Hybrid Challenge Administration: Agile and Waterfall

Waterfall and Agile are sometimes depicted as rivals: an old-guard venture administration methodology competing with a nimble newcomer. At its coronary heart, the distinction between them comes all the way down to predictability versus adaptability. Waterfall strives for predictable outcomes by predetermining options on the outset and deeming tasks full solely as soon as these options are totally applied. Agile guarantees adaptability, delivering a minimal viable product (MVP) after which iteratively releasing new options and gathering person suggestions to information the trail of enhancements.

Regardless of the oppositional narrative, Waterfall and Agile usually exist concurrently inside organizations. In 2021, the Project Management Institute reported that the data expertise and finance industries have been the main adopters of Agile. Even so, Waterfall stays prevalent, and virtually one in 4 tasks in each industries employed a hybrid methodology, in line with the PMI survey.

A bar graph showing that IT and financial services sectors employ a hybrid approach in almost a quarter of their projects.

Since its official introduction by software program builders in 2001, Agile has continued to develop in recognition, even creeping into industries like development and vitality the place Waterfall methodologies have remained dominant. A hybrid approach combines elements of two completely different administration frameworks or methods with the purpose of bettering effectivity. On this article, Toptal venture administration specialists who’ve labored on hybrid Agile-Waterfall tasks in numerous industries mirror on the challenges and advantages of implementing Agile inside a bigger Waterfall construction.

What Is an Agile-Waterfall Hybrid?

“True hybrid is a mix of predictive and unsure work,” says Jim Stewart, a Boston-area Toptal venture supervisor, Scrum grasp, Agile coach, and advisor. In a hybrid mannequin, Waterfall offers the general construction for the well-understood, predictive elements of the venture, and Agile methods are used for the iterative, extra unsure components.

On this approach, an organization can create software program in an Agile style however observe Waterfall for the rollout course of. A monetary firm would possibly develop a product with main options that have to be audited and authorized earlier than launch. Nonetheless, smaller components of these options will be iterated by the event group by means of a sequence of sprints, as can different elements of the person interface.

With regards to figuring out the suitable hybrid system, flexibility is vital. “I don’t consider in … one-size-fits-all,” says Miroslav Anicin, a venture supervisor primarily based in Belgrade, Serbia. “You may’t … apply methodologies by the guide. It’s essential know precisely the way to tailor these approaches primarily based on various factors comparable to group maturity, firm tradition, topic cultures, the kind of venture, the dimensions of the group, and the dimensions of the product.”

Agile icons alternate with fixed units depicting an Agile-Waterfall hybrid structure.
Hybrid venture administration makes use of Agile approaches inside a bigger Waterfall construction to permit for faster innovation of some components alongside mounted schedules for others.

Why Use a Hybrid System?

Agile has confirmed to be extra adaptive and environment friendly than conventional approaches. Senior executives at main worldwide companies extensively agree that Agile is necessary for attaining strategic goals. So that you could be pondering: Why would organizations proceed working in Waterfall?

Threat administration is a typical barrier that forestalls organizations from going pure Agile, particularly in extremely regulated industries wherein tasks are topic to approvals from outdoors organizations that require documentation and rigorous timetables. As a result of danger evaluation should happen earlier than venture planning in these industries, altering components of the evaluation would require a recent spherical of planning. “I used to be working for an organization that ran scientific trials, and audits are loopy [in that field],” says Juan Vilmaux, a venture supervisor primarily based in Córdoba, Argentina. “It’s important to undergo a number of processes which can be outlined by exterior authorities just like the FDA. Should you work in Agile, you’re continually adjusting your scope or backlog—reprioritizing it—and that may intrude with these audits.”

Toptal venture supervisor David Machiels, primarily based in Brussels, Belgium, notes that tasks demanding privateness protections require rigorously timed releases. He led a hybrid group growing an id administration platform in Microsoft Azure Active Directory for a European banking group. His group used Agile on some growth steps, however as a result of banks are loath to place info within the cloud as a consequence of data-privacy considerations, they provisioned the system on a neighborhood server. The group then adopted a transparent Waterfall-like order of operations. “First, you want that on-premises implementation to be executed,” he says. “You additionally want the cloud implementation to be executed. Then you can begin doing the connection between the 2.”

When Agile is hybridized right into a Waterfall setting, massive tasks will be damaged into epics and person tales for extra versatile growth. Then accomplished options will be launched on longer time frames. “Generally you’ve gotten what I name a giant bang supply,” says Grant Schuleman, a Toptal venture supervisor in Johannesburg, South Africa, who has labored in monetary companies, banking, and inventory exchanges. He describes how a group would deploy incrementally to a user acceptance testing (UAT) setting. As soon as all of the options are signed off on in UAT, the product is launched in a single massive deployment. “And that would take a yr, relying on how large the venture is,” he says.

