Kanban, Agile, Lean, SixSigma, PRINCE2, Waterfall and Scrum – What are those weirdos?

We all have to agree that these days we are living in the world of projects. We barely ever use words like tasks, events, things-to-do. We just want to be involved in the projects, even those small ones. There is something special in the word project, you immediately start to think about something big, something important, a breakthrough; even if you are going to implement a small excel macro update. And, in my opinion, that is beauty hidden inside every project group. You never know what you will finish with, that little piece of uncertainty and anxious excitement can do wonders to the outcome. In order to achieve that in the most effective way, the projects should be framed and carried out in an organized manner, and we have plenty to choose from – Agile, Waterfall, PRINCE2, Lean, Six Sigma, Waterfall, Kanban or Scrum. They have different principals and might be applicable to different types of designs, but they have one thing in common – they really work.

Waterfall (Cascade) is definitely the most classic kind of leading a project. The most important foundation of the Waterfall is the fact that there are no iterations, that is why we may call it a linear lifecycle model. The major assumption of the Waterfall development is splitting the process into independent parts, each one initiated once the previous is over. The scheme goes in the below order: Requirements (Documentation)->Design (Creation)->Implementation ->Verification(Final Review)->Maintenance. The Cascade model had originally been used in production, construction, and engineering industries, and then was attempted to be implemented in the then starting IT segment. Naming only a few companies where the Waterfall system is widely used I can come up with: Boeing, Airbus, Cisco, State Street or US Department of Defense.
The biggest advantage of the Waterfall usage is its simplicity, everyone knows when and what to do. The Cascade model is very easy to manage, the deadlines are strict and set before a start of the project. The known weaknesses of the Waterfall is a situation where not a part of the working software is produced until late during the life cycle. There is no iteration, therefore, there are no sub-releases. It is rather a poor model for long lasting projects since there is a high risk that some group would get stuck with their work making it impossible others to start their work.



The next one is LEAN, a project model straight from the Japenese automotive firm Toyota, and simultaneously applied in Henry Ford’s factories. After the World War II, the United States decided to send various of consultants and engineers to rebuild the industry of Japan destroyed during the battles. The Japenese learned and listened, and took some of the best American’s ideas to implement in the own factories. They knew if they wanted to stay competitive they had to move forward. They also observed processes and concepts such as CANDO (Clean up, Arrange, Neatness, Discipline, Ongoing Improvements) which later became the principals for their 5S waySeiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, Shitsuke. In fact, until 1990, the only automotive industry had been using the LEAN methodology. The pros of LEAN are: it is proven that this methodology significantly saves costs of projecting and manufacturing, it makes the work much more efficient as we try to eliminate the wastes, wide level of employees involvement (creation of improvement teams, environment of a good change). Since then it has expanded into aerospace and general manufacturing, consumer electronics, healthcare, construction and, more recently, to food production and meat processing. Also, in the last several years it is common to implement the LEAN model to the IT or Finance segments. The whole scheme of LEAN is quite complex and I will cover it fully in a separate article. The simplistic looks like this:



Moving forward to yet another type of managing the project we are approaching a much more recent idea of SixSigma. This model had been initially designed by Bill Smith in 1986, an engineer in Motorola Company. Nine years later in 1995, the qualities of SixSigma was introduced and implemented in General Electric Company In 1993, Motorola registered the model as their trademark. The major principal of Motorola’s approach is to eliminate as many of defects and minimizing variability as possible. The American firm claims that they managed to achieve “99.99966% of all opportunities to produce some feature of a part are statistically expected to be free of defects (3.4 defective features per million opportunities).” The Greek letter Sigma (σ) is a statistical term that measures standard deviation or how far a given process deviates from perfection. That is why, the sigma model is divided into levels from 1 to 6, where 6 means we generate the least number of non-consumer satisfying products. A statistical human operates at level of between 1.5 and 2.0 Sigma while he learns a new job, it means that we make about 30-50% errors in our first actions. Ultimately, we are able to achieve the 5th level of designation meaning that to move the next level the machine automation process is necessary. The advantages for using the SixSigma model are: the success of the project is measured mathematically and statistically (numbers do not lie), employees may greatly contribute while achieving the belts designations and getting involved in the model, the goals are strictly defined and understood before the set-off. The cons of SixSigma might be strong need of employees training to get them started with the methodology, refusal to implement the new tool, fear of the process automation.



The next approach to managing the projects is PRINCE2, an acronym for Projects In Controlled Environments, version 2. Its designed started in 1975 as PROMPT. At the moment, the PRINCE2 is one of the most popular certification-like managing methods throughout the Financial and Outsourcing industry (especially in the UK) Its principal is to divide the original project into smaller and separate parts which would make the whole. The model is founded on seven major postulates, seven themes, and seven processes.

