Agile and Hybrid Agile approaches are very popular right now. As organizations respond to accelerating rates of change, they are adopting agile approaches and using hybrid agile approaches more than ever.  This post explains the difference between agile and hybrid agile approaches, what constitutes each category and why organizations are adopting hybrid agile approaches.

  1. What is a Hybrid Agile?
  2. Agile and Knowledge Work
  3. Why Agile is a Great Starting Point
  4. The Benefits of Moving Beyond Agile
  5. Assessing Your Agile Readiness
  6. Building Situational Knowledge and Skills

What is a Hybrid Agile?

First let’s define what hybrid really means. A hybrid is a combination of two (or more) different elements. Hybrid cars often combine internal combustion engines (ICE) with battery electric (BE) technology. They could alternatively combine ICE or BE technology with a hydrogen fuel cell. The type of propulsion system does not define a hybrid, only the fact it is a combination of different approaches. Hybrid vehicles can combine the benefits of low emissions with long range made possible by a large gasoline station network.

Hybrids occur in nature too. Mules are the hybrid combination of cross breeding a donkey and a horse. While both animals look similar, donkeys and horses are quite different animals. A horse has 64 chromosomes, a donkey has 62. A mule has 63 chromosomes and is a completely different animal. Mules are larger than donkeys, have more stamina than horses, along with tougher hooves, a better resistance to parasites and can eat a wider range of foods – making them great pack animals.

That’s the idea behind creating a hybrid. Combining elements to try and get the benefits from both sources. However, we need to be careful that the effort and uniqueness are worth it. Hybrid vehicles are more complex and heavier than single power source vehicles. Mules cannot reproduce, you have to cross breed a donkey and horse each time to get one. More people know how to diagnose and repair a gasoline powered car than a hybrid one. Project leaders require a working knowledge of both plan-driven and agile approaches to use hybrid agile, while teams members would benefit from a foundational knowledge or Project Management Fundamentals and Agile Fundamentals.

Agile and Knowledge Work

Agile is important to knowledge work. Knowledge work is where subject matter experts come together to collaborate on new and unique products and services. This might involve scientists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, software developers, or web designers working with the business to build something new. Each of these groups has specialized knowledge, typically no single person knows everything needed to complete the project. What is being created is new or sufficiently different to the sponsoring organization as such previous project plans and estimates are not particularly useful to predict progress.

Unlike traditional, industrial projects, complexity, uncertainty, risk and change rates are very high. Many knowledge worker projects are working on designs and solving problems. There is no visible building or road getting created, the work product is invisible and intangible.

Without visible and tangible reference work, it is necessary to use an iterative-and-incremental approach to determine fitness-for-business-purpose. Teams could attempt to analyze and predict all features and functions, but often initial use uncovers additional opportunities and requirements.

Trying to explain the nuances of iTunes or Netflix to someone who has never seen anything like it before is difficult. Incremental trial is faster and more useful than speculative big-design-upfront that cannot anticipate every interaction with user behavior or linked systems.

Why Agile is a Great Starting Point

Agile methods provide an excellent project platform. Agile approaches have many benefits including:

    1. Prioritize Business Value and Risk Reduction: By focusing on the highest business priority items first, organizations have a higher probability of realizing the major benefits of the work.  When teams actively identify and address risk early on and continuously, teams stand a greatly chance of overcoming the risk or identifying an alternative.

    2. Iterative and Incremental Development: Today’s projects often produce something new that has not been done before. Building smaller increments of work and getting feedback keeps the deliverables closely aligned with consumer expectations. Taking an iterative and incremental approach helps iron out technical feasibility and performance issues sooner.

    3. Adoption and Improvement: Adoption and improvement are conscious decisions to act on feedback, change design or experiment with a new process. Seeking feedback, then acting upon it in a formal, consistent manner transforms the opportunities identified into lessons to be acted upon that move projects forward towards better results.

    4. Increase Drive through Empowered Teams: Agile approaches leverage a team’s ability to manage the complexity of the work and figure out the best way to organize it.  When teams are given more authority and autonomy, it creates greater ownership and a drive to deliver better results.

    5. Safety: Safety is an essential ingredient in creating an environment where the team feels assured that trying and failing will not be punished.  Building such an environment allows people to feel safe to ask questions that may expose vulnerabilities and not operate out of fear.

The Benefits of Moving Beyond Agile

Agile approaches can offer a great starting point. However, they aren’t enough to deliver success most of the time.  Agile approaches work well for small projects in receptive, supportive environments, but agile is not sufficient for challenging environments.

Your industry and the culture of your organization often determines its readiness and tolerance for transitioning to agile approaches. Therefore, it is important to realize that no single strategy will be correct all the time.  Some organizations struggle to fully adapt to agile while other’s take on too many agile tools and process and get distracted or bogged down. As a result, organizations abandon agile all together a go back to using familiar plan-driven project management. That’s why your tool kit and skill set needs to have a combination of predictive, plan-based methodologies and agile project expertise to navigate context-sensitive decision points.

Watch our OnDemand Webinar Hybrid Agile: How & Why?

Assessing Your Agile Readiness

To help identify the types of projects your organization undertakes, answer the following questions about the nature of projects you execute.

If you answered more on the left-hand side of the table, it would indicate you are engaged in mainly industrial type projects. This is good news for reliable execution and traditional project management tools and techniques should serve you well.

If you answered more on the right-hand side, you are firmly in the knowledge worker domain. You should consider moving from industrial project management approaches and adopt knowledge worker agile ones.

If you answered about equally from each column, you are in a hybrid environment. Here you likely need to draw on a combination of approaches to be successful. This is one scenario where a hybrid approach might be suitable, for projects spanning the industrial / knowledge work domain. There are two other scenarios to consider also:

  1. As a steppingstone to true agile.
  2. In environments that demand additional rigor or controls.

Building Situational Knowledge and Skills

Our next article “Reasons for Adopting a Hybrid Agile Approach” explains each of these situations along with how to implement agile and hybrid agile approaches. It highlights strategies that have been proven to aid successful adoption and identifies risk areas and common pitfalls to avoid.

RMC offers several ways to learn more about Plan-Driven, Agile and Hybrid Agile approaches.  New to agile and plan-driven project management, consider Rita’s Agile Fundamentals or Project Management Fundamentals.  RMC offers a variety of hybrid agile offerings including our Hybrid Agile Instructor-led virtual course, our Hybrid Agile on-demand eLearning course and our Beyond Agile book.

We also offer two hour long on-demand workshops that introduce you to a groundbreaking Hybrid Agile model and how you can use it to apply plan-driven and agile approaches based on the specifics of your projects.


Cate Curry
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