Hybrid Project Management

Delivering projects on time, on budget and on quality has been and will always be the core challenge every project manager faces. Critical Path Method (CPM) has been de facto standard when planning and executing projects, which is the fundamental approach to classical or waterfall project management. On the other hand, Agile project management is being pioneered and is getting more traction when the incremental approach is favored while focusing on customer needs.

Check this video to get a better understanding what is Critical Path Method.

What is hybrid project management?

Hybrid project management is a technique where high-level project phases are planned using the waterfall approach and project phase work (actual tasks) execution is done the Agile way. It is rather easy to draw conclusions that some of above-mentioned challenges can be “cured” by combining Agile and Waterfall into one. The result of the combination is also logical. But achieving that combo is not easy or trivial, hence certain conventions must be established.

How to choose between Agile or Waterfall project management?

While there are many project management methodologies to choose from or even combine, in our humble opinion there are only two real contenders based on popularity and their inherent differences – Waterfall and Agile. To be able to make a reasonable choice – first, we should understand the specifics of each methodology.

Essential specifics arising from waterfall project management

  • Higher cost of change
  • Learning and steering is complicated
  • End goal is defined very early
  • Effort demanding planning and progress tracking
  • Higher risk for projects where there is numerous unknowns
  • Not focused on early value confirmation
  • Requires significant experience from project team
  • End goal centric (can be positive or negative depending on project type)

✅ Great for well-defined and strictly known outcome projects.

Waterfall project management

Essential specifics arising from agile project management

  • Makes project contracts more complex
  • Requires both project requestors/sponsors and project team to be aligned on the approach
  • Not suitable for projects with strict deadlines where phases/stages are well known
  • Requires significant experience from project team
  • Harder to follow and estimate in the early days
  • Customer centric (can be positive or negative depending on project type)

✅ Great for projects where the end goal is not clear enough or there is no clear way to achieve that goal. Failing the initial end goal can also be a positive outcome resulting in saved time and cost. Projects with a high risk of being pivoted tend to manage such risk better when being done the Agile way.

Agile project management

How to combine Agile and Waterfall

Waterfall for planning

First of all, we will use the waterfall approach only for high-level deadlines, deliverables, and contracts with customers:

  1. Agree only on top level things like final deadlines, milestones, deliverables or classical project phases
  2. Identify phases of a project where Agile can come in. The rule here could be if the phase duration is longer than a month, it is worth switching to Agile. Otherwise just go for classic

Agile for execution

Secondly, introduce Agile execution cycles for project tasks

  1. Identify project work types and try to breakdown them in tasks which are less than a day
  2. Create a prioritized work backlog which fulfills project phase or whole project goal/milestone
  3. Agree to work in iterations (sprints) of 2 or 4 weeks. 2 weeks is good if less experienced team and more alignment is required
  4. Before every iteration plan what your project team will work on by taking prioritized items from work backlog
  5. Estimate every task so you know how many you can fit into single sprint
  6. In the end of every sprint do a retrospective – what went well and what can be improved? Capture metrics on how many tasks and total estimation was completed
  7. Use captured completion metrics to adjust your next sprint planning
Hybrid project management

Combined metrics and practices for progress reporting

Finally, make sure you can monitor progress and steer accordingly by:

  1. Having tools such as project burndown chart to visualize progress
  2. Perform daily status meetings to check if work is being completed according on Sprint goal (planned work)
  3. Do project status checks against deliverables and project goals
  4. Involve stakeholders in project communication and progress reports after each sprint to showcase value delivered

Agile ceremonies for continuous improvement

It is highly recommended to follow best practices of Agile ceremonies to ensure there is a process in place to continuously raise the quality of work being done and approaches being taken.

Shortlist which is not limited to of suggested ceremonies (practices/meetings):

  1. Daily status checks with project team
  2. Backlog refinement and prioritization
  3. Sprint planning
  4. Sprint retrospective

Bonus technique from classic project management

5. Lessons learned / broader retrospective after each project phase

Hybrid project management manifesto

Since there is this great Agile manifesto to draw a line where to focus while working with the methodology, we think it would be great to do the same for hybrid project management and propose a hybrid project management manifesto:

  • Responding to change over following a detailed plan
  • Created value over formalities
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

In essence, it is about creating high-level plans and ditching detailed work breakdown schedules. It is about focusing on why somebody is requesting a project, what is the expected value? Lastly, it is about collaborating and solving impediments instead of spending time to negotiate a fine-tuned contract for all the possible outcomes.

