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Hybrid projects

A new project management approach

Hybrid project management involves a combination of two project management methods: waterfall and agile. By ‘mixing’ classical organisational structures, standards and procedures with elements of the agile methodology – hybrid project management tries to combine the strengths of both methods. But what exactly does a hybrid project approach and how can project managers apply the waterfall and agile methodology combined?

Waterfall + agile = hybrid

A waterfall project consists of several phases that are executed sequentially – from design to evaluation. During a ‘real’ agile project, these phases do not follow each other. They run parallel to each other within sprints. The application of a hybrid project approach means that a project manager draws up the global project planning and the project plan, based on the waterfall method and the execution and the delivery of products based on the agile ideology. A phasing that applies to a hybrid-controlled project is shown in the figure below.

In this way, there is a ‘complete’ project plan for the start of the project, which can be submitted for approval to the project board, while the details of a sprint are only determined when the current sprint is (almost) completed. This means that as the project progresses, more detailed planning and estimates for products based on current wishes and requirements of stakeholders are created. In this way the products are delivered in phases.

When do you choose for a hybrid project approach?

The fact that a hybrid approach combines the strengths of a waterfall and agile approach, makes the method suitable for the majority of projects, with the exception of small projects. The method is particularly suitable for complex projects with ever-changing requirements. Short communication lines, working with prints and multidisciplinary teams, gives a project manager the ability to solve problems quickly, targeted and effectively in a team.

In addition, a hybrid project approach is interesting for organisations that do not (yet) want to embrace the agile way of working. This may be because of the limited degree of control over budget, planning and delivery. In that case, a hybrid approach offers the possibility to deliver products cyclically, in sprints, while the project overview, such as planning, budget and status, remains clear.

Tips for the transformation to a hybrid approach

As with any hybrid model, there is a kind of compromise on both sides. For example, a waterfall method gives up a part of its overview and certainty in exchange for more flexibility. An agile method gives up a part of its freedom and agility for more structure.

Tips for a successful introduction of a hybrid project approach:

  • Communication is a condition for a good cooperation between the two types of teams and the success of the project. Make sure that the benefits of the new methodology are clear, create a dialogue to explain new procedures and software and ensure that the teams, but also the stakeholders, communicate continuously with each other during the project.
  • Ensure that the project organisation knows how to translate results that have been achieved, and translate them into waterfall method-driven reports in order to communicate the project status and progress to the top management. Consider three variables: what are we working on now, what is the status and when is it ready?
  • Set benchmarks for the success of the project. This is not agile, but must be done to be able to measure and compare success with every process step. To reduce resistance, it is useful to set shared organisational goals and targets.

The most effective approach varies for every organisation and project. This means that it is more important for project managers to estimate which method or combination is needed to achieve the desired result. The project management organisation, but especially project managers, will have to be flexible with regard to the methodology to create maximum value for the client in practice.

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Erik Geerts 2023