Differences between Agile and waterfall explained by the Ramones | Matt Hayward's blog Melbourne Australia

Differences between Agile and waterfall explained by the Ramones

These days there are two methodologies in software development: Agile (can also be called as Scrum, Kanban or Extreme Programming) and Waterfall (sometimes known as the Software Development Life Cycle or SDLC).

Agile is very hot right now, but there are still people scratching their heads trying to work out the difference between Agile and Waterfall. There’s plenty of articles that tell you the technical differences. But not by way of ridiculous analogy. So let’s take two classic records and I’ll explain why one is Agile and one is text book waterfall.

So let’s start by explaining Agile via the Ramones…

The Ramones debut album

Ramones. Short , sharp, fast, brutal

Punk rock hadn’t really been done before – at least not the way the Ramones did it. It was loud, rude, edgy and risky. Only Manhattan’s edgy art rock scene really got it. Everyone else was just flabbergasted, offended or both. Sire Records was willing to take a punt on them. So they gave the Ramones an advance of about $6500. They recorded the whole album in seven days flat. It was co-produced by drummer Tommy Ramone and engineered by close friends of the band. Even the cover art cost about $125.

Worth noting how stripped back their style was. Meaning no guitar solos, no backing singers, nothing fancy. Just guitar driven brutality. The music was so fast that 14 songs took only 29 minutes. And they played the songs even quicker live! In 1976 there was nothing out there like the Ramones. For the next 5 years, they had a new album out every year and constantly toured.

In hindsight at least, there was a sense of urgency. Other groups like the Sex Pistols, the Saints and the Clash were champing at the bit release the first punk album.

Why is this Agile? We’ll get to that. First let’s look at mullet rock kinds Def Leppard.

Def Leppard Hysteria. 

Def Leppard Hysteria

Def Leppard. Mulleted 80s perfection

Def Leppard had success in America with the album Pyromania but that wasn’t enough. They wanted complete world domination through absolute musical perfection.

Perfection means no compromise. The recording took almost 4 years and was re-recorded several times. Why? They couldn’t get the world’s mullet rockingest producer Mutte Lange. So they started recording the album, but then trashed it and started again with Lange. There was bad luck. Their drummer had a horrific car accident and lost his arm. Instead of getting another drummer, he (Rik Allen) literally had to create a drum kit he could play from scratch and reinvent his technique. When they actually got down to the brass tacks of recording, only the absolute perfect takes were used and patched together by Lange. It was excruciating and it cost millions of dollars.

When the album was released in 1987, they more than got their domination. It was one of the best selling records of all time.

So what’s the point?

The Ramones were truly Agile. They did not know how the product would be received. Without knowing it, their stripped down style was a Minimal Viable Product (MVP). So they did it quickly and got it out there with minimal budget. Subsequent albums came out in steady iterations (every 6-18 months) on a fixed time and budget. The band would do a retrospective and work out what direction they wanted to go in for each album. If an album didn’t work, they moved on quickly. As a team they were also very Agile, with people in the team taking on different roles, e.g. the drummer producing records. It meant that they didn’t get held up waiting on resources to be available. They had mixed commercial success but are one of the most influential rock bands in history.

Def Leppard couldn’t be more waterfall. They would settle for nothing less than the best. They had critical dependencies on resources and incredibly high standards that other bands weren’t doing. Their management were patient and knew if they persisted, they would get massive return on their investment. Record sales were huge, but the band have released 3 studio albums in 20 years. Are they influential? Well yes if you’re a mulleted German taxi driver or hardcore home hifi tragic.

New kids are kicking up Ramones albums all the time. The same kids cringe when the incredibly dated ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me‘ is played.

Ramones Def Leppard
Time taken to record 1 week 4 years
Budget $7000 At least $5M
Production Co-produced by the band World’s best producer
Commercial Success Negligible One of the best selling albums of all time
Inspiration Pioneered the punk rock genre throughout the world Tacky mullet rock.
Albums recorded in 10 years 10 2

What does this mean in a modern context?

Just like IT, the music industry has seen radical change. Unless you’re a band like Metallica or U2 no label is willing to invest millions into an album. Albums can be recorded now for less than what the Ramones spent in 1976 in a bedroom studio – and often are. If you must have absolute perfection, then waterfall is still valid. But Joe Punter who buys your product just doesn’t care about your painstaking pursuit of perfection.

In IT there are plenty of scenarios where waterfall is valid. For example defence, gambling, banking etc. They simply can’t afford failure. But it’s also why products such as Microsoft’s and your online banking web site feel so old fashioned, no matter what they try and do.

However the general Maxim in IT is just like the Ramones: if you don’t do it now, someone else will beat you to market. The Ramones weren’t the first punk rock band to get an album out. Most consumer oriented web sites and apps will fit in this category today. Basically get it out as quickly as possible. Keep developing (or fixing) in subsequent iterations. If it doesn’t work, move on. If it does, listen to customers and keep improving it.

People do indeed make mistakes with Agile. Even Google who at one point thought their latest project was going to make email redundant. It didn’t work, so they moved onto the next thing and remain one of the world’s most trusted and admired brands. Rather than getting stuck in the past like Def Leppard.

Oh and there’s one important point to make

Technology is not a factor here. Both bands were using state of the art technology. It’s how much you indulge in using it that makes the difference.

Article Name
What's the difference between Agile and Waterfall?
Confused about the difference between Agile and waterfall methodologies, let the Ramones and Def Leppard demonstrate the difference.

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