Waterfall

What Software, Business, and the Chainsmokers have in common

swyx

0 reactions 2019-09-22

The worlds of software, business, and music use the word “Waterfall” incredibly differently and they are completely ignorant of each other. I figured I would make a quick note to compare and contrast them!

So anyway; here’s Waterfall:

Music

I was listening to the latest Switched on Pop today, on Charli XCX and the Future of Music and was fascinated by Charli’s story of how music executives are all excited by the Chainsmokers’ waterfall strategy. I’m always looking out for McLuhanisms and the clear evolution of music in response to the streaming era is a prime example, however this was the first time it was articulated as a release strategy and not just a songwriting strategy.

To the Chainsmokers, this is specifically creating a gradual “waterfall” of music by releasing one song a month, gradually building to an end-of-year 12-track album (original article is behind the Billboard paywall). Here the waterfall is cumulative, where each new release reinforces previous ones, and it refreshes artists at the top of their profiles and on your feeds. “The idea is that albums are built, not dropped.”

Business

Waterfall market entry is also cumulative, but represents a military-like strategy of focusing all resources on one entry point, and conquering that and learning from it before moving on to the next thing. We don’t use this term often today but every location-bound startup does this when they launch in new cities (sometimes, too ambitiously!).

Funny enough, this conception of waterfall probably has the strongest correlation with the physical waterfall analogy, because the same mass of water stops at each point along the way.

The idea is sound, just not very relatable, because you have to be a specific subset of business and at a specific stage of growth for this to be relevant.

Software

Waterfall is perhaps most famously known in software as a common punching bag for Agile/Lean startups. Here, waterfall isn’t something aspirational, it’s often a laughing stock. Oh, you don’t release every 6 weeks/2 weeks/day/hour/minute? How quaint. Often, shitting on Waterfall is really an excuse for throwing out process, vision, substantive feedback and product management altogether, as well as keeping tech workers in a permanent state of manic nihilism (“I have no idea what I’ll be working on next week!” vs “I have no idea if what I do this week means anything”).

It is also approached as a software production philosophy rather than as a product/feature release and marketing philosophy. Maybe Software can learn a thing or two from Business and Music.

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