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January 27, 2023

Introduction to Hybrid project management

Gantt Hybrid Management Project Management Reporting
Jerzy Żurawiecki Content Specialist @BigPicture

Predictive and adaptive approaches are complete opposites. Not so long ago, managers had no choice but to apply one or the other to deliver projects. Organizations benefitted from the strengths and lived with the weaknesses. Over time, this thinking has evolved into another option – the Hybrid project management approach. The blended way of management is gaining support among businesses worldwide.

If you’ve never heard of the Hybrid approach before, it’s time to change that. You will get familiar with the term and discover its pros and cons. On top of that, we’ve added a blueprint to start your journey with Hybrid. As a bonus, there will be a list of tools to help you in your daily Hybrid project management duties.

What is Hybrid project management?

In a nutshell, the Hybrid approach is a combination of elements from multiple project management methodologies. In its most popular application, Hybrid entails utilizing parts of Classic and Agile methodologies to create a tailored way of delivering initiatives.

Usually, Hybrid projects derive detailed planning from a Classic methodology. Conversely, the execution is adaptive, just like in the Agile project management approach. This mixture provides project managers with rigidity in preparation, clear goals, and deadlines. However, the iterative aspect of the Agile approach helps deliver complete chunks of work more frequently and improve the process as the project goes on.

Reasons to implement the Hybrid project management approach

In other words, why should you carry out initiatives using the Hybrid method? Here are two situations where the blended project management approach can work in your favor.

One methodology doesn’t fully work

Processes, tools, and methodologies are supposed to make things easier for managers and project teams. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Let’s say you run a Waterfall project. You have the scope, the budget, and the deadline. At some point, one of the key stakeholders has a game-changing request. It would make the end result much better, but with Waterfall, it’s not so easy.

With a Classic and Agile blend, the request could have been implemented. It would be added to the backlog and prioritized accordingly. Maybe other functionalities would have been sacrificed, but the product would have benefitted in the end.

Obviously, going from Waterfall to Hybrid mid-project is not the way to go, but this scenario illustrates that some projects could deliver more value in the Hybrid form.

To support the Agile transformation process

Company-wide application of the philosophy and principles of agile is a long and complex process. In fact, the bigger the organization, the longer it takes. Hybrid can serve as a stopgap in the transition into Agile.

Going Hybrid allows teams to get familiar with agile methods with the safety net of the predictive Classic structure.

For example, some businesses use Waterfall phases and Agile sprints. Each project phase consists of several sprints. Even though the iterative timeboxes might be new to some team members, they still operate in the context of phases. Ergo, there is a sense of familiarity among the new processes.

Advantages of Hybrid project management

There is a lot to like about Hybrid. In fact, let’s take a look at three benefits of the blended approach to managing projects.  

Customizability

The main benefit of a Hybrid project is that you can tailor it to the needs of the industry or specific project. It’s not about following a recipe to a tee. It’s about making the process work for the initiative. Hybrid management helps take advantage of the upsides of various methodologies while minimizing the downsides.

Since there is no one way of “doing Hybrid,” project managers have a lot of flexibility in the way they will conduct the initiatives. It’s up to them which elements to incorporate and how to do it.

Adaptability

In most cases, Hybrid project management entails applying agile principles. It means that teams should adapt to changing priorities. The Hybrid approach can serve as a motivator, especially at the stage when the Agile transformation in the organization is still ongoing.

Adaptability also means reacting to customer expectations and feedback. For teams operating in the Waterfall project management model, it might be a new experience. But in the end, it makes the product more in tune with the customers’ needs, therefore offering more value.

Easy to get started

Compared to going full Agile straight from Classic, choosing Hybrid means you don’t have to make drastic changes from the get-go. Instead, you have full control over the transition, which means you can employ a project management process from a number of Agile frameworks.

Additionally, the degree to which you use the new frameworks is up to you, the team, and the stakeholders.

Challenges of Hybrid project management

Just like with any other project management methodology, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. Here are some of the aspects you should look out for in a Hybrid approach.

