Project Management Professional (PMP)® Articles - Agile and Waterfall

How to Effectively Blend Agile and Waterfall Project Management Styles

Project management has evolved from an abstract concept of in-office management to a necessary business principle. Today’s professionals can become certified in project management and spend their entire career in a related role. The rise of innovation and customer-centric ideals have led to greater attention spent on project management concepts. Two, in particular, have risen to the top: agile and waterfall.

Both have advantages and cons that they bring to the table with many companies using one or the other according to preference. However, in today’s world, savvy companies have realized that blending both can bring some much-needed project improvement to their companies. What are the benefits of both project management styles and how can companies effectively do it? First, we need to understand what agile and waterfall management are as well as their pros and cons.

What is Agile Project Management?

At its core, agile project management promotes a methodology of continuous improvement. It continually causes teams to participate in a cycle of evaluating, analyzing, designing, developing, and implementing project parameters. Each part of the process is connected to the other. This process allows teams to increase flexibility, reduce waste, and produce quality goods to clients and customers. However, the structure of agile project management can make it challenging to measure progress, define a definite end, and have a culture of taking on unplanned work.

What is Waterfall Project Management?

Unlike agile project management, waterfall is a more linear process. Steps are carried out sequentially with distinct phases that have a beginning and end. Nothing begins until the previous step is complete, and if something has to be reviewed, individuals have to start back at stage one. Through gathering documentation, designing the system, implementation, testing, deployment, and maintenance, projects are straightforward. This process makes it easier for teams to stay on budget and stay within scope. Unfortunately, the set up also makes it difficult to make changes, or include the evolving wants and needs of customers and clients.

Steps for Effectively Blending Agile and Waterfall Management

These project management concepts are strikingly different. However, there are aspects and themes from both that companies can benefit from. One industry that has seen the possibility of the combination of these popular management ideas are in manufacturing.

Approximately 56.6 percent of organizations rely on a combination of technologies. This stat makes total sense. While agile allows companies to be responsive, it can also cause companies to go over budget and scope. Waterfall can help companies control this problem while also setting stricter quality standards. It may seem impossible, but combining these ideas are not out of reach. Read on for eight ways to blend agile and waterfall project management:

Understand your Project Management Weaknesses

What are you and your team consistently struggling with? Are you always going over budget? Is there an issue staying within scope? Is your process plan in upheaval if a customer or client requests a spec change? Understand your team’s limitations and begin to see how the advantages of agile and waterfall project management can address them. You may have an issue that only agile can fix, while a waterfall concept solution more appropriately addresses another problem. Keep an eye on your critical metrics for more insight into where your most significant needs are.

Know the Limitations of Each Style

Again, both have some excellent aspects. However, a colossal mistake is forgetting that agile and waterfall project management both have limitations. Depending on the situation and your needs, you need to select the style whose disadvantages will not make a chosen aspect of your project management situation worse. For example, if you are having a problem actively responding to client changes, you likely do not want to implement a waterfall style to this problem. However, if you are constantly going over budget or creeping over the specified deadline, then agile may not be the answer. Look carefully at the disadvantages and implement accordingly.

Establish Open and Active Channels of Communication

If you are going to take a hybrid approach to project management, you have to create opportunities for clear and open communication. There is going to be an adjustment period where things will feel more chaotic then organized. This step is where having programs like Slack, HipChat, or even Skype chat will come into play. Set up times for teams to talk with one another as well as ask you questions. Make it easy for teams to speak with one another to solve problems together. Project management is never easy, and a lack of clear communication makes it even harder. So, do yourself and your team a favor by investing in reliable programs that allow for asynchronous communication.

Apply the Strengths

Regardless of the project management preference of the team, there are benefits of each management methodology that should be used strategically. For example, waterfall management promotes the sharing and dissemination of information up front. This is not a bad practice to follow. This act gives everyone the starting information they need while allowing you as the manager to answer any questions they have. Using the same idea, agile requires teams to continually pay attention to the improvements of products at each stage in the process. Instead of only monitoring all items at the end, require teams to monitor the quality of deliverables consistently. Doing this can even allow for quicker feedback from clients and customers regarding any change in specifications.

Remind Teams of the Ultimate Goal

Many members of your team may have a preference for one style over another. This situation may make it challenging to try to introduce a hybrid approach. Make a point to remind them of the ultimate goal: to produce a quality deliverable for a client or customer. At the end of the day, each project management concept has something to bring to the table. Therefore, team members have to understand the value of accepting the benefits of each idea and how it can make their work easier. So, take the time to connect the hybrid approach to your business principles and show them how each one can help them work more efficiently. Without worker buy-in, it will be challenging to convince them to come onboard.

Invest in a Project Management Tool That Promotes a Hybrid Approach

Many times, technology can pick up where our own intellect and willpower cannot. Combining two different styles of project management can be downright difficult. So, finding the right technology solution is paramount. It would help if you had software that is going to help you track progress, produce reports at crucial points of the process, and allow you to monitor how team members are coping. Numbers don’t lie. If things are heading down south, a project management program will let you make changes as you see fit.

Survey Your Team Members

Your project management software tool will give you the quantitative results you need. On the other hand, you need qualitative results to provide you with insight into the details of issues and problems. So, don’t hesitate to send pulse surveys to your team to find out how the hybrid approach is going. They may not feel comfortable coming to you directly or may be able to give you more precise details since you are catching them at a time when they are closer to the project. Sending out pulse surveys can culminate into opportunities for you to hold meetings or meet with other team members personally to improve upon any lingering problems.

Be Sure to Involve any Vendors You Work With

Blending agile and waterfall project management styles will have a direct impact on any vendors or contractors you work with. You may need to meet with them more frequently or require them to review or submit work in a different way. Whatever the case is, be sure they are aware of the changes and how it impacts them. They may not have deep insight into either project management ideology, or they may be partial to one over another. Show them your plan of implementation and —as you are doing with your staff—keep the lines of communication open. Encourage questions and keep them in the loop of any changes or updates.

Final Thoughts

A hybrid project management approach may be the solution to many issues your teams have faced. However, your success will depend on genuinely understanding your current limitations and problems and connecting them with the strengths that agile and waterfall management both bring. Team member buy-in is crucial. So, involve them in every part of the process. Find out where the issue areas are and work with them to implement parts of each process that are applicable. It is crucial to understand that change will not happen overnight. However, if everyone on board understands the role they play, then the implementation of a hybrid approach can be successful. The ultimate goal is to stay responsive and flexible to handle any problems that arise, and an openness to both agile and waterfall methodologies are an excellent way to do this.


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