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The 'Appropriate' Project Approach

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I recently attended a two-day workshop to help me get certified as a Scrum master.  What made this class interesting is that I am a "traditionalist" -- a project manager who leads and manages projects using the waterfall approach. This was going to be a whole new ballgame for me.

While I am not particularly new to the concepts of agile, I was looking forward to learning the extended basic agile concepts, frameworks and skill sets, and learning to apply those skills.

Surprisingly, I understood more of Scrum than I thought I would and realized I was already implementing some agile principles into my waterfall projects. Most importantly, I realized that the debates surrounding waterfall versus Scrum may just be full of hot air.  

The focus of those arguments is that one approach is categorically better than the other in all circumstances. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Traditional and agile frameworks are neither better nor worse than the other. But, either could be completely disastrous for a project if applied broadly.  

One of the most important ideas I took away was the idea of 'appropriateness.' Scrum is about finding the right level of planning, documentation, velocity of task output, cost and schedule -- and not just per project, but per team. It's not about what is 'best,' but what is appropriate and suitably fits the set of circumstances at hand.

I began to think that if all project managers embraced this idea of using an appropriate approach instead of the perceived 'best' approach, projects could potentially get along much better than they currently are.

I think that what is appropriate for a project could be waterfall, it could be agile or it could be a hybrid. And that would mean project managers would have to be well versed in all kinds of approaches and understand several project management languages.

At the end of the two days, and after an online assessment, I became certified as a Scrum master, but I think I became more than that. I got better at being able to identify what a project needs and what a team needs. Now, I have a few choices as to which approach is appropriate to meet those needs and ensure success.

Do you think there can be a hybrid?

 

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9 Comments

Two things:

1: When only managing a project it is true, that there is no way of telling if agile or waterfall is better than the other. You have to evaluate the teams personalities, the stakeholders, the project itself and decide what framework or hybrid suits best and follow it. The reason for this interconnectivity is simple. Agile is nothing new, it is "merely" a concept that when followed through an organization has far reaching consequences. For example: Edwards Deming's QA principles are straight included in the agile manifesto (most probably unintentionally, but the coincidence is inevitable) and that is something coming from 60 years ago.
So when one merely manages a project and does not look at the broader prospect agile is just another tool kit. Tool kits can be mixed. You only have to take care to pick the right tool for every situation.

BUT

2: When considering high added value projects, where innovativeness is key, agile is the right answer. In this case you have to follow agile through the whole organization. Agile helps creating a highly effective, innovative and high performing environment, shortens the learning curve, allows fast reaction to the market (with the fast product releases) and creates very high quality products. In this case agile is not a toolkit. It is a whole new way of managing the business (not the project) from the cleaner to the CEO. Waterfall is incapable of doing this as it is simply made for something else: control whilst agile is made for: creation.
My guess is that while agile cannot exist in a waterfall environment in organizational level, waterfall can find its place in an agile organization.

cheers
twit: @Bal_A_gile

I used agile approach before the manifest was written. Just as traditional PMI Good Practices appropriateness to the project situation matters to lead to project success.

There is no "or" but always an "and" as it fits best - every situation and each project is unique, and so is the decision. Hybrid is traditional and/or agile combined at the right time and the right work package to optimize the overall outcome.

Hi Taralyn,
Yes, definitely it can be hybrid and I think it should be hybrid. This is the major problem project managers are facing in today’s organizations. PMO decides one type of methodology / approach to manage all types of projects in their organizations and then PMs have to find ways to manage their projects and be sure their PMO happy! We all know that it is not working (See the project failure rates).

However, if you closely look at the Agile principles, it recommends to use whatever is appropriate for you, your environment, your team. It means you might able to manage one project / work package using Scrum methodology and the other one XP or Waterfall. This is what I do for most of my projects; choose whichever methodology is appropriate for my team and the task even though I might continue to report as a waterfall.

To my mind, a hybrid approach can be applied in following conditions:

1 - If you don't bind payments to milestones such as SRR, CDR which requires all requirements and system design to be completed.

2 - If you don't have a fixed price contract

3 - If your customers allows you to try new things to make other things better. I mean if you have an Agile playground.

Unless you are selling certifications or printing t-shirts, there isn't a need to be purist about the approach. It's good to know the advantages of each perspective and to guide the project lifecycle in accordance with what the specific situation demands.

In some cases, more of a waterfall approach can help maintain clarity of direction and momentum. Scrum is very component oriented, which can have a fragmenting affect that disrupts emerging over-arching concepts. Maybe, these are more the exceptions rather than the rule, but it's something to keep in mind. If you've got a really ace team doing a type of work that is fairly predictable, I think either approach can work okay.

Scrum comes into its own in situations where less is known and where market testing is critical, such as developing new technologies. If you're filming a movie or producing an opera, the continual second-guessing and self-examination of scrum might not serve a visionary's over-arching concept, particularly if the project team is relatively small. In some cases, there is a benefit of not second-guessing the scoped feature set.

But many of the techniques of Scrum, such as the close attention to completing delegated tasks and the spirit of group problem-solving, I think can be useful to any approach.

Hi Taralyn and Samad,

Salient points you raise there. I personally think most projects run in a 'hybrid approach' too.

The only thing that is disconcerting in my opinion is the strong marketing push for "agile" as the best methodology. While I can see the merits, and have adopted some agile-like practices in my past projects, I am not fully convinced it is THE magical solution.

This is especially when there are enterprise systems that are mission-critical in nature. Such systems in the requirements and design phases, simply need stricter scope and more thought out designs, which are critical for its longevity and performance.

Eg: Banking systems simply need platforms or customizations which are locked in in terms of requirements and design, else if you face changes frequently, it wreaks havoc on your development, testing, security and performance. A PURE Agile approach does not work, and I have found it much better with mini-waterfalls instead.

I don't know why a Scrum certification is mentioned on PMI's blog - this gives it an "official" status. While we all know that Scrum certifications are offered by many companies that claim they are the authority in Scrum. Of course, all these companies have a completely different understanding of Scrum.

Yes, we need to look forward for a hybrid than merely investing on any one approach, be it Agile or Waterfall. As no approach proves 'the best' (as no two projects are alike) we need to leverage on the 'appropriate blend' of Agile and traditionals.

Taralyn,

Congratulations on getting your Scrum Master certifiation.

I agree with your observation that most debate about waterfall vs. agile is nonesense. For me, the main reason it is nonesense is because very few project managers today are actually following purely waterfall methodology. It is simply impossible to do so today because of the relentless pressure for change and speed (unless you are leading one of those mega defense related project for the government).

Today, most project managers are already using a hybrid of traditional and agile practices even if they don't set out to do so. In fact, for some projects that involve integrating vendor systems (COTS or System Integration Projects), only a hybrid approach will actuall work. These types of project do not lend themselves to using the pure agile model.

So although we may not recognize it, most of us are already using a hybrid approach to projects.

Thank you.

Samad Aidane

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