Combine Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile? Beware of Waterfall in disguise!

Marty de Jonge
Jan 7 · 4 min read
source Gartner

If you have been walking around in the world of Agile and Scrum for a while like me, you might have ran into this Gartner (2016)diagram a few times before. At least I see it being used in presentations more and more often. The diagram combines ideas from Design thinking, Lean Startup, and Agile and to be honest, on first impression I liked it! Looking at it the first times I was really glad to see a major player like Garner embracing the combination of different approaches and practices instead of contrasting them. With this first impression I missed the underlying danger this diagram can provide when executed by inexperienced executors or could even be used (un)intentionally to make a charade of the organisational transition it is supposed to support and become a waterfall in disguise.

What’s wrong with you?

These strengths continue operating in single, several, many, and networks of teams that develop, release, operate and sustain the work and work products of thousands of people. They collaborate and interoperate through sophisticated development architectures and target release environments. — The Scrum Guide

Reading the diagram it leads from ideation on the left to execution and delivery of the shippable product on the right. Being sliced into different phases it can give the executors of this overall process a misunderstood idea of a sequence of different sub-processes. Each sub-process with its own specialists that work (all in their own silos) on internal feedback loops of continuous improvements. If the organisation and implementation of this end-to-end process is set up wrong, only at the touchpoints there will be collaboration between the sub-processes. Or even worse, the first sub-processes are staffed with“ Thinkers” and the last are staffed with “ Do-ers”

3 pitfalls to a waterfall approach

  1. This gives the suggestion that the problem solving phase can be done before execution and with that gives support to the typical waterfall paradigma of a big plan upfront.
  2. Working with functional silos,one for each sub-process associated with a different lean/agile approach, and hands-over between them supports a Waterfall approach.
  3. By using/choosing these specific approaches, Design thinking, Lean startup and Agile, this view of Gartnes can give the impression that just thes and only these approaches will work out fine in every situation for every company. Something we can remember from waterfall lead projects. ( by the way, about choosing ‘Agile’ as a method I have specific objections that I will add at the bottom of this article.)

How can the Scrum framework help?

  1. When working the Scrum ceremonies, or any other applicable Agile practices that delivers the intended value, we work on discovery and understanding of the problems as team together. Including all roles and disciplines. This co-evolution continues until a solution that answers the objective is jointly discovered and developed together.
  2. Scrum promotes co-creation to minimise hands-over and delays, to take advantage of the diversity of ideas and multiplicity of points of view, and to enable fast feedback loops across functional silos and seperate teams.
  3. Lean and agile suggest starting with Minimal Viable Products build by teams who are capable to build these features end-to-end. This approach will support in a continuously evolving and adapting release of better products based on learning through experimentation, experience, and feedback.

Only if the approaches like presented happen to be just the right solutions, on the right time, for the right company and these approaches are collectively co-created by the teams that collaborate and communicate as one entity I believe this diagram will deliver what it promises…

Final objections about the use of “ Agile” in this diagram.

Although an interesting idea, in my opinion Design Thinking(DT) , Lean startup(LS) and Agile can not be linked completely like shown in the diagram. In my perspective in this view Agile this is oversimplified as being a method. Agile is just anything BUT a method or framework, it is a mindset in which every method or framework that is contributing to an environment of collaboration and communication is welcomed with open arms. In that context DT and LS are two of the multiple ‘tools’ in the Agile toolkit. Two interesting and potentially very valuable tools, but that also counts for tools like Scrum, XP, DSDM, eg..

Acknowledgements to Nicolò Mantini and for the inspiration.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

Marty de Jonge

Written by

Organisation transformation coach, always open for new insights and feedback. Continuous learning, continuous improvement.

Serious Scrum

Content by and for serious scrum practitioners.

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