Implementing a Fluid Model in Organizational Project Management

2023-05-09 22:00:00
Translated 561
Summary : The concept of the unity of opposites between the waterfall model and the agile method dates back to the 1970s. Essentially, they are two different methodologies proposed for project management from distinct perspectives and granularities, but with the common goal of achieving project success. The question arises whether it is feasible to develop a new name and model to unify these methodologies today.

I. Brief Introduction to Waterfall Model and Agile Method Comparison

1. Waterfall Model

The waterfall model connects various software life cycle activities in a fixed order to create a software product, following the sequence of a waterfall. Winston Royce introduced the “waterfall model” in 1970, which was widely used until the early 1980s.

1) Main idea:

The core idea of the waterfall model is to simplify the problem by separating the realization of function from design, adopting a structured analysis and design method to divide labor and facilitate cooperation. The waterfall model divides the software life cycle into six basic activities, including planning, requirements analysis, software design, programming, software testing, and operation and maintenance, and stipulates their fixed sequence from top to bottom, interconnected like a waterfall, released step by step.

2) Advantages of the Waterfall Model:
  • It provides checkpoints, or milestones, for the project by phase.
  • Each stage is strictly distinguished. If the previous stage is not completed, the next stage will not proceed.
  • It can be applied to the iterative model, where incremental iterations are applied to the waterfall model.
  • It provides a template that guides the approach to analysis, design, coding, testing, and support.
  • The model defines developers as workers on an assembly line, making it suitable for large-scale projects that facilitate management efficiency and reduce the human factor.
3) Disadvantages of the Waterfall Model:
  • The division of each stage is completely fixed, which generates a large number of documents between the stages, greatly increasing workload.
  • Since the development model is linear, users can only see the development results at the end of the whole process, which increases development risk.
  • It tracks individual project stages with a plethora of mandatory completion dates and milestones.
  • It does not adapt to changes in user requests.

An important premise of the waterfall model is that it assumes fixed conditions and moves forward until success according to established conditions and goals. Its advantages include stylization, high management efficiency, and reduced human factors. However, its disadvantage lies in its premise.

2. Agile Method

The question of whether the Agile Method is universally applicable needs to be addressed.

The answer is no, as it is only effective under the following circumstances:

① Emerging markets, products, and industries are full of Xs, many of which are unknown, and the products, users, and market are in a state of cognitive growth.

② The product life cycle is brief, demand fluctuates rapidly, and uncontrollable factors increase.

Therefore, the following principles should be adhered to:

  • Use small, subtle steps, allowing for immediate and flexible course correction (think of wave-like movements in gongfu).
  • Simplify to the smallest MVP unit possible. For instance, one steamed bun might suffice when eating hot pot.
  • Accept that change is inevitable and embrace it, as it is the only constant (a fundamental value at Alibaba).
  • Think of the next step when undertaking a current one, such as with WeChat's flying planes game which was mainly used to encourage users to upgrade by employing a series of routines.
  • Identify high-leverage features and accomplish great tasks with minimal effort through intelligent maneuvers.
  • Always keep in touch with users (direct users, indirect users, and support users).

3. Waterfalls and Agile Abstract Graphics

Two models:

The waterfall model is like a straight line, providing an initial direction and force that advances linearly towards the original goal (as shown in the figure below). Though it is highly probable that by the time the goal is reached, it has become irrelevant. For example, developing a new gasoline engine to enhance fuel efficiency when the trend is towards new energy vehicles.

The agile method is like a spiral line, with each small circle representing an iterative process that advances towards the goal through the smallest possible vortex forward mode. Each small result is validated through an iteration-correction-iteration cycle, making it ideal for a variable background. (See Figure below).

Agile emphasizes change acceptance and has no constant in an ever-changing era. For example, the recent vegetable shopping war saw small players exploring like martyrs until they failed, and then big players entered the market. But as soon as they entered, state regulations emerged, taking them by surprise.

The answer to the debate between Waterfall and Agile is illustrated vividly in the following picture, showing the need for strict stage division and intermediate verification and contact to prevent undesirable consequences.

The Waterfall and Agile camps have debated fiercely, with differing views found on the Internet. In the end, each method has its strengths and weaknesses, and a perfect solution is yet to be proposed.

II. The Fluid Model

The fluid model is a concept that combines the waterfall model and agile methods, inspired by the discipline of fluid mechanics at the University.

