You want the flexibility of Agile. You need the reliability of Waterfall. Hybrid project management can give you the best of both.
Agile alone can be impractical for large teams. It lacks the structure to hit long term goals with precision.
Waterfall by itself is not good at adapting to change. It doesn’t produce working software until close to the end of the project.
The goal of hybrid project management is to blend both approaches to get rid of their weaknesses. By definition, hybrid project management is the practice of mixing Agile and traditional Waterfall project management elements to create a custom approach.
Blended project management methods are popular among Agile teams. In 2019, PMI conducted a study of companies that are highly competent in Agile project management. They found that 60% of these companies use hybrid project management all or most of the time.
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Why hybrid project management is important
Hybrid project management (also called structured Agile) works for every kind of project and every type of team.
Blending Agile and Waterfall makes it easier to adapt throughout your project. Your team works more efficiently, and the outcome is better than it would be if you used just Agile or Waterfall alone.
Hybrid works the way projects are actually run.
Oftentimes, not all deliverables are fixed and defined. Costs and resources may not be fully thought out or dedicated when you start.
Being able to apply Agile to uncertain aspects and Waterfall to fixed deliverables means having a flexible project that’s better built for success.
Customize your approach for each project to get the best results. In this post, we’ll talk about how you find the right blend and implement it in your team.
Who uses hybrid project management?
Blended project management is widely used by companies that see the benefits of Agile but would struggle with a fully Agile approach. This includes marketing agencies, manufacturers, small businesses, and companies across all industries. Even software developers for whom Agile was created are increasingly adopting hybrid styles.
Here are some prime examples:
A company called Atypon used a hybrid approach to develop Sage Publishing’s new website. They needed to migrate 1,000 journals across systems, which was a big task.
Waterfall was proposed at the start of the project, but the team decided to blend in some Agile methodologies to maximize flexibility. It worked perfectly. The team delivered a quality product 3 months ahead of schedule.
Like Sage Publishing, a United States federal agency used hybrid project management to improve results. Failed projects and poorly designed applications were sure signs that their strictly Waterfall approach wasn’t working.
The development team overhauled its project management approach to include more Agile strategies. The result: application design improved, users were happier, and the agency became better prepared for the future.
These are not isolated cases. Hybrid project management is increasingly popular as all types of teams look for ways to create better results with limited time and resources.
Mixing project management methodologies allows your team to plan projects with both flexibility and structure. The goal is to reap the benefits of both project management styles without the weaknesses of either.
Because of this, hybrid works for all projects and all teams, though you might not need it for small and simple projects. Whether you’re in construction, healthcare, software development, or architecture, hybrid is a good choice.
Finding the right Agile hybrid project management approach for your team
Hybrid project management looks different for every team that uses it. There are a few ways you can mix your methods:
- Mix Agile and Waterfall teams
- Use Agile for some phases and Waterfall for others
- Use a consistent hybrid approach with elements of both Agile and Waterfall
Every project is different. Change your project management approach with each new project to meet your current needs.
Build your custom approach by looking at the details of your project. The idea is to choose elements from each project management style to balance potential downsides.
For example, when working on a project with multiple teams, Agile creates inefficiencies. Stand-ups take hours when 29 people need to give an update, and large teams have a hard time adjusting to change on short notice. To balance that, use some Waterfall elements. Make your sprints more rigid to limit change. That will allow you to have fewer standups and get more done.
It’s wise to create your hybrid project management approach at the beginning of the project. Switching your strategy in the middle creates problems and delays. Make note of any inefficiencies you find, and address them by adjusting your hybrid approach for the next project.
Answering these questions will help you figure out which elements you need to include in your hybrid approach.
What are your project goals?
Project goals may or may not be flexible. Here’s an example:
Imagine that your primary goal is to create software to upsell customers to premium products. While your team works on building it, they discover that it will be easier to encourage customers to buy an add-on product instead. If your goals are flexible, you can change your focus and work on the add-on feature. If your goals aren’t flexible, your team will work on making the upsell more effective.
Agile methodologies are excellent for projects that need to define some of their goals while the project is already underway. Waterfall is great when you need to keep the team on track, no matter what cool opportunities come up in the middle of the process.
What’s your deadline for completion?
If you’re working with a hard deadline, you may want more structure. A flexible deadline gives you the freedom to focus on other priorities.
Blending your project management styles can help you meet deadlines more easily. Agile practices help development teams get work done more quickly. Add Waterfall elements to help create efficiency for bigger teams.
Who will be involved?
Project teams come in a lot of shapes and sizes. You may have a small group of people from the same department. Your team may change throughout the project as you need different resources. Some people might be more comfortable in Agile, while others are used to Waterfall.
Use hybrid project management to address communication weaknesses, divide tasks between teams efficiently, and help each team member stay productive.
What project management style do you normally use?
There are probably some elements of your current strategy that work well for you. There are probably some shortcomings, too, since you’re reading this post. Keep the things that work and replace the things that don’t.
You’ll tend to lean more towards styles that are familiar. Pay attention to this bias. It will take effort to change.
Has your team completed projects like this before?
