What is hybrid project management?

Hybrid project management is a form of project management that combines multiple management approaches into a single methodology.

Hybrid project management has gained significant popularity in recent years. Combining multiple project management methodologies, hybrid project management incorporates advantages from other, more-established methodologies. And while the term hybrid project management refers to any new methodology created from combining two or more existing methodologies (such as critical path method, Six Sigma, PRINCE2, outcome mapping, etc.), in practice, the hybrid approach generally unites Agile methods with the more-traditional Waterfall model.

As a result, organizations that employ a hybrid Agile methodology generally benefit from the adaptability, speed, and lean capabilities of Agile, with the rigid structure and clarity of Waterfall.

Waterfall vs Agile

There are many factors that may be tied to an increased need for hybrid project management. Three of the most important are:

  • Increased project complexity
    Throughout nearly every industry, projects are increasing in complexity, demanding improved management principles to see them effectively through to completion.
  • Increased market competition
    As new technologies arise and new players enter the market, if they wish to remain competitive, businesses around the globe are discovering that they need to do more to anticipate and respond proactively to emergent issues.
  • Evolving customer expectations
    Increased focus on customer-centricity has created increased customer expectations, particularly related to speed, usability, and personalization. Businesses now need to be able to respond more quickly than ever to address their clients’ changing needs.

By combining Agile and Waterfall methodologies, hybrid project management offers several clear advantages. These include the following:

Compatibility

Taking the best of both worlds, and allowing for significant project-specific customization, hybrid project management can be easily applied to essentially any team of any size, in practically any industry. This improved compatibility often makes it the go-to methodology for organizations that need to be able to address a range of project types.

Clarity of responsibilities

Hybrid project management clearly maps out entire projects from beginning to end, detailing the full scope of the project and the responsibilities of those who are seeing it through to completion. Employees, managers, and key stakeholders can see immediately where the project is right now, what next steps must be completed to move it forward, and who is involved at each step of the way.

Detailed planning

Along with identifying responsibilities, the planning aspect of hybrid project management allows businesses to create detailed plans and accurate cost estimates. Stages are attached to specific deliverables and a clear review process, and predefined sprints enable new features to be delivered quickly and predictably.

Flexibility

Taking full advantage of Agile’s increased adaptability, hybrid project management allows teams to easily reassess projects mid-development, pivoting where necessary to better address emergent issues and shifting priorities.

In terms of workflow, hybrid project management consists of five steps:

Components

Components are the specific units of the project—the individual building blocks that represent product requirements.

Number of tracks

Depending on specific components, a project will have at least one track, but may have several.

Backlogs

Backlogs detail the vital tasks that will need to be accomplished in each component. Tasks are determined from the backlog.

Sprints

Hybrid project management borrows the concept of sprints from Agile methodologies. These sprints represent the actual work that goes into completing tasks, including research, development, testing, and release. Each sprint usually lasts from four to eight weeks, but may take more or less time, depending on the project.

Releases

In the final stage, the project is completed and released. This stage also includes gathering and incorporating post release customer feedback.

Hybrid project management adopts two essential roles from its constituent methodologies. From traditional, Waterfall-related approaches, it takes the idea of a project manager, and from Agile, it brings in the role of scrum master.

How do these two roles interact in hybrid project management? The overall responsibility for managing the project falls to the project manager. The project manager takes full ownership over the success of the project and is also responsible for overseeing effective planning. They define the goals for given time frames, breaking down primary goals and objectives into subgoals associated with specific components.

Once goals have been established, the project manager works to define the tasks for each component. The project manager appoints a scrum master to manage each sprint and provide details on how they should be implemented. The scrum master can then build their own teams to help fulfill the project needs.

While the project manager takes overall responsibility for the project, they should work closely with the scrum master to effectively break down project phases into clearly defined tasks, and to establish reasonable deadlines and build a working schedule for the project. The scrum master takes point position for the duration of each sprint, and then once the sprint is completed, the project manager steps in to review sprint results. The project manager then passes their findings and recommendations back to the scrum master who is responsible for making any necessary improvements to the process before the start of the next sprint.

A simplified way of looking at the relationship between project manager and scrum master is to think of the project manager as primarily associated with front-end tasks, while the scrum master handles essential back-end tasks. So, a project manager would be responsible for things like collecting and organizing customer feedback, defining components, and setting requirements; the scrum master would take charge of handling development sprints, managing task backlogs, and releasing finished products.

Every business is likely to approach hybrid project management differently, depending on their goals, needs, and limitations. That said, without clear direction, combining Agile and Waterfall methodologies can be a difficult prospect. Here, we outline a tried-and-true approach to hybrid project management:

Determine which project management limitations should be addressed

Companies that already have a preferred project management methodology might not wish to completely revamp everything all at once. Instead, they may prefer to start small, reviewing and evaluating what works with their current approach, and what doesn’t.

Looping in team members to candidly discuss any problems, annoyances, or inefficiencies they may have experienced with the established project management methodology will provide valuable insight into shortcomings that need to be addressed. As a bonus, it will also help team members take personal ownership over the success of the new approach. Identify a handful of the highest priority issues to focus on first, with the understanding that less-urgent problems will be resolved in the future.

