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Does Hybrid Agile Work?

In working with many companies, and talking with many of my colleagues (both Agilists, and non-Agile IT practitioners) the topic of Agile hybrids comes up frequently.  People ask whether it is okay to use Agile and waterfall side-by-side in the same organisation.  My answer to this comes in several parts.

First of all hybrids, while not ideal are a fact of life.  There are many companies that have transitioned their mobile projects for example to Agile, but legacy system projects are still done using a waterfall process.  Now, surely this is not ideal, it is much easier to adopt one methodology and stick with it consistently across an organisation.  However, not every organisation can adopt Agile in one fell swoop.  Instead it is sometimes necessary to move more slowly from traditional project management methods to Agile methods.

Second, there are some governance and regulatory requirements that companies are faced with, that in many cases require some traditional project methodology to be followed in the organisation.  This may be audit requirements for government, or process requirements in order to comply with the requirements of an industry standard.  This may also be a project lifecycle or method that is deeply ingrained in the company or organisation that will take time to change.  Whatever the case for the short term the organisation is forced to maintain some traditional project management process even while they transition to Agile.

Third, it is common for an organisation to see one of several scenarios internally that may cause them to deal with an Agile hybrid environment.  One scenario is where the company works with vendors who are using Agile methodology while the company is using traditional methods or vice-versa.  Another scenario is where different projects within the same program or group are using different methods (i.e. some are using Agile, and some are using waterfall or traditional methods).  A third scenario is where the organisation has chosen to define a process that is part traditional and part Agile (I don’t suggest this unless it has really been well thought through, and there is a strong business driver not to fully change to an Agile approach).

Success Factors for working with a hybrid

So if you do find yourself dealing with an Agile hybrid in your organisation here are some things to keep in mind to make it successful.

1.  An Agile hybrid approach should be well though through, if it is haphazard and not well considered it is almost guaranteed to fail.  One example of an organisation that had thought through this well was a multi-national entertainment company I worked with.  Their PMO had defined a methodology that allowed for a constant project discovery and initiation phase, and then allowed each project to select either iterative (Agile) or traditional project execution (design – build – test).  The projects were then deployed and closed using traditional methodology.  Again while this is not ideal (Water-Scrum-Fall) it was well thought through, and to some degree was working for the organisation, though I believe they were still in the process of changing their project approach, and this was not the end-point.

2.  Identify what type of hybrid you are dealing with.  Is it a hybrid group or program, a hybrid due to an Agile vendor, or an intentionally hybrid internal process?  Your organisation should decide whether this hybrid is the end point, or if it is somewhere along the course of an Agile transformation journey.  Maybe you are only operating in this hybrid fashion until you can move your legacy teams to a Kanban based approach, or until it is politically viable to transition fully to Agile (yes ensuring a politically viable transition with minimal resistance is a valid reason to use a hybrid approach for a period of time before a full Agile transition can be completed).

3.  If you have operational projects that use a traditional methodology, or on-going project maintenance that uses an existing process consider using a Kanban approach.  A Kanban approach using continuous flow and Work in Process (WIP) limits can allow all of your projects to take an Agile / Lean approach while still using some of your existing processes that may be needed for regulatory compliance or other considerations.

What is really key is to decide whether a hybrid is an end in itself, or if is only a means to an end (i.e. becoming more / fully Agile).  I think there can be a valid case for using a hybrid for a period of time, but I believe that ideally it is best to use a hybrid approach as a vehicle to make your organisation more Agile.  A hybrid is best used when it is a tool that helps your organisation to move forward in its Agile journey.  I hope some of these considerations will help you as you think through using a hybrid approach in your organisation (or not).

Until next time,


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