19 October, 2020

Hybrid Project Management: What You Need to Know

By Mike Clayton

Agile, Agile Project Management, Hybrid, hybrid project management, Predictive

There’s a lot of attention going towards Agile Project Management. And there has been plenty of recognition of traditional Predictive Project Management over the years. But what if you could get the best of both worlds? That’s what Hybrid Project Management can offer.

Of course, it can also offer the worst of both worlds, so you need to be careful. That’s why I think it is time to take a look at hybrid project management and answer the questions people most often ask about it:

  • What is it?
  • Why do we need it?
  • How can you make it work?
  • What’s the role of a Project Manager?

And, along the way, I’ll also answer another question that comes up a lot…

  • What’s the difference between Hybrid and Blended Project Management?
Hybrid Project Management - What You Need to Know

Four Questions about Hybrid Project Management

This article is simple in structure. I’ll simply pose and answer four questions:

  1. What is Hybrid Project Management?
  2. Why do We Need Hybrid Project Management?
  3. How Can You Make Hybrid Project Management Work?
  4. What is the Role of ‘Project Manager’ in Hybrid Project Management?

What is Hybrid Project Management?

A hybrid is when you put two different things together and get something new and viable. For example, if you put a dinghy and a surfboard together, you create a windsurfer.

So, hybridization is a profoundly creative process. At its best it creates something new and distinctive, that is highly valuable. Hybrid project management can be just that: a valuable new way of doing projects.

Waterfall and Agile

What we hybridize to create hybrid project management are:

  1. Traditional, or Predictive Project Management
    Often, people refer to this as ‘Waterfall Project Management’. But this tends to be a derogatory term. The essential characteristics of predictive project management are:
    1. Significant planning, with the aim of predicting and preparing fr events
    2. High levels of monitoring, control, and governance
  2. Agile, or Adaptive Project Management
    This is a form of project management that was developed to serve software development in fast-moving contexts. The essential characteristics of adaptive project management are:
    1. Strong focus on the needs of a defined user-group
    2. An iterative and incremental development approach

Learn More about Waterfall and Agile Project Management

1: Waterfall Project Management

Learn even more in our feature article:

Most of the articles and resources at OnlinePMCourses.com refer to predictive project management.

2: Agile Project Management

Learn even more in our feature articles:

3: Comparing Waterfall and Agile

Read our feature areticle:

Cut and Shut

Too often, we run across a caricature of agile and waterfall as two opposed and competing approaches. This is not true, except in the minds of some dogmatic advocates of one or the other.

As a professional, I believe it is our duty to reject binary choices in favor of a more nuanced view. Predictive and adaptive project management should not be an ‘either-or’ choice

Likewise, creating an effective hybrid of the two doesn’t just work by bashing them together. In the UK, we have the term ‘cut and shut’ for when halves of two badly damaged cars are welded together to form one new car. The process is, for obvious safety reasons, illegal.

However, this does not mean that it is impossible for skilled automotive engineers to build hybrid vehicles out of two or more models. And, if they do it well, the new vehicle can be both useful and safe.

Traditional, Agile, and Hybrid Methods

Hybrid or Blended Project Management?

There is no complete consensus over the use of the terms ‘hybrid project management’ and ‘blended project management’. However, one interpretation has clearly gained far wider use – and s the one the PMI uses in its Agile Practice Guide.

That’s the interpretation I am using in this article:

A Hybrid approach is a combination of Agile and non-Agile approaches to project management.

This is my definition

On the other hand, blended approaches merge multiple approaches into one. So, it is possible to create blended agile approaches that combine elements of, for example, scrum and kanban. In that case, we have ‘scrumban’.

Traditional, Hybrid, and Blended Agile Methods

By the way, we have three videos answering the questions of ‘What is…

But, as soon as you try to blend in a non-Agile approach, we’ll refer to this as a hybrid.

Think of horses. Cross a black horse with a palomino, and the offspring can have a range of coats. But it’s still a horse.

Now, cross a horse with a donkey and you’ll get a hybrid – either a mule or a hinny, depending on which way round the parents are. But it’s neither a horse nor a donkey.

Why do We Need Hybrid Project Management?

I think there are four reasons why we work with hybrid project management approaches:

  1. Hybrids as Transitional Stages
  2. Concerns about Agile Project Management
  3. Concerns about Predictive Project Management
  4. Choosing an Approach that is Fit for Purpose

Hybrids as Transitional Stages

For many organizations – and for many different reasons – Agile working is an objective. But the transition from traditional predictive project management to a fully agile way of working is a big jump.

So, for some, a strategy they choose is to make the transition via a hybrid project management approach.

This may involve incorporating element of a preferred agile methodology into a broadly predictive approach. Or it might take the form of a agile approach within a predictive structure.