– Continued business justification, learn from experience, defined roles, and responsibilities, manage by stages, manage by exception, focus on products and tailor to suit the project environment;
– The seven themes are: business case, organization, quality, plans, risk, change and progress;

PRINCE2 states that every project under development should have a project manager, who also might be a head of the PMO simultanesly. The main pros of PRINCE2 are that project parameters are well known and defined before set off, the model is very easy to be understood, more than 900 000 people in the have already finished the PRINCE2 foundation program.. Some cons we might consider are that there are no strict guidelines how to manage the stuff during the project, in effect, inexperienced project managers might find it difficult to delegate the work. several operations might require only a partial PRINCE2 usage – it can be problematic.



We are now coming back to Japan to discover a Kanban system. Kanban is a Japanese word for “visual signal” or “card.” Toyota Company assembly workers used a kanban (a factual card) to indicate steps in their production process. We try to reduce as many things in progress/production as possible (e.g. cars ready to sell stocked in a warehouse)
Kanban is all about the visualization, pictures, and colors. It is a well-known fact that the human’s brain is able to process visual information much more efficient than the voice or text. We remember even 90% of information seen as pictures, our memories are formed as paintings instead of long text messages. Kanban helps you provide the power of optical information by using sticky-notes on a board to create a visualization of your work. Even though Kanban is a new thing and so far has been mainly used in the IT industry, it has been gaining momentum and has been spreading around the world. The Japanese got it right once again!



Two last but definitely not least method of managing the projects are Agile and Scrum. It must be stated from the beginning that Scrum is strictly connected with Agile. Basically, Scrum is a subset of Agile. The Agile initiated in 2001 in Utah, where 17 of the finest software developers created and published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The Agile methodology is purely iterative to divide the whole project into mini phases – called sprints. The feedback from the client (Product Owner) is received immediately. Scrum prioritizes the tasks of their importance of delivery and meaning to the project. The Product Owner prepares and updates (often daily, weekly) a list of changes and modifications to be implemented by the team – it is called a Product Backlog. Then the top-priority requests are moved into the team’s Iteration Backlog (current sprint) to be looked after. Some days of work are started with a short meeting, about 10 minutes, to discuss the problems and status of the work (Daily/Bi-Weekly/Weekly Standup). Every sprint is overseen by the Scrum Master, a person which looks for any breaches in the process, helps everyone to understand the Agile and Scrum principals, he is a focal point of contact with the Product Owners, seeks for consensus between the team and the PO in what can be done during the next sprint. It should be stated that the Scrum Master is not a team leader or boss, in the Agile methodology, all of the members have no grades. They trust each other and form a self-managing organization. The most recognizable firms conducted in a self-management way are Valve (American IT corporation – Counter Strike and Steam), Buurtzorg Nederland a home nurse and doctor providing company or Noordwind (Cracow based IT). If you would like to know a little bit more about the approach visit the below link. After each sprint, there is a Retrospective in which the team discusses what went good and could have been improved – in the form of an open discussion. The main purposes and advantages to using the Agile/Scrum model are better quality of products, daily review of ongoing issues, simple rules, no employees grading, visible progress and results as we deliver projects partially, reduced time to hit the market, bigger team velocity and satisfaction of the employees, clients are much more happy with work of the team, daily/weekly feedback from customers and stakeholders. What can be against the Agile/Scrum is that it probably not going to work in the bigger teams (The Agile Manifesto claims that 8 members are maximum), as we depend on trusting each it is possible that one person would take advantage of the situation and would like not to be cooperative and contribute to the project, if any member of the team leaves during the projects it is hard to replace him by another person.


There is no doubt that leading or managing a project is not an easy task to do. It requires an appropriate approach to the given design, as always, there is no silver bullet in project management schemes. Each one has pros and cons, it is our job, to decide which suits our goals best. Finance, IT, Engineering are as ever-changing as never before, we all work in a dynamic environment. The models will be mixing creating new ones like LEAN Six Sigma and similar. It’s a natural way of progress. But hey, there is a good news, didn’t we send men to the Moon before we ever started thinking about the Agile or Scrum?

2 comments: On Kanban, Agile, Lean, SixSigma, PRINCE2, Waterfall and Scrum – What are those weirdos?

  • Hello Tomasz, another great read from you!

    I was working in civil engineering for almost five years and we were always working in waterfall model. Actually in macro scale it is kind of waterfall but in micro – it’s more like Scrum, but more messy ;).
    Waterfall in civil engineering has one quite big flaw (which concerns long lasting projects, like 12+ months): it is very difficult to make changes in requirements and implent them, especially while you have some official permission or have to work with other branches that are crucial for you.

    My girlfriend works in automotive and management tries to input 5S ideology in the office (in fact it looks like it’s all about cleaning the desk 😉 ). I have to say, that this is kind of wrong fixation. It has some pros (e.g. you will always hide sensitive data) but while you don’t have new species growing in your old coffe cup, noone should tell you how to live.

    There is old 3M case, where Six Sigma killed innovation:

    I am not an expert and someone would ask questions like: was it really Six Sigma? Was it properly implemented? But I’d say in this situation: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

    Pardon my english.

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