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Using Hybrid Project Management Approaches in Software Development

In general, hybrid project management combines two or more project management approaches with the goal of utilizing the strengths of both, creating a completely new approach. This new approach, called hybrid project management, is becoming increasingly popular year after year. Here’s why.
Daniel Zacharias

Beatriz Figueiredo

September 7, 2023
hybrid project management

I remember the time when a software development team I worked with was using a standard, traditional approach to a particular. Everything was planned out perfectly – goals, workflow, and timelines. There was no room for mistakes (or we thought so) as everything was planned out in detail. It was all clear, right?

Wrong. It turned out that some things weren’t so clear, which led to mistakes we noticed at the end of each phase. Some phases also took longer than expected, which impacted our delivery date. We were simply unprepared to embrace the changes and had to go back and forth throughout the project.

Then we decided to do something different – we combined our standard approach with a more flexible one. While we were still following our plan, there was more communication and feedback included to ensure everything was going on as planned. The result? Everyone was on the same page, the project was delivered on time, and with a much better quality. 

This new approach, called hybrid project management, is becoming increasingly popular year after year. Here’s why.

What is hybrid project management?

It’s really hard to address disruptions and changes during the project when you use a traditional approach, such as Waterfall. Typical approaches might be very detailed and strict, but they don’t leave space for adaptations. And they happen through the project – a lot.

That’s why many project managers turned to hybrid project management. It combines the strengths of the traditional approach with more flexible, agile methodologies. That way teams can respond to changes faster, ensuring better alignment with client expectations and timely delivery.

In general, hybrid project management combines two or more project management approaches with the goal of utilizing the strengths of both, creating a completely new approach. 

Although you can combine any of many project management methodologies, hybrid project management usually refers to the combination of agile project methodologies and more traditional approaches, like Waterfall. That way you get the best of both worlds – the structure of the Waterfall and the flexibility of agile.

Waterfall project management

Waterfall used to be the most common project methodology. It organizes the project in a linear, chronological order from start to finish. Waterfall follows a structured and predefined set of phases, where every phase depends on the deliverables from the previous one. That means you must complete one phase before moving on to the next, similar to a waterfall flowing downwards.

The emphasis in Waterfall is on planning, documentation, and following a fixed sequence of activities. It assumes that everything’s accurately defined and understood upfront and that there won’t be any changes. That’s why it’s not very flexible when accommodating changes or addressing unexpected challenges that may arise during the project lifecycle.

The main benefits of Waterfall are:

  • Gives you structure – Waterfall follows clear steps that go one after another.
  • Has a clear goal – the final outcome is defined upfront.

Drawbacks:

  • Lack of communication – communication with a client is reserved for the beginning and end of the project.
  • Makes changes difficult – the focus is on following the steps, there’s no room for changes.
  • Leaves testing for the end – this can lead to delays and increased costs in production if you need a large revision.

Agile project management

The Agile project management approach is a flexible approach that focuses on delivering value in small steps while keeping continuous communication between parties. It’s an iterative approach where you’re refining a product after every feedback instance to deliver the best possible solution for the customer. 

In agile, projects aren’t planned – they progress based on collaboration between the customer and a team. Requirements and solutions are constantly evaluated in small sprints as they can change over time. The team is open to that change and adapts to the customer – agile methodologies make customer satisfaction a top priority.

Agile teams are autonomous – they decide how they’ll get the work done after the customer communicates their priorities. The main measure of progress is the working software, which the team delivers frequently throughout the process. They regularly reflect on how to be more effective, so they can deliver the best possible solution, faster.

Benefits of agile include:

  • Higher customer satisfaction – the customer is included in the whole process and their feedback is the main measure of success.
  • Better quality products –  as the product continuously improves through the process, the result is overall better quality. 
  • Reduced risk – because of constant communication and reflection on the work in progress, the risk related to product delivery is reduced.

Drawbacks:

  • Unpredictability – Agile is unpredictable because there are many things that aren’t planned and structured.
  • Time-consuming communication – while constant communication between teams leads to a better quality product, it can be very time-consuming.

Differences between Waterfall and Agile

Here are the main differences between Waterfall and Agile approaches:

WaterfallAgile
StructuredFlexible
LinearIterative
Focus on planning and documentationFocus on communication and feedback
The team delivers the product at the endThe team delivers a product frequently

Why use a hybrid project methodology?

The main benefit of the hybrid approach is that you can utilize the strengths of each chosen methodology while avoiding its weaknesses. That way it increases the efficiency of the process. For example, you can plan the project using the Waterfall approach to get the structure and timeline of the project. Agile is better during the execution phase as it’ll enable you regular feedback to constantly improve your product.

When you use Waterfall for planning and Agile for the execution of the project, you eliminate the unpredictability from Agile and enable your team to embrace change throughout the process. This leads to better and faster product delivery.

Here are the benefits of using hybrid project management:

  • Regular communication and feedback – agile demands regular communication between teams and the customer, ensuring that the project is aligned with the client’s needs.
  • Better product quality – iterative nature of agile allows continuous improvements of the product, which leads to a better quality product.
  • Faster delivery – by continuously delivering the working software based on customer feedback, the team can deliver the product faster.
  • Higher client satisfaction – all of the above leads to a higher client satisfaction.

Hybrid project management – a way to success

While it can be challenging to fit two project management methodologies into one, it pays off massively. There are pros and cons to every project management approach, but hybrid allows you to combine them and create the one that fits you best. You can take your preferred methodologies, take the best from each one and implement them in your project to ensure the highest product quality and faster delivery.

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