Multi-methodology competence

Blending multiple methodologies means knowing enough about them first. For some project managers that might not be an issue. However, it is worth pointing out, just in case.

Crucially, the same challenge applies to other members of the organization. For instance, some stakeholders might be used to the Waterfall approach. Their role in Agile projects requires much more frequent involvement. Making that transition starts with education and forming iterative-friendly habits. All of that can take some time before the stakeholders master their role in a new environment.

Last but not least, project teams could be undergoing a similar transition. Iterative development is nothing like the traditional execution of deliverables. New processes, different tools, and artifacts, all of that takes some getting used to.

Stakeholder approval

For Hybrid project management to be effective, the stakeholders must be on board with its implementation. Hybrid projects tend to rely heavily on stakeholder input, at least those that apply Agile project management practices at the execution stage. Therefore, it can prove difficult to convince the sponsors to adapt to the changing requirements.

Lack of precise definition

For a project manager who prefers clearly defined frameworks, Hybrid may seem too loose at first. It’s not as well-described as the Waterfall methodology, or even Agile frameworks like Scrum, Kanban, or Lean. Thus, it might not be suitable for managers who prefer handling projects “by the book”.

If these drawbacks seem workable, it might be a good idea to start managing your project in a hybrid manner. But how to get the ball rolling?

Blending agile and waterfall methodologies the right way

A Venn diagram of classic, agile, and hybrid project management

In the Hybrid approach, you can mix and match elements of various methodologies at will. However, having so many options to choose from might be overwhelming at first. Don’t worry, there is a blueprint you can follow to get started in Hybrid.

It will focus on three key areas of every project:

  • Planning,
  • Execution,
  • Monitoring and reporting.

Classic planning

Prior to going Hybrid, project managers usually had gone the Classic route. Actually, this is where the experience with predictive project management will come in handy. It’s a good idea to incorporate traditional project phases. Gathering requirements, design, implementation, testing, and deployment – the well-known overlaying structure can stay the same.

Additionally, this structure allows the project manager to operate with a higher degree of certainty. Elements like the goal, timeline, project scope, or budget are established in advance.

The same applies to documentation. Gathering necessary information takes place at the requirement analysis stage. This gives the project team a comprehensive source of information to use during the later phases of the project. Speaking of later stages, that’s when the Agile approaches kick in.

Agile execution

When the planning phase is ready, it’s time to turn the tasks into project deliverables. That’s where the flexibility of the Agile process proves its worth. You can apply various agile frameworks, such as Scrum or Kanban to name a few.

In Scrum, a typical team works in Sprints – a timeboxed event that aims to produce working products or features. Each one starts with a Sprint Planning session where the team chooses items from the backlog they plan to deliver in the near future. At the end of the Sprint, the team presents the results of their work to the stakeholders.

Speaking of, stakeholder feedback is an important part of the Agile development process. Their contribution can add more value to the product. That’s one of the advantages of this Agile method. In Classic, customer feedback occurs much less frequently. In many instances, it happens at the end of the project. It can then be too late to make valuable changes and the end result doesn’t fulfill all of its potential.

Kanban, on the other hand, is a continuous process that prioritizes improving the product incrementally. Teams plan their work with the help of boards and task cards. There is no equivalent of Scrum roles, Sprints, or events. Kanban is a much simpler framework in that regard.

The practitioners of this framework use the Work In Progress Limit to manage the workload of each team member. The idea behind it is to reduce the number of open tasks and focus on fewer things at once. The implementation of WIP limits diminishes the risk of scope creep.

Both frameworks are adaptive in nature. It means that while the project is in progress, priorities can change, and new ideas can replace the existing ones.

Classic monitoring and reporting

Even though the work progresses iteratively, stakeholders are often more interested in the larger picture of the initiative. Instead of analyzing the results of each Sprint, they might assess the progress after reaching a milestone or ending a phase.

This impacts the reporting aspect. Managers present project data that incorporates multiple Sprints. Therefore, presenting information regarding the schedule, progress, budget, or risks concerns a larger time frame of a project.

