Project Management: Agile, Traditional, or Both?

When launching a new initiative, companies often feel they need to choose one project management approach for the entire effort, whether it’s Agile, waterfall, or something else. But within a single project, there may be some disciplines that lend themselves to an approach like Agile while others fit better into a strategy with a different structure.

Project Management

Before you settle on one project management approach to rule them all, consider if the application of multiple strategies might be better. Depending on the scope of your initiative and the type of work being done, your organization may actually benefit from a hybrid approach.

Look first at the disciplines, functions, and activities that will be part of your project.

  • Do some functional areas require flexibility in how they tackle or sequence their tasks? Will other activities need to be carried out using a predetermined set of steps?
  • Will matrix or other reporting structures make it more challenging to keep everyone on track?
  • Are the sub-team structures expected to be static from beginning to end, or will they evolve to suit different stages of the project’s progression?
  • Will it be necessary to receive mid-project approvals before moving on to the next phase, or can multiple phases be active simultaneously?

In essence, if a portion of the team needs to be nimble, Agile can help you do that. This same flexibility may be useful in projects where sub-teams will reform or reorganize themselves several times throughout the initiative’s lifecycle. For areas that require strong accountability, on the other hand, or when there’s a need to work under tight or fixed timelines, then a more traditional approach will likely give you the right kind of structure to do that. This could also include more challenging reporting hierarchies, such as when the PM doesn’t have direct control over the majority of the people doing the work.

As you evaluate the benefits of each type of project approach, you might also consider soliciting feedback from your team members on the concept of running multiple project management strategies within a single initiative. You may find that some of them have strong feelings one way or another, especially if they’ve worked under a project approach in the past that didn’t end well. Team members may have more questions than input and that’s okay. You can help them navigate whichever strategy their functional area ends up using, but getting their concerns out in the open is important. It will help you monitor for potential issues and proactively provide training and other guidance to ensure the team avoids pitfalls.

Once you’ve determined that a hybrid approach would be the best solution for your project, it’s time to figure out how to make that happen. Few PMs have hands-on experience implementing and maintaining this type of project management strategy, and without some history doing it successfully it can be difficult to drive a project to completion using multiple approaches. It requires discipline and the ability to translate terms and concepts from one strategy to the other. Without that expertise, the various sub-groups will be speaking different languages and it’s possible they’ll provide their project data in different formats and using different metrics. Things are likely to begin falling through the cracks almost immediately as you try to put the pieces together into one cohesive puzzle.

The use of a proven project management methodology as the foundation for a hybrid approach is key to long-term success. It will provide the flexibility to blend different update schedules and other reporting variations while still giving your team the structure to maintain progress and meet important deadlines.


PMAlliance offers project management consulting, training and portfolio management services.

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