Is Hybrid Agile Project Management Effective?

Is Hybrid Agile Project Management Effective?

It’s interesting to me that the main people who talk about using hybrid agile project management approaches are traditionally trained project managers. They believe there is a special blend of waterfall and agile techniques that will yield better results than either approach alone.

They want to take the best of both worlds. I think they are misguided. They may get better results than using waterfall alone but are unlikely to improve on a more pure agile adoption. They won’t get the business agility that their organization needs to compete.

How Hybrid Agile Project Management Has Evolved

What has happened is that people who are most familiar with traditional project planning and execution approaches have resisted change. Rather than let go of traditional ways of working, they have kept it.

To give the appearance of change, they’ve added bits and pieces from Scrum or other agile approaches. They use the pieces they like or understand and ignore the rest. They begin to call their existing waterfall phases “sprints” and their requirements “user stories”.

They have a meeting that they call the daily standup meeting, but it sounds more like the project manager is conducting an interview of each team member. And occasionally they toss out some phrases they’ve heard like “fail fast”. They even go so far as to call themselves Scrum Masters.

Changing the name of something doesn’t change what it is. I can call myself a world class athlete but that doesn’t make me one. And changing the name of something doesn’t make it a more effective approach, or make it more agile. If the goal is business agility, why settle for half measures?

Hybrid Agile Approaches Don’t Lead to an Agile Mindset

The idea of a hybrid agile project management approach falls somewhere between wishful thinking and outright crazy. It doesn’t address the fundamental mindset change needed to use Agile effectively.

How can you reconcile the project manager as the “single throat to choke” in traditional approaches with the self-organizing teams of Scrum and Agile? How do you reconcile sustainable pace and team commitments of Agile and Scrum with the fixed dates and scope of traditional approaches?

It simply doesn’t work because we are talking about two fundamentally different and oppositional mindsets about people and teamwork.

The people advocating for hybrid agile project management approaches don’t really understand. They think it is cool to mix and match. (BTW, I hate the expressions “Scrumerfall” and “Wagile”! Stop please!)

PMI Promotes Hybrid Agile Approaches in the Agile Practice Guide

Unfortunately, PMI continues to promote the idea of mixing and matching traditional and agile approaches in their 2017 Agile Practice Guide. Whether out of lack of understanding, or a stubborn resistance to let go of traditional approaches, they seem to think it is OK to take bits and pieces and mix them together.

I like that PMI published the guide, I just have a fundamental disagreement with them about how they view the Scrum Framework and the Agile Mindset. You can read about my analysis of PMI’s Agile Practice Guide here.

No Such Thing as Hybrid Agile Project Management Templates

Last year I met with a traditional project manager who was being tasked with leading multiple Agile teams. These teams were going to be using the Scrum framework. We talked for about an hour and in conclusion, he asked me for some templates he could use to manage using what he called Agile project management. That was all he felt he needed.

So this project manager has zero experience with agile, he is taking on a large agile program, and all he needs is a couple of templates? Maybe he slept at a Holiday Inn Express?

Don’t Use the Scrum Framework in Bits and Pieces

Hybrid agile doesn’t work with Scrum. Scrum is a framework for organizing teams and building solutions based on Agile Values and Principles. You don’t change templates to use Scrum, you change your organization!

And you don’t adopt Scrum in a piecemeal fashion. I don’t recommend tailoring the Scrum Framework even in organizations that are transitioning completely to Agile.

It’s not helpful to pick and choose the parts of it that you like or understand and want to implement. Adding bits and pieces of Scrum to something else doesn’t make it Scrum. As Ken Schwaber, co-creator or Scrum says, “Scrum is simple, just use it as it is“.

Is This Simply Resistance to Change?

What’s behind the desire to mix methodologies? It seems like a lack of true understanding, as well as fear and resistance to change. There is a reluctance to let go of what has worked in the past.

And an even bigger reluctance to let go of control. And in the case of the “templates” project manager, it’s a belief that anything can be managed with just the right template.

I am not saying that traditional PM methods aren’t successful. I just don’t think they have a place on a Scrum or agile team, especially if you want to call what you are doing Agile. Stop mixing things up and use the right approach for the goals and culture of the organization.

Anthony Mersino

Anthony Mersino is the founder of Vitality Chicago, an Agile Training and Coaching firm devoted to helping Teams THRIVE and Organizations TRANSFORM. He is also the author of two books, Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.

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