Project Management Institute

Delivery Dilemma

Here's How to Choose the Right Approach for a Project



By John Farlik, PMI-ACP, PMP

Project managers today understand that they can reap huge benefits by tailoring their project delivery approach to each project's needs. And even individual projects can benefit from using an agile and waterfall hybrid. But determining which approach to take can be the sticking point. Here are questions to ask stakeholders to help determine which projects or aspects of projects need which approaches.

What do the benefits of this project look like to you?

Asking sponsors this question at the start helps focus the discussion on business value and can solidify the primary focus for you and the project team. But asking this will most likely raise many more questions. Take that as an opportunity to discuss the cadence of deliverables to the end users of the project, the daily/weekly involvement of different stakeholders and the ability to make changes to the plan to facilitate value.

For example, you could ask: “Would you rather have working elements of capability that you can review every three weeks, or would you rather have us deliver the entire solution for your review at the end of the project?” For repeatable/reproducible processes, sponsors often are focused on completing items more efficiently. This will lead you down an earned value management trail. On the other hand, learning that sponsors are interested in a more experimental/empirical process of iterations will lead you into a discussion of epics, stories, releases and features.

Would you rather deliver a 75 percent solution to the business problem quickly or wait to ensure we have a 100 percent solution?

This question should be used as a follow-up to the benefits question above. It helps the stakeholders understand the concept of time-boxing. If you opt for a hybrid solution, you must determine and understand which elements of the work breakdown structure will have fixed time allotments within an agile structure. For example, an enterprise data management integration of a new line of business can be separated from the rest of a plan-based IT infrastructure project and set up in two-week sprints to iterate the best dashboards and information. But this question obviously won't be applicable for some initiatives, such as construction projects.

How do you envision managing the changes on this project?

All projects are about delivering change to the organization. Talk with people about the mechanisms that exist in hybrid/plan-based/agile project structures, and what those mechanisms would mean to them on a day-to-day basis. If an executive says she wants all changes extensively documented and approved by her, but at the same time wants the team to respond to emergent requirements quickly with very little documentation, then there is a disconnect in her understanding. Help her understand who, what, why and how the changes to the project are implemented, tracked and assessed within both an agile environment and a waterfall environment.

How comfortable would you feel operating within either an agile or waterfall environment?

Survey the project team and key stakeholders about their level of comfort with hybrid, agile and waterfall-based approaches. It is nearly impossible for everyone to feel completely comfortable with changes, but part of a successful change management approach is to identify which areas may be ripe for conflict or confusion early in the process. If a few stakeholders or team members absolutely do not want to operate in a certain way, while everyone else does, you may have significant hurdles to overcome in execution. If your team doesn't want to tackle any part of your project in either an agile or a waterfall-based approach, then a hybrid solution is off the table.

Project managers must approach their projects the way a carpenter tackles a job: There are multiple tools, but the right tools must be used at the right times in the right way to help lead to a successful outcome. Project managers should seek to guide a high-level discussion to help decide whether the project, or parts of the project, needs an agile, waterfall or hybrid approach. PM

img John Farlik, PMI-ACP, PMP, is a senior project management consultant at Signature Consultants, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.
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