Managing Hybrid Teams

by Kate Rockwood 

Like a finely crafted cocktail, a high-performing project team is often all about the mix.

Few organizations manage projects 100 percent agile or 100 percent waterfall. These days, teams are tapping different approaches for different projects, or using agile in one part and waterfall during another. And that means project and program managers must build, advise and direct a team that can operate across the spectrum of project delivery.

"Most companies are becoming more results-oriented and less methodologically dogmatic," says Bryan Berthot, PMI-ACP, PMP, project manager, AT&T Entertainment Group, San Diego, California, USA. "They empower their project teams to choose their preferred project management framework — as long as they deliver results."

Different-sized gears coming together

Mr. Berthot is living the hybrid life. For IT infrastructure projects with complex dependencies, subcontractor management and strict designs, his team uses waterfall. For smaller software development projects, the team is all-in on scrum. And for large enterprise software implementation projects, they take a hybrid approach: waterfall for the central implementation and scrum for the interfaces or crosswalks with other applications within the company.

"It’s about sizing up the project and the team, and then making it work," he says.

Bryan Berthot, PMI-ACP, PMP

The biggest land mine I’ve seen in managing hybrid teams is assuming that team members understand the chosen approach based on self-report.

Project Manager, AT&T Entertainment Group

San Diego, California, USA

Stocking the Bench

Building a flexible bench of talent that can operate across the delivery spectrum starts with a brutally honest assessment.

"The biggest land mine I’ve seen in managing hybrid teams is assuming that team members understand the chosen approach based on self-report," Mr. Berthot says. Many people will say they know agile, because they’re familiar with daily stand-ups. He knows there’s more to it than that, so he digs deep on training and experience.

Once he has a baseline, he can fill in the gaps with training. He favors group sessions so everyone on the team has a shared understanding of the chosen approach — and how the organization wants to use it.

To make sure in-class learning actually translates to project activities, consider pairing seasoned vets of the approach with team members who are less familiar with it.

If not, "a less experienced project manager is more likely to revert to what he or she is familiar with when the pressure is on," says Gerald O’Connor, PMI-ACP, PMP, software development project manager, Applied Systems, Dublin, Ireland.

Blending In

Mr. O’Connor encourages team members to speak up early and often about their comfort with an approach. When he runs projects with agile, for instance, each person must stand and deliver updates each day about their activities and roadblocks.

"For some team members, public speaking like that is their worst nightmare," he says. In those cases, the best solution is to shift team members to projects using predictive.

"Of course, that’s not always possible," he admits, whether because of staffing numbers or because the person has specialized skills needed on that particular project. In those cases, Mr. O’Connor ramps up his check-ins with the team member while also encouraging additional training.

Sometimes it comes down to a little marketing.

Gerald O’Connor, PMI-ACP, PMP

For some team members, public speaking like that is their worst nightmare.

Software Development Project Manager, Applied Systems

Dublin, Ireland

At project kickoff, Mr. Berthot dedicates considerable time to defining exactly which approach will be used and the rationale behind the decision. He highlights past examples with lessons learned and sometimes runs a pilot with the team on a smaller or shorter project as a test-run.

This is not the time for skimping on details. Mr. Berthot spells out upfront how things will actually work, from the cadence of sprints to which parts of the team will follow waterfall and which scrum.

And if resistance to using a specific approach isn’t limited to one team member? Well, then it might be time to rethink the decision.

“If you don’t have buy-in from your team — or at least a willingness to pilot the approach — it’s hard to argue you’ll get the best project outcome,” says Mr. Berthot.

That’s the beauty of a hybrid team. Armed with people who can deliver across the spectrum, you just have to identify the mix that works for that project.

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