The organization might chooses to start with one aspect of agile working, such as iterative refinements to project deliverables. It could then increase the level of adaptability by introducing more incremental development approaches.

The benefit of this way of making the shift is all about mitigation of therisks of a sudden jump:

  • capabilities that are not yet fully in place
  • getting the new methodology ‘right-first-time’ – this would hardly be in the spirit of agile!
  • reducing resistance from team members
  • a series of wins enhance the business case and win over doubters

Concerns about Agile Project Management

Despite what some evangelical supporters may have you believe, Agile Project management is not without its compromises and disadvantages.

This is especially so when you consider that the Agile Principles were developed for one fairly narrow range of circumstances. Yet organizations often seek to apply them to other domains and situations. See our article on Waterfall vs Agile for more on where each approach is best suited.

So, if you want to be as agile as possible, but you have concerns about some of the compromises or drawbacks inherent in that choice, an obvious solution would be a hybrid project management approach. You cold add-in elements of predictive project management that would address your concerns.

Concerns about Predictive Project Management

And guess what? Predictive project management is also not perfect in all circumstances. To make up for this, you could address any concerns you have with carefully chosen tools or ideas drawn from Agile thinking.

Comparing Typical Concerns with Agile and Predictive Project Management

These are just an illustrative sample.

Some typical concerns about Agile PMSome typical concerns about Predictive PM
Too customer or user-focused (at the expense of shareholders).Not responsive enough to the needs of end users.
Insufficient clarity of long-term outcomes.Not enough flexibility in long-term outcomes.
Cannot handle the complexity and interdependencies.Too large and complex – need to simplify.
Inability to provide robust estimates for budget and schedule.Past record of unreliability of budget and schedule estimates.
Unclear or unfamiliar team co-ordination and leadership.Overly centralized team co-ordination and leadership.

Fit for Purpose

But, of course, the ideal reason to select a hybrid project management approach is obvious. Your job, as a project manager, is to create a methodology for each project that is most fit for the purpose of getting your project done on time, on budget, to specification, and with full accountability.

Most important, you are looking for an approach that minimizes risk while maximizing the delivery of value. And that approach may well be a hybrid one.

Traditional, Agile, and Hybrid Project Management Approaches

How Can You Make Hybrid Project Management Work?

There are many ways you can craft a hybrid of Agile and Predictive processes, mindsets, and tools. Primarily, you need to match your solution to the needs of your project.

And there are a spectrum of Project Management approaches…

Spectrum of Project Management Approaches at Different Levels

Questions to Ask

First of all, you’ll want to consider some questions. Some examples include:

  • What kind of project is this – especially in terms of the type of deliverables?
  • How clear is the final outcome you are working towards?
  • What risk control mechanisms do you favor? You may want to control risk through planning or by limiting your commitment.
  • How much priority do your clients and sponsor place on the certainty of your project’s end functionality, budget, and schedule?
  • Who do you have available to you for your team, and what is their experience?
  • Where do your skillset and experiences lie?
  • How familiar is the task at hand, and how important is innovation to meeting your client’s brief?

Crafting a Solution

The answers you get will create a spectrum of needs and outcomes. Then, you can match them up to a carefully crafted hybrid. The figure below illustrates how you can wrap an Agile process within a predictive framework, at different levels.

Illustrative Sequence of Hybrid Project Lifecycles

Chuck Cobb’s Managed Agile Development Framework

Chuck Cobb is an expert on Agile Project Management (We recommend Chuck’s Agile training) and on crafting and applying hybrid approaches. His starting point is his Managed Agile Development Framework. This has an outer framework of structured planning and, within that, an adaptive methodology for progressing product development.  You can read about his Managed Agile Development Framework in a short article.

Hybrid Project Management Approach with Nesting

What is the Role of ‘Project Manager’ in Hybrid Project Management?

A number of Agile methodologies – notably, Scrum – do not have the role of Project Manager. Rather, the typical project management responsibilities are shared out. In the Scrum methodology, dife=ferent aspects of the PM role are taken on by the:

  • Scrum Master
  • Product Owner
  • even by the team itself

But, in hybrid projects, there will almost certainly be a role for a Project manager to play. Probably, these will include:

  • Co-ordinating multiple agile components within an over-arching project
  • Monitor and control as part of the overall governance
  • Establishing the project, and its:
    • Definition
    • Business case
    • Infrastructure
    • Contracts
  • Managing interfaces and dependencies with other projects and between components of the project
  • Project communication and wider stakeholder engagement
  • Project closure and completion

What are Your Experiences of and Reflections on Hybrid Project Management?

Finally, please do share your thoughts below – and I shall look forward to responding to every comment.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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