Disciplined Agile

Hybrid Life Cycles

A combination of serial and agile strategies is a hybrid approach.

It is not necessary to use a single approach for an entire project. Projects often combine elements of different life cycles in order to achieve certain goals. A combination of serial and agile approaches is a hybrid approach.

Figure 1 shows one way two different life cycle approaches can combine to form a hybrid model. The early processes utilize an agile development life cycle, which is then followed by a serial rollout phase. This approach can be used when there is uncertainty, complexity, and risk in the development portion of the project that would benefit from an agile approach, followed by a defined, repeatable rollout phase that is appropriate to undertake in a predictive way, perhaps by a different team. An example of this approach is the development of a new high-tech product followed by rollout and training to thousands of users.

Agile then serial

Figure 1. Agile development followed by a serial deployment.

Another approach is to use a combination of agile and serial approaches throughout the life cycle.


Figure 2. A combined agile and serial approach used simultaneously.

In Figure 2, a combination of both serial and agile approaches are used in the same project. Perhaps the team is incrementally transitioning to agile and using some approaches like short iterations, daily standups, and retrospectives, but other aspects of the project such as up-front estimation, work assignment, and progress tracking are still following serial approaches.

Using both predictive and agile approaches is a common scenario. It would be misleading to call the approach agile since it clearly does not fully embody the agile mindset, values, and principles. However, it would also be inaccurate to call it serial since it is a hybrid approach.

Predominantly Serial Approach with Some Agile Components

Figure 3 shows a small agile element within a chiefly serial project. In this case, a portion of the project with uncertainty, complexity, or opportunity for scope creep is being tackled in an agile way, but the remainder of the project is being managed using serial approaches. An example of this approach would be an engineering firm that is building a facility with a new component.

Agile in serial

Figure 3. A largely serial approach with agile components.

While the majority of the project may be routine and predictable, like many other facility projects the organization has undertaken before, this project incorporates a new roofing material. The contractor may plan for some small-scale installation trials on the ground first to determine the best installation method and to uncover issues early while there is plenty of time to solve them and incrementally improve processes through experimentation and adaptation.

A Largely Agile Approach with a Serial Component 

Figure 4 depicts a largely agile approach with a predictive component. This approach might be used when a particular element is non-negotiable or not executable using an agile approach. Examples include integrating an external component developed by a different vendor that cannot or will not partner in a collaborative or incremental way. A single integration is required after the component is delivered.

Serial in agile

Figure 4. A largely agile approach with a serial component.

Hybrid Life Cycles as Transition Strategy to Agile

Many teams are not able to make the switch to agile ways of working overnight. Agile techniques look and feel very different from those who are accustomed to and have been successful in a serial environment. The larger the organization and the more moving parts, the longer it will take to transition. For that reason, it makes sense to plan a gradual transition.

A gradual transition involves adding more agile techniques to improve learning and alignment among teams and stakeholders. Later, consider adding more incremental techniques to accelerate value and return on investment to sponsors. This combination of various approaches is considered a hybrid approach.

Try these new techniques on a less risky project with a medium-to-low degree of uncertainty. Then, when the organization is successful with a hybrid approach, try more complex projects that require more of those techniques to be added. This is a way to tailor the progressive hybrid transition to the organization’s situation and specific risks and the team’s readiness to adapt and embrace the changes. 

February 2022