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.
- Team Meeting = Daily Standups
- Task Identification = Sprint Planning
- Lessons Learned = Sprint Retrospective
- Go /No Go Decision = Release Meeting
- Steering Committee = Release Authorization
- Change Management = Change Management
- Pilot = Beta Testing
Don’t be afraid of change and know that all companies are looking to deliver business results faster. Embrace agile methods, share with your teams how waterfall can be easily adapted to this. If you are a newcomer to the project management profession, be open to new ideas, learn from others, and don’t be intimidated by unfamiliar ways of doing things.
Paul Kesler, PMP, CSM, SSBB, is an experienced project and program manager with industry experience in Software Publishing, Payment Solutions, Financial Services and Receivables Management industries. His experience includes leading business strategy execution, working with C-Level and Senior leaders of various business lines to meet company annual goals and objectives. Paul is comfortable leading business projects like Go To Market launches of new cloud products and leading technology implementations and integrations such as Salesforce. He is also an active member of the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) and the Project Management Institute (Atlanta Chapter). Paul writes about change management.