There is nothing quite like officially kicking off a new project. The timeline is clear, to-do lists are organized, messages are all in place. It’s what happens next that matters.

Agile has gained popularity, hence the Project Management Professional, or PMP, curriculum updates coming next year will have a significant uptick in agile methodologies. Disruptive digital technology relies on agile’s speedy implementation and customer feedback. With life becoming ever more digital, agile will not be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

Waterfall, however, is not dead or going anywhere either because a linear approach will often still be required. Large public sectors seeking to minimize risk may find comfort in waterfalls robust documentation and clear-cut workflow. Construction, hospitals, bank systems, or other high-risk environments with substantial regulatory and compliance requirements will inevitably continue to use waterfall.

In recent years it has become increasingly common for organizations to utilize both methods on a project to achieve improved performance. This has made hybrid, also called blended, project management an ideal modern solution by combining the preferred traits of each.

Quick guide to these approaches:

Agile
  • Scope to undergo regular adaptive and iterative change
  • Unclear requirements or deliverables
  • Rapid, incremental delivery of new functionality
  • Incorporates user or customer feedback often
Waterfall
  • Well defined, fixed requirements and scope
  • Emphasis on thorough documentation and source code
  • Budget or timeline constraints (high cost of change)
  • Easily understandable and explainable phases
Hybrid
  • Organization with mature IT and business teams
  • Product definition and requirements vary
  • Frequent stakeholder and subject matter expert engagement
  • Short focus on features, long focus on final result
How Does Hybrid Work?

Hybrid can be used for any size project. In practice, it allows the team to plan in waterfall fashion before beginning work but then divides the development cycle into short-term sprints.

An example of a favored waterfall trait adopted in hybrid is the Work Breakdown Structure, or WBS, a concept where everything to be done is planned and broken down into well defined tasks and sub-tasks. Regarding agile in hybrid, it’s adaptive and iterative nature is adopted. A minimum viable product, or MVP, can be shipped early while the developers continue working on future enhancements. Additionally, user or customer feedback is included throughout the project life cycle, resulting in a win-win for them as well as business stakeholders because budget and resources are saved from extensive re-work.

Innovation doesn’t have to be reserved for business models and technologies. Project teams, along with their processes, will need to innovate and adapt to support the rapid changes happening across many industries.

How Do You Choose?

If your management grapples with the debate between agile vs. waterfall, consider trying hybrid by adopting specific tools and techniques from each that your teams already perform well.

If your organization is more engineering led, you might consider agile first by keeping the developers in sprints, but group your sprints and epics into phases so the non-technical teams have a clearer understanding of what’s happening when, and why some things can’t happen until others are done.

If your organization is more design or business led you might consider breaking the project into phases that align with different business milestones, and then dividing those phases into epics and sprints as needed.

At the end of the day, a successful hybrid project requires genuine trust between all stakeholders and project participants. IT must trust the reason business needs clarity over ambiguity, and business must trust the reason IT needs flexibility to execute according to user needs.