A Little Bit of Both

Hybrid Project Approaches

Project managers who master only agile or waterfall might be limiting their career opportunities. More organizations are finding that the right delivery approach is often not either/or, but a mix of the two. In fact, 85 percent of respondents believe hybrid project management will be the norm in the coming years, according to KPMG’s Agile Project Delivery 2017 survey of practitioners in the Netherlands and Belgium. 

Project professionals need to understand the value of each so they can apply either approach to the right project or project phase. 

Three project professionals share insights on how developing both agile and waterfall skills help ensure a more flexible—and successful—career path.

  • Sumanta Boral, PMI-ACP, PMP, senior program manager, Amazon, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • Maja Ferle, PMI-ACP, solution architect, Tata Consultancy Services, Munich, Germany
  • Marivi Briz, PMI-ACP, PMP, global IT business development manager at Telefónica Chile, Santiago, Chile

Have you noticed a trend toward adopting hybrid approaches?

Mr. Boral:  Absolutely. Thinking that one approach is superior to the other—or that agile is some magic wand that’s going to solve all the problems—is such a fallacy. The reality is that the approach depends on the context.

Ms. Briz: Here in Chile, the movement toward a hybrid project management approach is still very incipient, but it has started. At Telefónica, for instance, I’m working in the research and development center to catalyze innovation across the organization. While the rest of the company uses traditional project management methods, we chose to adopt agile in this department.

What steps do you take to determine the best approach?

Ms. Briz: We use the Cynefin framework to classify types of projects. Complex and chaotic projects are better run with agile, while simple and complicated are better suited to waterfall. But this guideline isn’t always set in stone. For instance, I’m currently working with complex projects, but I need to blend agile and waterfall approaches because I have different stakeholders that require different outputs. 

How can practitioners strengthen their hybrid skills?

Mr. Boral: Project managers who are working with hybrid approaches, or at an organization where things are shifting that way, should seek out their peers to discuss the challenges, setbacks and opportunities. Even if it makes you feel like an apprentice to someone more senior and expert, it’s a powerful learning experience. Life is too short to make all the mistakes alone. If you actively network with others, you can learn a lot from practitioners who are further along. 

Ms. Ferle: I agree. A mentor is ideal to provide real-world guidance. If someone is new to agile, I also recommend classroom training, as opposed to self-study or online training. It’s much easier to understand agile if you can see how teams collaborate, with role-play exercises and simulations, and that’s hard to get from a book or computer screen. 

How is leadership different in a hybrid project environment?

Mr. Boral: Classic project managers might need to shift their leadership approach. For instance, a control freak who thrives on detailed upfront planning and mundane status reports might struggle to achieve the optimum outcome in a rapidly changing ecosystem. Sorting this out comes down to experimenting and educating: Read as much as you can on different leadership styles, and incorporate a path of continuous improvement. Servant leadership will become the norm—and that means sharing power and putting the needs of the team first.

Ms. Briz: Even beyond teams, I think leadership in project management must evolve. We’re seeing a movement toward relationships and being achievement-oriented, and I think that shift will continue. Organizations are facing complex challenges and competing priorities. They want project managers who aren’t just applying the same methodology to every project, but able to build consensus around a particular approach and share a larger vision. 

How can job seekers set themselves apart in this evolving market?

Ms. Briz: Certification is always a signal that you have a solid foundation. But beyond that, practitioners shouldn’t be afraid to dig into specifics in their project portfolios during interviews. What parts were agile? What parts were traditional? Why were those decisions made? A hybrid approach can’t be summed up in one or two words. 

Why will hybrid skills continue to be table stakes for landing a job?

Ms. Ferle: The shift toward hybrid will likely happen at different rates, in different sectors. If you’re working in big data, for instance, you’re most likely already needing to demonstrate these skills. In a highly regulated industry, like banking, the change will happen more gradually. 

Mr. Boral: Because most organizations will eventually adopt a hybrid style. Most of the initial and final phases of projects will tend to remain waterfall, especially in areas like banking, finance and mission-critical domains, where there’s a lot of upfront research and data analysis, and a lot of regulatory and compliance-related steps at the end of the project. But during the design and implementation stages, more projects will tend toward an iterative and incremental approach. Project professionals who understand and embrace this will be in the best position to create more career opportunities.