“Hybrid” is one of those topics doing the rounds in recent times and, while I’m crazy about cars and this applies to the automotive industry too, I’m actually referring to the latest trend in the project management space: “hybrid project management”, to be more precise.

What is hybrid project management?

Hybrid, as per the definition in the dictionary, concerns something of a mixed character, made by combining two different elements, species or varieties. In the world of project management, it translates as project management approaches that combine two or more apparently contradictory (so some say…) delivery methods, such as the infamous Agile (adaptive approach) and Waterfall (predictive approach). For the record, I don’t like to see reality as pure black and white and, from my experience, there are several shades of grey between these two, however, extremes always tend to work better to make a point, thus, let’s say that hybrid would be a sort of “Wagile” approach.

At Wellingtone, we prefer the idea of “project management bricolage” – the basis is the same, in the way that you could mix and match tools and techniques from several methods – however, it emphasises the role of tacit knowledge and it opens room for improvisation and novel practices in a DIY (do it yourself) mindset. Besides, it has a much cooler name if you ask me.

Why would I need it?

The emergence of hybrid approaches reflects a challenge that most organisations face when dealing with change, meaning, all the time: they need to be efficient and exploit opportunities while, at the same time, they need to be adaptable and explore new ventures if they are to stay relevant in the market. Have a look at ‘organisational ambidexterity’ and ‘dynamic capabilities’ research for more into this matter and allow me a synopsis: we need to pursue both.

It’s no wonder, then, that this idea has been cascaded down to projects. After all, many projects are started with aggressive timescales to be met but with a vague scope – an implementation risk that could be easier tackled by Agile approaches, conceived to address unknown requirements and accelerated delivery. However, going full-Agile can be too much of an ask for some organisations, particularly, if they are heavily regulated or are missing a culture that can support Agile. In these cases, a hybrid of agile and waterfall may be the better approach.

How to implement it?

With a hybrid approach, the project is managed in a more typical “waterfall” fashion – where scope and requirements are defined upfront – but the delivery of it (including development and testing) are broken down into iterations similar to scrum “sprints” as used in Agile methodologies.

Hybrid Project Management approach

You’ll then have the best of both worlds: on one hand, the structure and peace of mind of having a defined and agreed scope; on the other hand, accelerated delivery, empowering the delivery teams to manage their work within the sprint as they see fit. This approach, as described in PRINCE2 Agile or Choose your WoW, combines flexibility and structure, leading some authors to refer to it as ‘structured’ or ‘disciplined’ agile. You define the boundaries/tolerances within each project that is expected to be run but leave the delivery team to decide on how to work within those boundaries. Everyone is happy.

Although it may sound simple, such an approach requires the right mindset and clear guidance on what is expected from the different roles. See below a set of hints and tips to get you started:

Hints and tips to do hybrid project management effectively

  • Co-create the new approach: I know it’s a good one but please don’t just go changing your method after reading this article. Gather your project management community and discuss it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions too – would this work for us?; what is currently not working?; what to fix and what to flex?. Trust me: no one destroys what one helps to build.
  • Define roles and responsibilities: this is project management 101 but still worth mentioning given that, if you were using a single approach before, roles and responsibilities are likely to change and, if you were not, then it is definitely good practice to clarify who is expected to do what and by when. There is plenty of confusion between the role of a project manager and a scrum manager, for instance, so this is your opportunity to define what do these mean in your organisation.
  • Build capabilities: it’s easy to get a project wrong if you are not using the most appropriate methods. While organisations can benefit from establishing their method standards, an even better approach is to equip the project teams with the required knowledge to be able to decide what works best given the nature and characteristics of their projects. If you are using a fork to eat soup…don’t blame the fork.
  • Test it as a pilot: as with any new method, it will be difficult to get it 100% right the first time. Aim to build strong foundations first and, only then, refine it and improve it by listening to the feedback of who is using it daily. Therefore, I recommend testing the new approach in a couple of projects of different complexity levels. You’ll then be better equipped to fail fast and adopt and adapt as needed.
  • Identify champions: having an organisational and project culture that supports this new approach is a fundamental ingredient to make it succeed. Following, identifying internal champions in the different departments to plant and grow the new mindset seed is another recommendation. These champions are there to reinforce the message, clarify questions, and can even act as coaches. After all, sustainable change comes from having the right mindset, the method is ‘just’ an enabler.

Interested in knowing more or assessing your maturity for a transition to new ways of working? Get in touch!

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