Newcomers guide to blending Waterfall and Agile methodologies

When I started in project management, waterfall was the name of the game. All projects were structured the same way and tended to operate in a very linear fashion. As the world evolved and businesses need to change project management changed as well with the introduction of new methods, tools, and templates. Even today, new methods get introduced, bifurcated, and modified as needed as companies evolve, take what they like, leave what they don’t, and move to what is see mostly as hybrid project management versus of what you see in textbooks or online. I don’t see this changing anytime soon, so as practitioners, we must all adapt to stay relevant.

The hybrid approach 

Most companies today are moving away from traditional waterfall in project execution; instead, they are embracing more agile methodologies which first surfaced in software development teams. The main reason for this change is speed. Today’s market place demands constant change, instant access to information, and a laser focus. Who can afford to wait six months to twelve months for a first glimpse when executives need to see results today? For our discussion today, I thought that I would highlight areas in which I have seen traditional waterfall approaches morph to meet our new project realities. I have found that traditional waterfall methods can be easily adapted into a nimbler approach to deliver business results.

From lengthy phases to more bite-size approaches

PMI defines the five phases as initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and close. These phases are done one after another from beginning to end until the project is completed, typically lasting many months or years. Think large ERP projects or legacy mainframe migrations. Once completed, these lengthy projects many times, failed to deliver the desired results and left many wondering why they were even started in the first place. With agile methods, these phases would be run in a much shorter timeline typically in two- or four-week sprints. Failures and results are realized quicker, customer feedback can be incorporated much faster. Compressed timelines, quicker feedback, speed to market are the most desired outcomes from adopting a hybrid type method when delivering projects.

I tend to think about traditional waterfall practices in the following ways when approaching project delivery in a more agile approach. Project managers should run their projects in shorter cycles moving through the phases, sometimes in parallel, starting some activities while ending others to accelerate project execution and delivery. Try a similar mapping exercise using your own methods, and I think you will see the similarities in the examples listed below.

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