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Authors: Noah Benedict & Richard Tyre
Some of you PMPs and Agile Coaches may cringe at even the mention of a hybrid project approach. You spend time learning about a particular approach, work with it in practice, and see it used successfully every day – why do anything differently? As consultants, however, we’ve learned there isn’t a “one size fits all” project approach. Sticking to any set of practices too rigidly stifles success as you spend more time and effort on how to do things rather than getting them done.
Project management frameworks and methodologies like Scrum (Agile) and waterfall provide standards and approaches based on proven principles and values that project teams use to guide themselves. While some company cultures have successfully adopted one framework or methodology, every company adapts its approach, artifacts, and rituals based on its needs.
At RevGen we teach Scrum classes based on a standard Certified Scrum Master course that we have tailored to include recommended practices based on our experience. For example, while most courses mention capacity planning, we include concrete practices that can be incorporated into sprint planning. We also help ease people into story pointing with a unique approach that achieves the same outcome, but typically with less resistance and faster adoption. While these are outside of a strict Scrum approach, we have seen these work time and time again. Our pragmatic approach, while rooted in Agile principles and values, allows for flexibility to achieve project goals in ways that work for many.
As another example, most of our projects and client teams are date-driven – we have a set scope and timeline to deliver specific outcomes. Often, at the start of a project, there are significant unknowns and vague requirements. Scrum helps us identify unknowns faster than a traditional waterfall project. Iterations allow us to capture client feedback sooner and swiftly hone in on the best way to achieve intended results. Since we are date-driven, how do we know how much time we have to plan, set up technical environments, hone in on MVP, build, iterate, and deploy? This is where our pragmatic approach comes in.
By creating a basic Waterfall project plan, we can easily visualize our timeline and understand the impacts of time constraints and dependencies. We work with our clients along the way to confirm what’s realistic as we drive towards a date with specific outcomes in mind, adjusting, when needed, within defined periods of time.
We aren’t alone in our approach. Clients at some self-proclaimed Agile shops say they are “not really Agile;” they call their blended approach things like wagile, Agilefall, and waterscrum. There’s nothing wrong with this, so long as you adhere to the principles and values of your primary framework or methodology.
We have seen extremely successful clients who have selected Agile as their framework, yet still employ components of traditional project management to suit their needs. For example, manufacturing companies must do things in a certain order and can be heavily dependent on the timing of raw materials or data. Agile helps them stay focused in short time-boxes, while traditional planning and tracking can help inform delivery dates. These organizations adhere to Agile principles such as, “Deliver working software frequently,” by providing sprint demos that showcase software for feedback, even if the underlying data hasn’t been provided yet.
Conversely, we have seen organizations who have forgotten Agile principles and values and reverted to heavy documentation, stage-gate checkpoints, and rigorously following a plan instead of adapting to change. This is doing Agile wrong. So when we see these situations, we remind the client why they selected an Agile framework in the first place and help them re-adjust to get out of missed delivery dates, missed requirements, and poor quality. A first step may be to re-introduce the daily scrum (stand-up) and a retrospective to gain daily alignment and focus on continuous improvement.
For any organization that has chosen an Agile approach, whether they consider themselves Hybrid Agile or Pure Agile, we recommend a periodic review of the Agile Manifesto and Agile Principles. This is particularly important for those with customized hybrid approaches to ensure they haven’t strayed too far from the original intent of their core approach.
Re-visiting foundational principles and values is also important for organizations that have not selected an Agile approach, or where a more traditional approach is most appropriate. Assess if your teams are operating too far outside the tried-and-true guidelines. If they are, it’s important to realign on why the principles and values are important and what needs to change to improve delivery. When your teams understand the why, they are more likely to adhere to them over time.
So, are “hybrid” project approaches a friend or foe of today’s organizations? From our perspective, if your teams stay aligned to the principles and values of a selected standard and make small adjustments that work well for your organization, hybrid approaches can be a great ally in maintaining quality, time and cost, while reducing the speed to onboard new hires and partner with new vendors. We recommend re-visiting the principles and values of your selected approach on regular intervals and re-adjust if you’ve gone too far off-course and are starting to see detrimental impacts to your project output.
Richard Tyre (CSM, CSPO, SAFe 5 Agilist), is a senior manager with over 20 years of experience leading digital projects.