Many teams use Waterfall for routine projects because they’ve already worked out the best process. You don’t need the flexibility of Agile when you’re doing a job that you’ve done dozens of times before.
Agile is often a good choice when you’re trying something new.
You can add Agile elements to familiar Waterfall projects to help encourage your team to seek improvements to old processes. Use Waterfall elements to keep your team focused on a specific outcome, even when there are lots of new options to explore.
How to successfully manage a hybrid PM
Using the insights you gained from the questions above, you’re ready to start building your hybrid strategy. Here’s how to get started:
1: Decide what project management problems you most want to fix
Instead of making sweeping changes to your project management style all at once, it’s wise to transition more slowly.
There might be a lot of things you want to change. Where should you begin?
Start by talking to your team about the project management problems that annoy them the most.
This does two important things: it shows you which shortcomings to address first, and it gets your team invested in the new system from the start.
You might have a long list of things to fix. If that’s the case, prioritize the top three to five things that will have the biggest business impact.
Let your team know that you’ll fix everything they’ve brought up. It will just be a gradual process so that your workflow isn’t thrown too far out of whack. Trying to do everything at once is overwhelming.
2: Choose your first hybrid elements
Blending your project management approach helps you address the problems you found in step one. You might not get this right on the first try, and that’s okay. That’s why you’re taking it slow, right?
Here’s a simple way to get started:
Identify the parts of your project that are fixed and clearly defined. Look for deliverables, deadlines, requirements, and constraints that must be done exactly as defined. Use a Waterfall approach for these.
Next, look at the parts of your project that lack fixed definitions. These are deliverables, requirements, or resources that might change or haven’t been fully developed yet. These parts of your project belong in an Agile framework.
Look back on recent projects when you’ve experienced the problems you identified in the last step. Plan your next project with the right hybrid elements to address those challenges.
Let’s imagine that communication is a regular issue for your Waterfall projects. Different teams don’t talk to each other, and when there are small changes, it causes big delays and rework. For your next project, try breaking work into sprints and adding regular Stand-ups.
When you’ve decided how you want to address your top challenges, you’re ready for the next step.
3: Train your team
Training is important for more than just the information you share. It creates confidence and shows your team that you’re willing to invest time, energy, and money in their success.
Even if members of your team have worked in a structured Agile environment before, your approach will be unique.
Never assume that your team knows what you’re talking about. Training should be thorough, clear, and simple enough that a beginner can understand it. Avoid acronyms whenever possible, and define Agile terms clearly to avoid confusion.
Good training sets the tone. Here are some of the things you should cover:
- What is Agile?
- What is Waterfall?
- Why are you moving to a hybrid approach? Note – remind your team of the problems they pointed out earlier.
- What results do you expect from this transition?
Make it clear that everyone on the team is involved. As the people who have to work within this system every day, their opinions and ideas matter.
4: Add hybrid components to your projects
The first three steps build a solid foundation for your project management shift. This is where that work starts to pay off. It’s time to tackle your first hybrid projects.
When you decide on your blended strategy, it’s important to stick with it until the project ends. Changing project management approaches in the middle of a project confuses your team.
Plus, you’ll analyze your results to make improvements in the next step. If you changed approaches in the middle, your data isn’t as valuable.
We recommend using task management software like Hubstaff Tasks to stay on track, especially when you’re trying a new process.
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As you work on your first project, encourage your team to talk about their experiences. Change is hard, even when it’s for the better.
Staying open to feedback shows your team that you value their opinion and you genuinely want to make their job easier.
Which brings us to the next step:
5: Talk about what’s working and what’s not
After your first hybrid project is done, bring your team together to talk about what worked for them and what still needs improvement.
If things went well, you’re ready to use more hybrid elements in your next project.
If it didn’t, dig in to find out why. You might have other issues that need to be addressed, or you might need to keep adjusting your project management approach.
Keep adding hybrid elements to new projects, then working with your team to refine your approach. When you’re comfortable with hybrid project management, you’re ready to move to the final step:
6: Adjust your hybrid strategy for each project
Hybrid project management experts tweak their approach for every project.
Keep learning and adjusting. After you’ve succeeded (or failed) at a few hybrid projects, you’ll be able to spot potential pitfalls and avoid them with the right blend of Agile and Waterfall.
You can still use pure Agile or Waterfall sometimes, too. That’s the strength of hybrid project management — you use whatever style is right for the situation, even if it’s not blended. There’s no need to shove Agile methodologies into a 4 week, simple Waterfall project. Just use Waterfall and ship it.
Where to go from here
If you’ve read all the way through this post, congratulations. We hope it helps you start building your hybrid project management strategy.
To help even more, here are some extra project management resources.
This guide to project management is a great place to dive into the details. It goes over different methodologies and helps you troubleshoot problems. If you plan to manage your own projects without hiring a full-time project manager, use this guide to help.
Agile often feels strange for newcomers. It looks messy and unstructured to people who are used to Waterfall, but it actually takes more discipline to do it well.
If you’re new to Agile, it’s worth your time to learn more about the methodology and the different types of Agile project management.
What project are you going to tackle? We’d love to hear from you. Tell us in the comments.