Hybrid Project Management – How to Combine Agile and Traditional Methods

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+++ What Is Hybrid Project Management? +++ Where Does a Combined Application of Methods Make Sense? +++

By Johann Strasser                                                                                                             Read article in German

Agile or traditional? If you are weighing the pros and cons of both project management methods, there is a good alternative. Use both and employ a hybrid method!

What Is “Hybrid Project Management”?

“Hybrid project management” refers to methods combining approaches from the traditional PM environment and the agile world.

It may be that time and again you find yourself in situations in which you would prefer an agile approach. Yet, certain restrictions or specifications require you to use an approach that allows you to plan ahead. You may also realize that agile approaches are insufficient for some tasks.

In such a case, you might need to “mix”. This means, you combine tools and methods from traditional project management with agile processes. Thus, you obtain the mix, which is tailored to your project or your situation. Yet:

  • What could this look like?
  • How to best do this?
  • What do you have to consider, for example regarding roles and processes?

The following article will provide answers to all these questions.

Roles and Processes in the Traditional Project Lifecycle

If you come from a traditional PM environment, you will know this division of roles. Frequently, you will have:

  • a project manager
  • a Project Management Office (PMO)
  • several team leaders
  • the corresponding team members

You start with the high level planning. What follows is the provision of capacities and the prioritization of projects and tasks. For the later detailed planning, you use Gantt charts or the like.

At the higher level, you will often find program management (aka multi-project management) with an overview of the running projects and their respective status. For the most part, this is not too flexible. What’s more, project teams are usually put together anew for each project in traditional project management.

You might also like our article 7 Measures to Improve Program Management.

A project sponsor commissions a project. Subsequently, project managers plan and manage it. In the course of the project, the project manager reports to the sponsor and to management. Project managers, as well as team leaders, often have other ongoing responsibilities (i.e. operations).

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Figure 1: Different reports across a traditional project lifecycle

So traditional projects normally provide many detailed reports on the schedule, degree of completion, costs etc.

Work begins with a specification. For instance, you define the Use Cases that are the basis of planning. A change management process regulates when to update plans. The result achieved at the end will hopefully meet the approval of the stakeholders and be accepted.

At the beginning, there is usually a Kick-off meeting. In the course of the project, you will have status meetings. In the best-case scenario, there will be a review meeting at the end, in which the team will record Lessons Learned.

By Contrast: Agile Work Methods

Especially at the level of product development in software development or other similar areas, agile approaches are much more common today. This often applies to cloud solutions, which have to ensure an uninterrupted service.

Increasingly, the approach is used in other high-tech and complex environments. The traditional approaches described above just do not work as well here.

Learn more about agile project management and where to use it in this article.

Therefore, it has become prevalent, as in agile approaches, that a fixed team develops different versions of a product by degrees while the users are already using the product on a daily basis. After all, the users also want to see regular progress.

A team is often put together only once. Then, it continues to live for and with this software, just as other teams do with their products. A change between teams hardly ever happens.

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Figure 2: Agile organization with a fixed team per product

Looking at the roles in agile methods (such as Scrum), we can identify the following:

The Product Owner

  • makes all decisions regarding the product.
  • prioritizes and maintains the Backlog.
  • is constantly available.

The Scrum Master

  • manages the process.
  • removes impediments.

When it comes to resource planning, the following applies: you will also have to do strategic and tactical planning for agile teams. You will need to staff running projects, train new staff etc.

Interested in strategic and tactical resource planning? Consult this article.

After all, even with agile teams, nobody can be available 100% permanently (vacation etc.). But what could resource and capacity planning look like?

Resource and Capacity Planning in Agile Projects

Agile methods have an advantage in this respect: their fixed product and project teams as well as the fixed cadence make overall planning and the change of staff between projects much easier.

Our tip: Take particular care to find a joint rhythm across projects and thus achieve harmonization. This will make it much easier for staff to change between projects.

Agile teams are mostly self-organized and estimate efforts based on their own experience. At the beginning, this will be a rough estimate, but it will become more detailed in the course of the project. They report when something has been completed and give feedback in Reviews and Retrospectives.

Alongside the Product Owner, they gather stakeholder feedback in Review meetings.

Kick-off meetings do not necessarily exist in agile environments.

Regular Sprint Planning, Reviews and Retrospectives, on the other hand, are mandatory.

In addition, the development team meets daily to discuss progress with regard to the Sprint Goal.

The only remaining targets can be found in the Product Backlog or the Sprint Backlog as a subset for each Sprint. If something cannot be found in the Backlog, it will not be done.

For communication with the stakeholders aside from the Reviews, there are public boards with Sprint or Product Burndown Charts. This is why reports on schedule, cost and status in the traditional sense are rendered at best superfluous.

Unfamiliar with the concept of capacity planning? This article may help.

Yet, what may be missing likewise is a meaningful multi-project overview, aka program overview.

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Figure 3: Different workflows for traditional and agile planning

Hybrid Methods in Project Management: The Combination

Now, how to link these different worlds?

There are many approaches to introducing hybrid methods:

1- Parallel Use of Traditional and Agile Methods:

  • Some business units always use traditional methods (e.g. Consulting). Others always use agile methods (e.g. Software Development).
  • Some projects use a traditional approach, others an agile one.
  • Some parts of a project are implemented in a traditional way, other parts in an agile one.
  • High level planning employs a traditional approach, detailed planning an agile one.