On his largest program, Schuleman had 120 folks engaged on 10 tasks—some working in Waterfall, some in Scrum, and a few hybrid. He additionally ran a scrum of scrums each different week to make sure that the smaller groups have been aligned for the subsequent sequence of sprints and dealing at complementary paces. The orchestration of various approaches launched flexibility whereas nonetheless accommodating the organizational wants that prevented them from going full Agile.

A Waterfall deployment schedule with development and QA done in Agile iterations.
With a Waterfall deployment schedule, the group can nonetheless work in an Agile approach by releasing iterations to a person acceptance testing setting, the place they are often collected for a bigger launch later.

The Hardest A part of Going Hybrid

The success of an Agile-Waterfall hybrid relies on how venture managers customise processes given the state of affairs. Challenge managers going hybrid should discover the suitable mix of methodologies for the product, group, and finish customers—but hybridization seldom follows a preset method.

Typically essentially the most consequential consider figuring out whether or not Agile will be efficiently hybridized into an present Waterfall system is the diploma of buy-in from group members and different stakeholders. A group have to be open to alter and excited to strive new issues. If group members aren’t well-versed within the new course of, or solely consider Agile as a buzzword, they may not see a cause for change. Challenge managers going hybrid should foster understanding and encourage groups and organizations to think about the strategies that produce optimum outcomes.

When Schuleman tried to combine Agile processes into an replace of a legacy utility, for instance, he discovered that the experiment wasn’t embraced by the builders, who have been accustomed to working in Waterfall and didn’t perceive why the work was damaged into epics and person tales. Crew members needed to work on every part directly. Based mostly on that resistance and different components, he realized a hybrid strategy wasn’t applicable, nimbly modified course halfway, and guided the group to finish the venture utilizing pure Waterfall.

Vilmaux has had comparable experiences engaged on tasks, particularly these with danger administration issues. Generally going hybrid will increase your possibilities of failure “since you’re getting the worst components of each worlds. You limit Agile, however the nature of Agile is to embrace modifications and to be versatile. You begin shedding all of that … inside a Waterfall setting, which works greatest in a linear style—mounted and deterministic—and the place modifications aren’t not possible however will be very pricey. In including Agile, you begin pushing nonlinear issues inside that Waterfall world.”

In Schuleman’s and Vilmaux’s experiences, venture managers wishing to go hybrid want to educate their groups by means of new ideas. Nonetheless, they have to even be prepared to acknowledge if hybridization isn’t working and adapt appropriately.

With these issues in thoughts, hybrid executed proper can repay, even in a risk-averse setting. Anicin just lately led a profitable hybrid venture for the IFC (a member of the World Financial institution Group) in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The plan-driven venture adopted extremely detailed necessities and specs, and concerned quite a few organizations and authorities stakeholders. But the groups labored in Agile from the start, and the shopper in the end obtained a greater product for a decrease price on a faster timeline. Anicin says, “It was laborious, however it labored.”

Utilizing Agile Hybrid As an Improve

As industries proceed to bear digital transformation, extra firms have gotten interested in Agile. Even when an organization isn’t able to dive proper in, a gradual introduction to Agile will pay dividends over time. One main cause is that Agile adapts to uncertainty, a attribute of any venture.

Agile additionally affords transparency. “I favor Agile as a result of I can see the modifications,” Schuleman says. “With Waterfall, there will be a number of smoke and mirrors: ‘We’re 20% full,’ ‘We’re 30% full,’ however you then’re caught on 80% for one more eight months. It’s far simpler to cover issues. With Agile, you’re having day by day scrums, and if a person story is sitting there for longer than it ought to be, it’s simple to say, ‘This factor’s not transferring; what’s the issue?’”

Incorporating Agile slowly into Waterfall can present benefits, particularly when elements of a Waterfall mind-set at the moment work for the group. As an example, Waterfall can do nicely in the course of the discovery and planning phases. “Once we are speaking in regards to the blended strategy, we’re offering a way more detailed product backlog,” Anicin says. In a hybrid venture, he makes use of this backlog to present his group a extra detailed, Waterfall-esque perspective on long-term expectations for the completed product. He then onboards his group “to the product, not solely to the venture,” he says. “I’m anticipating the entire group to grasp the product particulars as a result of they should have this product possession, which is so vital.”

An organization and group won’t be able to go pure Agile, however on the very least, venture managers can notice appreciable advantages from including Agile practices and shorter, extra frequent supply deadlines. If a venture supervisor is rigorous, good, and cautious about implementation, a hybrid system may very well be simply what a company must improve a venture.

This text has just lately undergone a complete replace and rewrite to include the newest and most correct info. We want to acknowledge Greig O’Brien’s contributions to the unique article. Please observe: Feedback beneath might predate this replace.