When the project progresses smoothly, there is no need to make significant changes. However, if there are any delays, allocation issues, or the budget is exceeded, the Hybrid project should be reviewed holistically. That means the planning of the next steps happens in a Classic manner.

Hybrid management tools

Unlike Agile or Classic approaches, Hybrid doesn’t have any unique tools. Instead, it borrows them from blended methodologies. As such, coming up with a complete list is a tall order. Instead, it’s worth mentioning the most popular tools Hybrid managers can utilize.

Gantt charts

One of the must-haves in every Classic project manager’s arsenal. The Gantt chart is used to visualize phases, tasks, duration, and dependencies in Classic initiatives. Though it’s worth noting that it can be useful in Agile, too.

As for Hybrid project management, the most popular use case concerns high-level planning. Determining phases, estimating the timeline, outlining milestones – that’s where the Gantt charts show their worth.

The tool provides managers with a clear overview of the whole project. Visual elements like the taskbars aligned on a timeline convey information much better than a list or a table with raw data. Quite often, it is accompanied by a Work Breakdown Structure. It’s a detailed structure of the scope of the work, one that is broken down all the way to the individual task level.

An example of a gantt chart with timeboxed iterations. It is used in Hybrid projects.
An example of a timeboxed Gantt chart (right) with a Work Breakdown Structure (left) in a Hybrid project in BigPicture.


In
BigPicture, the Gantt chart can serve as a bridge between Classic and Agile. The timeboxes outline both the high-level Waterfall phases as well as iterative increments. Stakeholders and executives can focus on the progress of each phase, and the project manager can plan the detailed work for Agile teams.

Critical path

In some cases, the Gantt chart contains another useful feature. It’s called the critical path and it outlines the longest possible sequence of tasks that ensures the completion of the project. It lets managers know which tasks are “immovable” if they want to deliver the initiative on time.

Before the age of project management software, managers used to calculate and determine the critical path manually. Fortunately, those days are behind us. Now, PPM tools like BigPicture display the critical path automatically.

As a result, project managers can prioritize tasks and distribute available resources more efficiently. Here is an example of a critical path for a Hybrid project, displayed on a Gantt chart.

A Gantt chart with a critical path.
An example of the critical path for a Hybrid project (taskbars marked in orange) in BigPicture.

Backlog

Now it’s time for an iterative tool. For teams that use Agile frameworks like Scrum, the Sprint Backlog is one of the key artifacts. Essentially, it’s a list of tasks that need to be completed during the Sprint. The team creates the list together and estimates the items in terms of duration or effort required to deliver it.

In most Hybrid applications, teams use the backlog in each project phase. On top of that, the phases consist of multiple Sprints. Once all the items in the backlog are complete, the next stage of the project begins.

An example of an Agile Board with a backlog in BigPicture
An example of an Agile board with a backlog (right).

Burndown chart

Essentially, a burndown chart tracks the progress of the Sprint on a daily basis. It contains two axes. The X axis lists the days of the Sprint, whereas the Y axis is where the remaining effort is cataloged. With each passing day, the value of effort should drop. Ideally, it would stop at 0 at the end of the Sprint.

The chart contains two lines. One slopes down at a steady angle and represents the ideal progress throughout the sprint. The other reflects the actual progress, which is often far from ideal. Here is an example of a burndown chart:

An example of a Sprint burndown chart in an Agile project
An example of a Sprint burndown chart.


It allows the managers can see how much work has been done after each day. Also, it’s easy to see if the velocity of progress is enough to deliver all the user stories/backlog items scheduled in the Sprint. And if there are any issues that need solving, it’s more likely to spot them before it’s too late.

How to get the most out of a Sprint burndown chart?

  • Update the values at the end of each day – consistency is key.
  • Set realistic targets.
  • Discuss the daily progress with the team.

That wraps up our introduction to Hybrid project management. However, before you set off into the sunset and start your first Hybrid project, here is a short infographic. Use it as a summary of everything you need to know to get started.

An infographic outlining the most important information about Hybrid project management