This is of course opinionated and based on our and our customer experience. Feel free to propose modifications or better versions by contacting us.

How and when to implement hybrid project management?

Everything depends on the following aspects:

  1. Is it possible to define high level project phases and their goals?
  2. Can you choose the way you work freely?
  3. Do you have people who are well experienced in Agile?
  4. Can you agree with project requestor that only high level plan will be present and detailed work will be not included in contract?
  5. Is the rest of project team experienced with Agile ways of working? I.e. Prioritizing backlog, planning short sprints, estimating in story points, retrospecting?

If you have ticked all 5 with a YES then you have the potential to run your projects the hybrid way and enjoy the benefits of hybrid project management. If not, then you should perform necessary actions to make a majority of those points a YES, before starting your first project. Having knowledge is not enough especially when combining techniques/methodologies. You need well-seasoned people who will steer the process and project both on bright and dark days. From our experience, the hardest part could be to convince project stakeholders to do it differently, especially if stakeholders are external parties. Aligning and proposing the benefits can be a project in itself!

When to choose hybrid project management and when to stick to solo Agile or Waterfall?

We are big believers in comparison tables to put things side to side. Comparing methodologies is not easy but still, can be done side by side to the most extent. Here you will find a comparison of methodologies on the following aspects:

  • Repository of work
  • Planning approach
  • Commitments
  • Focus
  • Emphasis
  • Budget
  • Goals
  • Project duration
  • Resource availability
  • Delivery approach
  • Scope
  • Effort required for changes
  • Estimating
Waterfall project managementAgile project managementHybrid project management
Project Work Breakdown ScheduleProject BacklogPhase Backlogs
Detailed project planningIteration planningHigh level planning + iteration planning
Early definition of project goalAgreement of goal with constant learning and adapting via smaller goals Agreement of goal with constant learning and adapting via smaller milestones
Focus on stagesFocus on early resultFocus on end result for each phase
Emphasis on documentation and detailsEmphasis on value deliveredEmphasis on value delivered
Fixed budgetVariable budgetFlexible or fixed budget
Well defined goalsUnclear or estimated goalsEstimated or well defined goals
Long to medium durationShort to medium durationAny duration
Great when resources are partially availableWorks best when resources are fully available More flexible when resources are partially available but still works best with full availability
Time critical deliveryFast paced deliveryTime critical delivery combined with fast pace for early learning
Fixed scopeUnknown/variable scopeFixed or somewhat variable scope
Harder to changeEasiest to changeEasier to change
Precise estimationsAbstract estimationsAbstract estimations

Get this table as an image here.

Tools for hybrid project management

The unfortunate problem which majority of professionals undergo is that their companies are either far invested in CPM or Agile. Resulting in tooling which is also far stretched to support one of those methodologies.

What should be the core features of a tool to support Hybrid project management?

  1. Gantt charts for high level project phases
  2. Task groups or multiple backlogs
  3. Sprints or Iterations with capacity planning and velocity metrics
  4. Kanban boards for daily task execution
  5. Agile metrics
  6. Burndown charts

We at Teamhood strive for the hybrid approach values and our software is tailored to meet the Agile, Waterfall, or Hybrid Project management approach altogether.

If you are keen to see for yourself how can Agile be combined with classic project management go for Teamhood trial!

Frequently asked questions

  • How long does it take to adopt hybrid project management?

    This heavily depends on project team experience and motivation among project stakeholders. It can vary from extremely fast adoption during few months of piloting towards extreme crash and burn trials for years.

  • Are there any useful resources to see hybrid PM in action?

    We recommend watching a video about Teamhood project management use case in case of tooling perspective. Otherwise we recommend finding project managers who have experience and can share stories. Ideal place could be your local PMI chapter or Agile meetup.

  • Can Agile be combined with PRINCE2 methodology?

    It would be less popular choice and would mean that smaller amount of examples and resources are available. Though essential idea would not differ much from combining Waterfall and Agile.

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