Select project elements for specific methodologies

Waterfall and Agile are both highly effective methodologies if they are applied to the right kinds of projects. Take advantage of this fact, by reviewing the project and determining where the Waterfall approach would be more appropriate, and where Agile would provide the best support.

Start by identifying parts of the project that are fixed, rigid, and clearly defined, with strict deliverables, requirements, and resources. For these aspects, apply the Waterfall methodology. Then, identify the parts of the project that are not clearly defined—deliverables, requirements, or resources that are somewhat flexible, might change as the project progresses, or that are not yet firmly established. For these parts, use the Agile methodology.

It may be useful at his stage to review recent projects, identify problematic areas, and consider how revising the methodology used in those areas might improve the overall workflow.

Train team members

As previously stated, every business approaches hybrid project management slightly differently. This means that every organization will need to train their teams on the correct methodology for their specific projects—even if team members have previous experience in Waterfall, Agile, or hybrid methodologies.

Trainings should treat every team member as beginners; avoid jargon and acronyms, and never assume that the team has an innate understanding of any aspect of the methodology. Include in the training an overview of what hybrid is designed to resolve and what kind of results the team should be able to expect from making the transition.

Add hybrid components

This is the stage where an organization can finally begin applying hybrid methodologies. Incorporate hybrid components in the areas that were previously identified, and closely analyze the effectiveness of the blended strategy. It’s natural that first-time hybrid projects might run into snags, so keeping clear documentation on what is working and what could be improved will help ensure that future ventures have the benefit of experience.

Additionally, be sure to stick with the blended strategy throughout the entire project. Changing a project management approach mid-project is confusing to team members and invalidates any data that may be collected regarding the hybrid project.

Openly discuss project effectiveness

Making the switch to a new project management methodology can be stressful. Encourage team members to discuss the experience, solicit feedback throughout the project, and hold an official review meeting once the project is completed.

It’s important to recognize that any hybrid approach will likely be a work in progress, and the team members who are on the ground implementing the hybrid approach are the most valuable resource for insight and suggestions. These individuals can help managers and decision makers identify and resolve problematic issues in the blended strategy. Work with the team to continually refine the hybrid approach.

Regularly evaluate and adjust the hybrid strategy

Even if the project goes off without a hitch, the reality is that most businesses find that they must make at least some small adjustments to their hybrid strategy for every new project. Learn, adjust, and develop the expertise to see where specific methodologies are most beneficial, and use the style that is most effective per each new use case.

Wagile and Agifall are models of hybrid project management—each one deriving its name from a portmanteau of the terms Agile and Waterfall.

Agifall

Agifall is an approach that uses more-thorough research and planning stages to build tasks, and then relies on sprints to see those tasks successfully carried out. Agifall is essentially the Agile methodology, but with more focus on upfront research.

Wagile

Wagile is a term used to describe an approach where a project incorporates certain aspects of the Agile methodology into the Waterfall process. Unfortunately, the term has developed a somewhat negative connotation, implying that an organization is trying to apply Agile principles, such as daily standups and short iterations, without making any significant changes to how the project itself is carried out. Still, some businesses find success with the Wagile approach, organizing each sprint into smaller waterfalls of subtasks that must be completed in a specific order.

Choosing the right hybrid project management methodology is not a one-and-done task; it’s a decision that must be made and remade with every new project. To determine which is the right approach for each case, consider the following:

Project goals

How flexible are the project’s goals? If some of the goals may be redefined as the project is already underway, or if the business is open to taking advantage of new opportunities that might present themselves, then the Agile approach may be more effective at certain points. On the other hand, if the goals are already firmly established before the project commences and the team needs to remain focused on these goals throughout, then Waterfall will help keep everything and everyone on track.

Completion deadline

Hard deadlines often demand strict planning and structure. Waterfall allows for more efficient and focused management, helping larger teams meet rigid deadlines. Agile is more effective with flexible deadlines, allowing teams to get more done in shorter time periods while also focusing on other priorities.

Teams

Don’t discount the role that teams play in selecting elements from either Agile or Waterfall methodologies. Depending on the size of the team and their previous experiences, they may lean more towards one option or the other; always solicit feedback from team members, so that the final decision is one that is tailored to the needs and abilities of the people involved in the project itself.

A hybrid approach to project management allows businesses to enjoy the speed and flexibility of Agile, with the rigidity and clarity of the Waterfall approach. However, to fully apply these benefits, organizations need total alignment on all levels in regard to the goal, how the work is planned and delivered, and how outcomes are achieved. ServiceNow, the industry leader in management and workflow automation, has the solution: hybrid project management in IT Business Management.

Hybrid project management is offered through the ServiceNow ITBM Professional license, and delivers essential solutions, resources, and tools, easily accessible on a single platform. Hybrid project management takes agile and hybrid concepts beyond just execution, and instead creates a complete, top-down hybrid approach that embraces these concepts at every level. This helps create a more-aligned organization, where strategy drives priorities, and departments throughout the entire enterprise can respond to shifting operating environments and evolving customer expectations.

After all, a hybrid approach may be the best of both worlds, but without the right tools, it’s just theoretical; learn more about ServiceNow ITBM, and get the most out of your hybrid projects.

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