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Thoughts & Ideas

Check back here to see our latest thought leadership, exciting developments, and more!

Thoughts & Ideas

Check back here to see our latest thought leadership, exciting developments, and more!

Hybrid Project Management. New or not-so-new?

There was a time when project management was exactly what it said on the ‘tin’. Plain, simple, ordinary project management. Nothing fancy, just delivering the expected outcomes at the right level of quality, on time and on budget. Of course, projects had their complexities and difficulties, their risks and crises, resulting unfortunately in many failures of projects to deliver even the basics of what was expected. Some of these failures were high-profile, the bulk were not as they weren’t newsworthy, in the public interest, or (understandably) something that the organisations in which they occurred felt the need to publicise.

It’s interesting to observe how methods, tools and techniques have developed over the years to try and counter some of these failings and reduce the risks of undertaking a project. We could argue the case either way as to whether or not the success rate has actually improved with new approaches, and undoubtedly (as you’re reading this), you’ll have a view!

"We certainly still see numerous high-profile examples of project failures in the media"

We certainly still see numerous high-profile examples of project failures in the media, although these increasingly seem to be tinged with the headline-grabbing sensationalism that is inherent in the world now, coupled with a limited quantity of facts and data.

What we also certainly see now are a plethora of terms, descriptions, trade-marked names and acronyms to describe what is still project management, but in a variety of forms, each with their own approaches, toolsets, and increasingly ‘interesting’ names. Here are a few examples:

  • Prince2 (not Harry)

  • Burndown (not literally)

  • Agile

  • Scrum (rugby anyone?)

  • PMP

  • Waterfall

  • Kanban (not new in Agile, originated in 1940’s Japan and part of what is now known as Lean)

  • Planning Poker (justification for that Las Vegas ‘conference’ perhaps?)

  • Senior Responsible Owner (so much better than those Senior Irresponsible Owners)

Fundamentally however, what ties all of these various things together are the same things that have been the ultimate aim of every Project Manager everywhere forever: delivering the required outcomes, to the right quality, on time, and on budget . . . every time.

So, this brings me to the increase in publicity and recognition of the term “Hybrid Project Management” in recent years. Essentially, what this means is using two or more project methodologies in one project. You’d be amazed at the number of organisations now promoting this “new” approach to projects, keen to get their hands on some of your project delivery budget!

Except it’s not new. Not by a long way.

When I started my career in the automotive industry, it was in use then. That’s the early 2000’s, getting on for 20 years ago. A combination of Waterfall and Agile that originated from Japan in order to develop new vehicles, all the way from initial strategy and concept to customer-ready and manufacturable quality levels. It didn't have a fancy eye-catching name; it was just "the process" or "doing the job".

It worked too. In fact, it worked extremely well.

Part of the set-up of each project including setting the end date; that is, the date at which the first customer vehicles would come off the production line. Now, the reason why I say the approach worked well was because having set the end date (to the specific day, usually three to four years ahead) at the very start, the reality was that they achieved it every time (with one exception that had its own specific complications). A level of project success that’s unheard of in too many organisations all over the world, and with some seriously complex engineering too.

"A level of project success that’s unheard of in too many organisations all over the world"

That’s not to say that nothing ever went wrong and the process was perfect. Lots went wrong and it was by no means perfect, but the process was understood and was the focus of delivery across the entire team.

Over the course of, let’s say, a four-year vehicle development, there were a small number of critical gateways that were fixed. And when I say fixed, I mean FIXED. These became the focus of attention as ‘integration points’ for all the various teams to come together with a coherent vehicle to the maturity level expected. Other gateways were allowed some level of flex depending on the complexities and issues observed in particular aspects of development, although it was always clear from the leadership that this was undesirable and to be avoided.

Let’s take a closer look at the hybrid bit.

I mentioned earlier that the process was a combination of Waterfall and Agile. It followed this pattern:

  • Waterfall to start

  • Agile in the middle

  • Waterfall at the end

In the initial Waterfall element, the high-level concept and market was defined, as was the plan, which were then further developed into numerical benchmarked targets against which the success of the final vehicle could be assessed. Particular systems (such as the type and preferred suppliers of air conditioning systems, for example) were selected as being suitable to deliver the targets based on data and engineering experience. A series of balancing iterations (mini-Agile) were then undertaken to ensure the targets didn’t conflict with each other (for example, the impossible balance of aiming to have it handle like a race car, but ride as smoothly as a magic carpet). Then the various high-level system options were balanced with the targets such that a ‘best match’ became the starting point for the detailed engineering. All the time this is going on, actual costs, inclusion of new technology, procurement activities and marketing are all being matured to the point that the outcome of this stage is a clear direction to achieve the expectations of the end product.

"This prevented scope creep and endless ‘tinkering’"

Moving to the Agile element in the middle, a set number of defined iterations were used with clear success criteria expected of each element within a set timescale – this prevented scope creep and endless ‘tinkering’. Let’s look at an example for Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) elements:

  • Iteration 1: Fundamental size and shape of the components and systems defined. Key fixing points for the components and systems positioned

  • Iteration 2: Designs refined and tested for functionality and compatibility with other components and systems

  • Iteration 3: Detailed design completed and tested ‘virtually’

Each iteration carried with it an element of issue resolution, and once all iterations had been completed, it was then possible to output the drawings, models and specifications such that physical prototypes could be produced. Other elements of the process were run in a similarly Agile way, with the culmination of these being the start of production at the chosen manufacturing location.

The end Waterfall element was final testing and validation against targets prior to production of customer vehicles and transition to normal production. By this point, a high level of confidence had been established through the setting of good targets (by Waterfall) at the start, continual refinement of the engineering (by Agile) in the middle, and transition from product development to manufacturing (by Waterfall) at the end.

"Of far greater importance were the people involved"

Now, it could be argued that the strength of the process is what made this successful, and yes, it played its part. However, of far greater importance were the people involved. At a working level, this was about the skilled and experienced people delivering the outcomes for their specialist area. At a leadership level, this was about reinforcing the critical elements of the product and the process, and ensuring the quality, cost and timing expectations were delivered at every stage along the way.

For me, it matters not what variety of process is anyone’s favourite or preferred, and my view hasn’t changed with the advent of Hybrid Project Management. It is the job of the Project Manager to determine the most suitable approach for the particular project and the expected outcomes, and this comes down to using well researched project aims coupled with knowledge, experience and good judgment.

I accept that many organisations have deployed standard project delivery methodologies, and rightly so when the bulk of the projects undertaken are similar in their construct, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all projects will be like that, and some level of pragmatism is needed, rather than blindly following the standard process and complaining when it fails some way down the line.

So, is Hybrid Project Management the answer to all your project problems?

Probably not, but it’s certainly another string to your bow that needs the application of really great project information, knowledge and experience to make it useful. Of far greater importance is putting the right people with the right specialist skills and experience in the right positions at the right time and help them learn the specific methodology that's well suited to the type of outcomes you're trying to achieve.

Peyto Consulting is a small independent consultancy specialising in Business Transformation & Change, Programme & Project Management, and Continuous Improvement. We use recognised methods tailored to your specific needs to deliver great outcomes, taking you from where you are now to where you want to be.

Photo by Austin Park

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