1. Fluid Models from a Physics Perspective

From the perspective of fluid mechanics, both turbulent and laminar flows are flow states of fluids:

  • [Waterfall State] Laminar flow is the state of fluid when the flow rate is low. The fluid flows in layers and does not mix with each other. It is also known as steady flow or sheet flow.
  • [Chaos State] As the flow rate increases, the flow line of the fluid begins to swing in a wave shape, forming a transition flow. The frequency and amplitude of the swing increase with the increase of the flow rate.
  • [Agile State] When the flow rate reaches a certain point, the flow line of the fluid is no longer discernible, and there are many small whirlpools in the flow field. The laminar flow is destroyed, and the adjacent flow layers slide and mix with each other, forming turbulent flow.

2. Disassembly of Fluid Models

The fluid model is a fusion of the waterfall and agile concepts:

① Waterfall State (Laminar Flow State)

The waterfall state is similar to the laminar flow state in the fluid model. At this stage, the fluid flow rate is low, and the external environment is stable, without complex backgrounds or changeable conditions. The entire product development and project management process follows a strict sequence.

② Conversion Conditions (Transition Region)

As the outside world becomes more complex and dynamic, the laminar flow form (i.e., the waterfall model) becomes inadequate to adapt to the environment. External conditions, including market changes, user needs, policy and economic environment, and competing product markets, as well as internal conditions like strategic direction adjustments, and team changes, require a different approach. If we stick to the laminar flow, we will lose sight of the changes in the environment, deviating from the project goal.

③ Agile State (Turbulent Flow State)

If the conversion conditions occur, the model automatically switches to a turbulent state. This approach seeks steady progress, embraces change, and keeps iterating in agility.

1) Characteristics of Turbulent Flow State

Let's examine the characteristics of turbulent flow, which occur after converting to a turbulent state in the fluid model:

Turbulent flow is characterized by the random movement of fluid particles, which exhibit transverse pulsation and reverse motion relative to the total fluid motion. As a result, the trajectory of fluid particles is highly disordered and changes rapidly with time. The transfer of momentum, heat, and mass resulting from this random motion occurs at rates several orders of magnitude higher than in laminar flow, and is the most significant phenomenon in turbulent flow.

——Quoted from the physics interpretation of turbulent flow

2) Characteristics of Turbulent Flow and Their Resemblance to Agile
  • The trajectory of turbulent flow particles changes rapidly and chaotically - this reflects the embrace of change emphasized by agility. The factors that lead to change have a similar nature. The seemingly orderly world and environment are just a manifestation of the inherent disorder;
  • Turbulent flow exhibits reverse motion relative to the total fluid motion - we can draw a comparison to the minimum cost verification principle of agile. Each verification attempt is a kind of experiment that may be correct or may fail due to incorrect direction, just as the disorderly or chaotic motion in turbulent flow is a natural phenomenon;
  • Turbulent flow causes transfer of momentum, heat, and mass at rates several orders of magnitude higher than laminar flow - Agile can be both independent and dependent, relying on finding the fulcrum, releasing the lever, and iterating constantly. The smooth, linear motion of laminar flow (waterfall model) pales in comparison to the value lever generated by agile, and the leverage ability used by agile to achieve goals cannot be fully explained in words.

3. Review of Fluid Models

The fluid model depicts the same organization's product and project realization process with a fluid's behavior. It represents the organization's response to various external and internal changes, and the interplay of laminar flow states (waterfall) and turbulent flow states (agile) along with the existence of intermediate transition states, to achieve the goal by combining waterfall and agility.

In practice, even in waterfall projects, we may use agile methods as support, such as high-frequency information contact in critical periods and monitoring external conditions. In agile projects, the shadow of the waterfall is also present, and our request management process follows a waterfall approach. In reality, it is challenging to distinguish between waterfall and agile completely. The symbiotic relationship between the two might be the new norm, but there is a "transition zone" that enables the two to connect seamlessly.

4. Disadvantages Presented in the Fluid Model

The turbulent flow in a fluid, caused by changes in external conditions, strengthens momentum, heat, mass transfer, and reaction processes but also greatly increases frictional resistance and energy loss.

Similarly, in organizations and projects, entering the agile state enhances activities such as change, continuous iteration, constant focus, and contact. It promotes organizational vitality, product growth, and activates the product lifecycle curve. However, it also consumes a lot of energy, causes rapid personnel iteration, and generates parallel situations where each group or product project fails to achieve its goals. For example, in the function line model, different product projects face greater resistance and have to compete fiercely in product reviews.

III. Conclusion

In our continuous exploration, we encounter different paths like the beginning and end of a requirement, project, product, and organization. However, the method is just a means to achieve the purpose of providing users with more powerful support, such as communication, collaboration, and management.

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