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A professional facilitator handles several types of assignments, from planning through design. However, most facilitators must also provide a method for securing the deliverable. Although a different role, the ‘methodologist’ responsibilities make up the most important part of preparing for many meetings.

How will you lead the group successfully from the Introduction through the Wrap? When weighing agile vs waterfall benefits, consider how the Stacey Matrix arrays projects from the simple through the chaotic.

An Adapted Stacey Matrix: Agile vs Waterfall

Agile vs Waterfall, Stacey Matrix

Agile vs Waterfall

Stacey’s original two dimensions included Agreement (among stakeholders) and Certainty (about cause and effect relationships within the project). Hence Agilists made Stacey’s matrix popular by substituting Requirements for Agreement and Technology for Certainty. Arguably, Requirements capture WHAT solution must be built and Technology unveils HOW to provide the solution. Consequently the primary dimensions range from the clear or known, to the vague or unknown.

The quantity of people involved gives a softer, yet third dimension that also directly increases the complexity. Therefore, the balance of this article discusses the five primary zones or areas delineated on the matrix. They include:

  1. The Simple
  2. Politically Complicated
  3. Technically Complicated
  4. Zone of Complexity
  5. The Chaotic

Five Zones Overview: Agile vs Waterfall

The Waterfall mindset demands substantial, up-front planning. Agile launches quicker, with a much narrower scope during each increment (or Sprint when using Scrum). When the cause and effects are clear and mastered, Waterfall optimizes resources and return on investment. However, as the customer’s scenario constantly changes, Agile permits adaptation and quick adjustment.

Waterfall works especially well with large construction projects and broad-scoped hardware installations. Hence, Agile may be better suited for software products, where the market demands constant and frequent change. When tasks are clearly defined, waterfall optimizes the sequencing and resource allocation. Therefore, results ought to be consistent, predictable, and repeatable. As tasks require frequent collaboration and adjustments, Agile lends a sense of quick-response and flexibility not associated with Waterfall.

The following table compares attributes of the five zones. Most models apply identical content to the Complicated Zones. We split the zone into two because the challenges of each demand a different method. When the lack of clarity derives from stakeholders, plan carefully before proceeding (Waterfall). When uncertainty derives from the technology or software, consider the Agile approach, and prepare to change along the way. A brief discussion follows about each.

Zones   \   Attributes


Politically Complicated

Technically Complicated




Rational decision-making and control, orderly, traditional project management and organizational development
Political decision-making and control; compromise, negotiation, persuasion, coalition building, relationship building
Judgmental decision-making, ideological control, intuition, learning organizations, systems thinking
Collaborative ideation, visioning, iterative improvement, knowledge management, creativity, innovation
Disintegration or massive avoidance

Focus or Control

Monitoring, Standards, Guidance. Evidence-based Negotiation Strategic or Adaptive Planning Learning, Creativity, Trial and Error, Empirical Disorder and chaos until novel patterns may emerge.

Planning Type

Operational or Predictive Planning Strategic or Adaptive Planning Strategic or Scenario Planning Adaptive or Scenario Planning Rapid action and improvising skills

Cause & Effect

Relationships between cause and effect are evident. Apply best practice and use defined process controls. Cause and effect can be understood by analyzing or investigating the system and its mechanisms. Apply good practices. Cause and effect can be understood by analyzing or investigating the system and its mechanisms. Apply good practices. The relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance. Inspect and Adapt. No clear relationships between cause and effect even if inspected.  The approach is to Act, Sense, Respond and we can discover novel practices.


Drilling for oil in the Permian Basin. Improving air quality or building an oil pipeline through North America. Sending a payload to Mars or beyond the edge of our known solar system. Raising a child. Every child is unique resulting in unpredictable outcomes. “Running of the Bulls”
(event held in Spain), or the turbulence in the tip vortex from an airplane wing


Right answer exists, best practices and detailed recipes, fact-based, traditional management Frequent disagreement about the value and purpose of the project More than one right answer possible, fact-based, coordination of expertise, reliance on techno-rationale Empirical methods focused on identification, selection, and development of increments High turbulence, no patterns, tension, need to create stability, experience may hinder progress
  1. The Simple Zone: Agile vs Waterfall

When the final result or “DONE” of a project resonates with everyone, especially large projects, Waterfall stays an obvious choice. Relying on fact-based and evidence-based decisions, projects will advance in an orderly fashion, generating few surprises. You have all worked with recipes in the kitchen before. Not only are the activities clear and sequenced, but the results are repeatable as well. Best practices serve as the benchmark for both guiding tasks and comparing results.

  1. Politically Complicated Zone: Agile vs Waterfall

As requirements become less clear, or even conflicting, waterfall may remain the best choice. How many project dollars have you seen wasted because people could not agree on the purpose or value of the project? Agile could carry out much while people are negotiating, but you risk working on the wrong stuff without the coalition building encourage by Waterfall. Always remember –  WHY before WHAT before HOW.

  1. Technically Complicated Zone: Agile vs Waterfall

As the value of adaptive thinking increases, such as embracing new technology for the first time, the Agile mindset may be favored. When cause and effect must be analyzed or investigated, the Agile mindset becomes preferred. Knowing that more than one right answer exists, a clear and frequent feedback loop with stakeholders help optimize decisions. Consequently, as Development Teams advance and grow, they become learning organizations, capable of increasing productivity and innovation.

  1. Zone of Complexity: Agile vs Waterfall

The empirical process control method demands Agile as conditions become increasingly complex. As contrasted with a fully defined process control (Waterfall), empirical methods demand transparency, frequent inspection, and adaptation. Therefore, Agile frameworks promote all three aspects or “legs.”. Scrum, in particular, requires inspections at the conclusion of each Sprint. Teams receive immediate and prompt feedback to help modify later Sprints, without much delay. Do not forget to look at Agile, a mindset, as “Being” while Scrum, a framework, represents “Doing”. Hence, an empirical process depends on experimentation and continuous improvement to optimize the performance of project teams.

  1. The Chaotic Zone: Agile vs Waterfall

Most recommend Kanban as an Agile approach to deal with chaos. With Kanban, there are no Sprints. Therefore teams, using WIP (Work in Progress), continually deliver and update their product backlog. Hence, as output increases, novel patterns may emerge to help projects migrate from the chaotic to the complex. In chaotic conditions, experience may be useless. However, experimentation may be invaluable. Therefore Act, Sense, and Respond – serve as one way out of chaotic conditions.

The Facilitator: Agile vs Waterfall

What’s it all mean to facilitators? Since most of us are called upon for the best method to conduct meetings, planning, negotiations, decision-making, etc., the methodological impact trumps the facilitator’s learnings. Hence, you begin to see where helping to manage the political uncertainty becomes paramount for many projects to succeed.

You can also sense that ‘removing impediments’ becomes quite like ‘making it easy.’ In the Waterfall world when meetings evidence highly productive participants and output, our role shifts to that of scribe or documenter. With Agile, the role shifts to that of a referee, trying to clear a path so that Development Teams can do what they do best—build a new product. In both situations, when we have done our jobs well, it is time get out of the way and be of service.

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Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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