So, for those projects where the scope is well known, it could make more sense to plan that work using a linear approach. For those projects where the exact scope is unknown, perhaps we are focusing more on achieving value in a defined period of time. We’ll do what we can within that period of time, then perhaps Iterative is a better way forward.
Should I use an Iterative or linear approach?
I would like to take this a little further and talk about Hybrid, combining both. Let us have the best of both worlds, rather than following one single approach. Projects typically sit within a corporate environment where start, end and budget need to be set. The finance team is not particularly open to being told its an Agile project, so we do not know how much money we need. Referring to my opening statements, this is not Agile.
So, projects need to fit the corporate approach and lifecycle framework. This structure is important for good governance and lends itself to linear. Within the project itself, there also may well be Work Packages (areas of scope) that also have a high degree of certainty. These benefit from being well planned with estimated resources and timescales, being more linear.
There are other Work Packages that might have a higher degree of uncertainly. We are not sure exactly how we will achieve X but it needs to deliver Y benefit or value. If you have been involved in projects with a high degree of uncertainty (or lots of unknowns) and have attempted detailed planning you will be familiar with the frustrations and friction this can cause. “We don’t know, so how can we plan!” is the common complaint.
These uncertain Work Packages could benefit from taking an interactive approach. Define timeboxed periods (yes, sprints), prioritise the scope (yes, product backlog) and put a team together to crack on through that timebox focusing on the most important items. Have a daily meeting to check progress and ensure we are all working in the same direction (yes, daily stand up). The daily meeting ensures we retain focus and flexibility, important given the uncertain nature of the work.
This diagram illustrates the point. Work with certainty is managed with a linear approach, whereas work with a higher degree of uncertainty benefits from a more iterative approach.
Therefore, going forward consider the right approach for each Work Package based on the level of scope uncertainty. The higher the uncertainty perhaps the more we should lean on an iterative approach. The more certainly then the more we should lean towards linear. Current thinking looks beyond classifying projects as Waterfall OR Agile but rather recognises that a good Project Manager is flexible and uses the techniques & approach best fit for each scenario. Perhaps we should all be agile after all.