Is It Possible to Transition to DevOps From Waterfall?

Mark RobinsonMon, 06/10/2019 - 09:22

At their core, waterfall and DevOps are different approaches to software development. In the waterfall or linear-sequential life cycle model, the phases are siloed and each phase begins only when its previous phase is complete. DevOps, on the other hand, aims to unify different teams to work collaboratively. This blog talks about the traditionally followed software development transitions, the co-existence of DevOps and waterfall, and explores the possibility of transition between the two approaches.

The Orthodox Methodology Transitions

The progressive adoption of software development normally goes like this: waterfall to agile to DevOps. Now let’s see why and how organizations perform this transition.

The Transition From Waterfall to Agile

Following are the most common reasons why organizations prefer agile to waterfall.

Easier Risk Management

In the waterfall model, the software is tested only in the final stages. As a result, there’s always an element of unpredictability and unassertiveness. This means that the risk curve is often on a constant rise. Rejection of projects can be catastrophic since you might even have to start from scratch if things go wrong. This translates to new requirements, execution plans, and an increase in budget. This is where agile easily trumps waterfall. Short agile sprints allow for making design modifications if needed. This improves responsiveness to changes and better risk management because of a flat risk curve.

Better Customer Engagement

In the waterfall model, the involvement of the customer is very high only at the beginning of the project. Once the concerned teams comprehend and document the precise requirements from the customers, the customer-engagement level drops instantly. The technical team then takes over, after which the customers don’t have much say in the project. Agile, on the other hand, includes the customers at periodic stages of the process, thus ensuring that both parties are on the same page throughout.

Additionally, agile offers more flexibility in developing a product. It also takes concrete steps to ensure that the end product conforms to the customer requirements. Due to these advantages, many companies have shifted to agile from waterfall.

Moving From Waterfall to Agile

A change in culture and mindset, along with the interest and cooperation from the management as well as technical teams, is crucial for the transition. Shifting to agile will directly impact and change the roles and responsibilities of the personnel involved. The management team should encourage an environment of transparency and inter-communication among teams to help combat such conflicts and allow for a successful evolution. Since agile is an iterative framework, it makes sense to establish an upfront planning process. A gradual transition, along with daily nurturing, allows teams to thrive in the new approach. Selecting the right tools and training your employees to implement agile techniques is definitely the way to go.

The Transition From Agile to DevOps

Moving from agile to DevOps is not as hard as moving from waterfall to agile. Many consider DevOps to be an extension of agile, although there are some solid differences between them. Agile methodology calls for adhering to some best practices to develop quality software quickly. However, under agile, the different teams involved work in silos with each other. Such is not the case when it comes to DevOps. At its core, DevOps breaks down these silos and brings together different teams to achieve common goals.

DevOps and Waterfall: What About a Co-existence?

When considering a shift from waterfall to DevOps, an interesting question arises: Do you have to choose one or the other? Can you adopt waterfall as well as DevOps? Read on to see why that’s usually a bad idea.

Trying to implement DevOps in a waterfall culture is like jogging around a park to explore it. Except in this scenario, you do the jog on a treadmill. Sure, you break a sweat because you actually do run, but it defeats the main purpose, which is exploring the park! Likewise, if you try to do DevOps practices while still in waterfall, there’s a good chance you won’t achieve the desired business benefits. Now, let’s see why.

Why the Co-existence Is Not a Good Idea

Of course, you can use DevOps tools to automate and improve the efficiency of some of your processes. If your focus is on the “dev” of DevOps, you can use automated testing, for instance, and optimize your development to accelerate the build. However, what matters most is how fast you can actually deliver it to your users. The waterfall approach means you’re basically stuck until the following release cycle. Similarly, for the “ops” in DevOps, it doesn’t matter if you manage to automate deployment and speed up delivery. Waterfall requires a much longer testing time, which could take weeks or even months. Thus, waterfall renders the advantage gained through DevOps irrelevant.

The waterfall model has its fair share of other drawbacks. The most notable ones are waterfall’s relatively slow pace compared to other SDLC approaches, higher risk factors, and a poor response to changes. One or a combination of these factors often combine and neutralize any process improvements that a DevOps approach brings to the table. At best, you can maybe successfully optimize the sub-processes that you perform. But it won’t be of any significant, transformative business value if you consider the big picture.

Thus, it makes sense to say two many (waterfall and DevOps) cooks do spoil the Software Development broth!

Is It Possible to Move to DevOps From Waterfall?

So, coming back to the original question: Is it possible to move from waterfall to DevOps? The answer is: Yes, you probably can. But, as you’d imagine, a successful transition depends on many factors. And, typically, organizations face many stumbling blocks during the methodology shift.

Changes at a Grassroots Level

You can’t just change what’s easy for you to change and claim that you do DevOps. A transition from waterfall to DevOps includes changes even at the grassroots level, including your core infrastructure and application architecture. Often, it’s a good idea to embrace Containers. They can be highly beneficial, and you should aim to move to Containers at all stages of your software development. Organizations should also prep themselves to shake hands with Microservices. Although implementing them could mean even a revamp of your application layer, it’ll worth it in the long run if done right.

Security in the Cloud

To cope with the pace of other business functions, security is often given relatively less importance. Recent advances in data science have unlocked many new and improved existing methods of extracting valuable information from voluminous chunks of data. Such insights, when leveraged the right way, directly affect your business success and can set you apart from your competitors. Thus, it’s pivotal that when you move to the cloud, you give utmost importance to data security. Encrypting the data with an encryption key will do the trick. But that’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, one of the core elements of DevOps is security. And a successful transition to DevOps will be incomplete if you don’t address security properly.

In the waterfall approach, security and compliance team often raises multiple red flags. Transitioning to DevOps mitigates the situation to a great extent and helps facilitate friction-free development.

Culture and Mindset

A change in culture and mindset is essential for any methodology transition. But it’s more important in the transition from waterfall to DevOps. Because, when you do DevOps, you essentially stop functioning as multiple isolated teams. Hardships can arise during the transition since it completely changes the way your employees work as a team. So, it doesn’t matter even if you successfully tick the rest of the boxes when you move from waterfall to DevOps. There’s a good chance that things can go wrong without a corresponding culture and mindset change as well.


The road from waterfall to DevOps is, undoubtedly, filled with many obstacles. As discussed earlier in the post, the two SDLC approaches contradict each other in some aspects, thus diluting the effectiveness of their co-existence. One simply has to get so many things right for a successful transition directly from waterfall to DevOps. For those trying to move to DevOps, that’s why it’s a good idea to move to agile first and then eventually make the transition to DevOps.