The idea of an agile team toiling away trying to be agile in the face of a waterfall organization evokes a huge amount of passion. 

Tony Timbol, called to share his perspective on a fixed cost, schedule, and scope project. Tony suggests that outside very specific and rare circumstances, fixing everything reflects an organization that has set an aspiration into stone. I am tempted to use harsher language; that they are lying to themselves. Projects in the knowledge work universe are never perfectly understood before they are started if for no other reason that people use and interpret words differently. Mr. Timbol’s experience is that one (or more) of those fixed points varies either overtly or covertly. Covert changes are reflected in increased technical debt, reducing testing and review, or consciously dropping functions without permission. None of these actions foster trust or an environment that can “be” agile. 

On LinkedIn, Ulises Torres’s comment attested just how common islands of agility in seas of non-agile behavior. Ulises wrote, “ We have lived this scenario for so long now -. it´s been more than 10 years or so.”  Ulysses and I continued the LinkedIn conversation using messaging and one approach for reducing the friction between the two approaches was to define the approach and scope in general and then generate specifics using agile approaches an iteration at a time. He noted this increased the degree of difficulty. One of the powerful takeaways from this comment is that even in the face of resistance, agilists persist in trying to make their organizations more agile.  

Paul Herzog, noted that he had lived the fixed, fixed, fixed scenario but instead of throwing up his hands and declaring agile isn’t an option, uses agility as a risk management tool. Iteration outcomes that miss sprint goals, slip the majority of stories, generate problem demos, and generate excessive technical debt are signs that work is off track (or quick going off track). Early recognition gives the team and organizational leaders time to help to mitigate the risk of cost, scope, and date problems.

Allan Kelly in SPaMCAST 612 introduced me to the concept of Stable Intermediate Forms as it applies to change management. There are those that argue that seeding agile teams in a waterfall environment creates stable intermediate forms, where team members can safely practice agility until the organization around them changes or they influence further change. Mr. Torres’s experience suggests that agile teams in a waterfall environment can be a stable intermediate form. I am not convinced and suspect that without a continued injection of energy that there is no equilibrium. In Kevlin Henney‘s paper titled Stable Intermediate Forms he uses the quote, 

“The universe is change; life is what thinking makes of it.” Marcus Aurelius  

Viewing agile teams in a waterfall environment as a stable intermediate form may be wishful thinking evidenced by the accommodations we have to find to make it work for any length of time. However, stable or not deciding not to deal with this scenario is not a stable option either.