2- Mixed Use of Traditional and Agile Methods in One Project:

  • In traditional projects:
    • Closer coordination with users and more frequent, usable intermediate results
    • Regular meetings to discuss progress (not necessarily daily – once a week is a good start already)
    • Retrospectives (Lessons Learned) after each status update meeting, not just at the end
    • There is a fixed team for the entire duration of development
  • In agile projects:
    • Scrum Masters are likewise project managers in the traditional sense
    • A Backlog is created for each project phase rather than as a specification for the whole product.
    • Project planning is synchronized with the Sprint lengths.
    • You plan in phases and milestones – at a higher level than the Sprints and in addition to them.
    • There are status reports and Milestone Trend Analyses for management and for the stakeholders (by the way, many “agilists” are unhappy with the latter two examples, as they can water down the basic agile principles).

A general pointer is this: Are the customer’s requirements uncertain and unclear? Is the approach to a solution for the project still unclear and new? In such a case, agile methods will be particularly suitable. They were developed for this type of situation.

Our tip: Look at the first option in the above list. Having some business units use traditional approaches while others use agile ones is probably one of the smoothest and most common implementations of hybrid project management. This usually makes for a high process stability.

Parallel Use of Traditional and Agile Methods at a Company

Example: For customer consulting projects, you always use traditional methods whereas the pure product development follows agile principles.

Learn about Program Management Solutions for Product Development and R&D.

What to bear in mind: Customer wishes have to be aligned between the business units. In plain terms, the Sales department must have a say in release planning.

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Figure 4: Hybrid handling of projects with customer consulting and associated product development

Mixed Use of Traditional and Agile Methods in one Project

Please note: Frequent changes between traditional and agile approaches from one project to the next carry a risk. The process stability may suffer.

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Figure 5: Frequent changes between traditional and agile approaches can have a negative impact on process stability

Therefore, another option is to combine methods in a meaningful way – rather that changing between methods in projects. To give you an example:

  • Traditional concept, specification and implementation with hardware, agile integration
  • Agile software development
  • Traditional acceptance

Or:

  • Agile concept and specification
  • Traditional implementation and acceptance

Or:

  • Everything up to integration with traditional methods
  • Agile integration

Our tip: If you use hybrid approaches within one project, follow this proven approach: use agile methods for unclear parts of the project while using traditional methods for the clearer parts.

Traditional High Level Planning Combined with Agile Detailed Planning for the Projects

Another approach has been tried and tested for using hybrid methods in one and the same project:

  • Use traditional methods for planning at the higher level, as a kind of “superstructure”.
  • Add an iterative element afterwards by using agile work methods.

With this approach, you can continue to plan milestones and status meetings. At the same time, the advantages of agile work methods still come into play.

Making the meeting frequency rhythmic also will minimize friction and the general coordination effort – which will ultimately increase productivity.

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Figure 6: Synchronization will make it easier to combine traditional and agile methods

A survey in one of our webinars (German-language, April 2018, see German article for details) revealed that 11% of the participants carried out their projects according to defined methods depending on the business unit. 41% decided the method project by project. 40% made the method dependent on the project situation. 41% did their high level planning with traditional methods and used agile ones for their detailed planning. 18% are still unsure (256 participants; multiple answers possible).

Our tip: Separate methods clearly, depending on the business unit. This will provide the highest process reliability. It is usually a good way to get started.

Agile, Traditional or Hybrid Approaches in Program Management (aka Multi-Project Management)

Multi-project environments always require an overview of status, necessary decisions, and delivery dates. Problems concerning the project status need to be quickly and clearly discernible (e.g. with the aid of a red light).

This is another difference. In typical (multi-)project environments, traditional methods will always be necessary. In the course of product development for “small-scale projects” from version to version, it is a little different. They can be planned with agile methods without any problems.

Since agile environments do not provide methods for program management, aka multi-project management, further questions are unnecessary.

Conclusion and Recommendation

This article has introduced you to ways in which hybrid project management – a mix of agile and traditional approaches – can be applied in practice.

You have learned that there are many ways to apply hybrid methods. For example, you can use traditional and agile approaches in parallel in different business units or mixed within one project.

There are situations in which traditional methods continue to make sense – despite growing agility.

Our tip: Above all, we recommend the introduction of different suitable methods for the different areas of organization.

Moreover, the close involvement of all relevant departments (such as Sales) is essential from the beginning.

Attempt to introduce methods step by step and to find a good team rhythm for the project.

Another important point: Often, particular situations or environments require a special combination of methods. It is always better to find a tailored solution for every individual project (as in our examples above) than an externally imposed approach.

What have been your experiences with hybrid approaches? What hybrid method do you use, and would you call it a successful one? We look forward to receiving your comment below. 

Final tip: Subscribe to the TPG Blog Newsletter now and never miss another blog post.

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1 Comment

  1. Jeff Davidson, MBA, PMP, LSSGB on

    This is a great overview of a hybrid approach! Also, this is exactly the approach we’re working to build for our product development group.  The production / engineering environment is so culturally dependent on “structure” that a purely Agile approach would be a No-Go from a change management perspective.  As we add a more iterative process to project management planning, a more Agile mindset could be adopted, but moving processes from product development to a manufacturing process requires a traditional approach backbone due to regulatory mandates, and clear, tested methods.

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