GitLab DevOps survey: Water-scrum-fall on the rise?

GitLab has released its annual DevOps survey, based this time on just over 5,000 respondents – up from 4,300 last time round. Notable results include a surging interest in the software methodology called water-scrum-fall, practiced by 28 percent of respondents, up from just 5.01 percent in 2021.

There are a few reasons not to take the survey as in any sense definitive. The number of respondents is relatively small, and GitLab itself notes: “This is our survey so it’s no surprise some participants use our products.” A surprising difference from last year is the increased proportion of female participants – up from 14.95 percent to 26 percent. While this is welcome, it may also imply some difference in the way the survey was publicized. Another key difference is that in 2021 over 46 percent of respondents reported that their organizations had 100 or fewer employees, whereas in 2022 that figure was 37 percent. Could this have anything to do with GitLab’s efforts to make its free tier less attractive?

What is water-scrum-fall?

That does not make the survey uninteresting though. Why the increased prominence of water-scrum-fall? According to scrum trainer Andy Hiles, interviewed by InfoQ, “it sections off software delivery into three phases. Firstly there is a period of detailed design and planning. Next, Scrum is used as the main development management method. Finally there is a retention of a strict and managed service delivery/release to live period. The encompassing three section practice is often gated, dominated by fixed contract terms and very very lengthy end to end.” Hiles is not altogether a fan though. He said that while “water-scrum-fall is a good place to start” it is not where an organization should settle.

Agile proponents may suspect that water-scrum-fall’s hybrid approach reflects the failure of many organizations to adopt an authentic agile methodology. One of the issues is that success with agile requires a collaborative and trusting environment – which internal politics, power structures or other dysfunctions may prevent. In those circumstances, perhaps water-scrum-fall is the best that can be achieved. This resonates with what the likely originator of the term, Dave West at Forrester Research, meant when he said in 2011: “The reality of agile adoption has diverged from the original ideas described in the Agile Manifesto, with many adoptions resembling what Forrester labels water-scrum-fall.”

There are a few other notable trends in the report. One is the rise of AI/ML in software testing. “31 percent of teams are using AI/ML for code review, nearly double what respondents reported last year,” states the report.

Another is use of Kubernetes. This is an odd one. This year, 33 percent of respondents report use of Kubernetes, with another 25 percent planning to use this year, and 29 percent within 2–3 years. Last year though, 46 percent said they used Kubernetes – proving, if nothing else, that surveys like this are no sure guide to the future.

The full report is here.