, in the case of waterfall, a lot of research on the scope / design phase

Not sure about the shape

Don't think it's this:

if you're are gaining knowledge at this rate

why would you stop?

After all, in a Waterfall project this is your one and only chance to.. errr.... learn

So maybe it flattens out.

And then what happens in the build phase?

So the knowledge curve ... Flat lines

Actually.. It's not flat.

If it were LEARNING... it would be flat line

(Because we're not LEARNING any more.)

But Knowledge is perishable.

White we're building, the market is changing

The knowledge we acquired starts to go out of date.

Again, not sure about the shape

Maybe this?

Can't think that moving to the testing phase would change anything

So on it continues until the day o the launch.

Let's do the same for Agile.

Maybe Do a spot of research. But not a huge amount.

Build something

Quickly. Before the knowledge has a chance to "go off"

Release something. Something small

Gain some knowledge

Build a bit more

Gain more knowledge

Rinse and repeat.

There are diminished returns

problably looks something like that.

Smoothed out, there's an s-curve hiding here

Some of you said that you'd prefer to see the bumps.

We'll discuss that another time.

For now I'm going to go with the smooth version

Is too much of a stretch to say that knowledge is the antithesis of risk?

If that's only partly true, the risk curves are going to look like

flipped versions of the knowledge curves.

Three, two, one. Flip

Fix the label

Take way the knowledge curves

Overlay them


Hold on a second.

Both projects started at the same level of risk

Just move that.

I think we're ready to bring back the first graph

Well, what can I say

The Agile curves .... are broad agreement.

The Waterfall curves.... are not even close.

I think we're gong on time

so two quick things before we wrap up.

These graphs are so different, that I feel must have missed something.

I'd love to know what you thing. Go crazy in the comments below.

And if you haven't done so already,

Grab your copy of that Waterfall vs Agile Chea Sheet

You'll find a link in the description below.

Click the link, follow the instructions, and it's all yours.

Thank you very much for watching.

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I look forward to talking to you next time. Cheers for now.