How to go hybrid

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Hybrid life cycles are on the rise. The Association for Project Management has included hybrid in its Body of Knowledge for the first time, reflecting a reality that has been in place for a while, but has not always been acknowledged.

“The APM [Body of Knowledge] seemed to imply that there was a simple sequential process that starts at the beginning, works in perfect order and gets you to the end. [Now] there is a recognition that life happens and it is never that simple. You don’t know everything in advance, and you need to make changes along the way. This is exactly what hybrid allows us to do,” says Darren Dalcher, professor in strategic project management at Lancaster University Management School and co-editor of the APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition.

Project managers have always taken a pragmatic approach to getting the job done, diverging from a prescriptive theoretical path when needs demanded. It’s just that they tended to keep quiet about their hybrid tendencies. Now, they are shouting about it more.

Here’s what you need to know about taking a hybrid approach to your project.

It’s not for every project

Hybrid project management merges elements of waterfall and agile. How that mix looks very much depends on the project, but it tends to work best with complex scenarios with unknown elements to them.

“Hybrid recognises that we have a spectrum between the linear, highly predictive situations we encounter and the more highly adaptive, less well-understood contexts,” says Dalcher. “If we have a very simple context where everything is understood and can be anticipated, hybrid will not be the right approach – the linear perspective will work well.”

Hybrid in action:

It’s intuitive

If you want a hybrid approach to work, you need to be able to trust your judgement and adapt when needed. Hybrid is all about greater adaptability, but you’ll need to loosen up.

“Bits of my project run on waterfall, some bits on agile, and some bits in the middle I call ‘wagile’,” explains Stephen Carver, a lecturer in project and programme management at Cranfield University. “[Hybrid] is a state of mind. People are so obsessed with process. It’s a conversation that is naïve and misses the point of why we are here – to get the job done.”

Waterfall can provide the structure

Jim Conroy of Project Objects, a project portfolio management software vendor, says that a waterfall approach is needed to provide the structure for a hybrid project. “You have a project or idea coming in and you need to assess whether that is a good strategic fit, whether you’ve got the cost for it and the right resources to make it happen. Then you do have to go through a process of saying, ‘We’ve got these deliverables, and tasks and workflows within them that need to get done and validated.’ These are key aspects that you must retain in some way.”

Agile can provide the delivery

Agile is great for getting things done, Conroy explains. If you’re not used to using agile, it can be a bit nerve-wracking: “There is an element of loss of control, because you are not managing every single task and deliverable, but instead waiting for the mess of creativity to manifest itself.”

How agile works best is when you can get the team to gel, building enthusiasm for the project and encouraging everyone to feed off of it. “There is a psychological element to agile – being part of a team in a room all together, and all the passion that goes with that,” he explains.

For more information on how to run a hybrid project, get a copy of the APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition.

The full story on the rise of hybrid can be found in the Summer 2019 edition of Project journal. Project is free to all APM members.

Image: MSSA/

Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 20th Aug 2019

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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