Efficiencies of Different PM Strategies: Waterfall, Agile, and Hybrid PM Methods

Nearly all software development firms use either the traditional Waterfall or the Agile project management (PM) methodology for their projects. The Waterfall PM methodology is characterized with a highly structured, sequential design process that is heavy on planning and documentation. While the Waterfall PM approach has its roots in the construction industry, Agile is a PM framework that was created specifically for fast-paced software development. This framework calls for iterative development that is performed by self-organizing, cross-functional teams. When used appropriately, the Agile framework has helped development teams to significantly reduce product delivery time.
Agile is arguably the PM methodology of the moment. However, most seasoned business leaders understand that neither Agile nor the traditional Waterfall PM methodology is the ideal framework for all projects. Smart PM experts began experimenting with alternative framework designs for their companies’ projects. The Hybrid PM methodology is one of the results of their work, which captures best practices from both Waterfall and Agile approaches. Here are some of the efficiencies of the different PM strategies, the challenges of using them and top reasons why the Hybrid PM methodology may be the best choice for your next software development project.

Why Waterfall Is Good

The Waterfall methodology incorporates an extensive upfront planning that results in a well-defined project scope and a more accurate project budget and schedule. Its lifecycle stages include requirements gathering, design, implementation, verification and maintenance — and each stage is performed in order. PM teams often have to demonstrate the accomplishment of certain entry and exit criteria to move to the following stage.
The work breakdown structure (WBS), which helps PMs to define and organize development efforts by functional components, is at the heart of the Waterfall methodology. A project’s final WBS usually includes its subcomponents and associated work packages. The work packages contain enough task-related details to allow project team members to assign budget and schedule estimates for project components.

Why Agile Project Management Works for Many

The Agile framework’s greatest feature is arguably its transparency, which leads to increased collaboration among all stakeholders. Customers can identify deficiencies and add requirements early in the PM process, which allows development teams to deliver satisfactory products to market quickly even when business needs are hazy at the start.

In the Agile methodology called Scrum, product owners organize and prioritize product features into a product backlog. The development team chooses features from the product backlog and defines the activities that are needed to complete each feature. They also estimate the time that it will take to complete each activity.
The analysis conducted by the project team results in a sprint backlog of tasks that are performed over a 15- to 30-day timeframe called a sprint. During sprints, team members perform elements of software design, development and testing. Customers are presented with viable pieces of software at the end of each sprint iteration, and they can modify requirements as needed during this time. This method is widely used to produce new Web-based software and mobile applications.

Challenges of Using Popular Project Management Methodologies

Over the years, you’ve probably seen your share of disastrous development efforts. According to process improvement experts, some of these failures could have been prevented if more appropriate software development methods had been chosen. Since one size does not fit all when it comes to software PM, it’s worth clarifying the challenges to expect when using popular PM methodologies.
While implementing Waterfall, project stakeholders find it nearly impossible to modify requirements after the project start without inflating the budget and schedule. The Waterfall methodology follows a strict linear lifecycle approach, and customers usually find out late in the lifecycle that development teams are not producing the deliverables that they actually wanted. While project managers schedule milestone review meetings with stakeholders, end users generally do not get to check early iterations of the proposed software to evaluate products or give feedback.
Project team members may find out that their products do not meet their own expectations until late in the software development lifecycle (Kristiansen, S. Deadlines in Agile). Since integration and testing are done at the end of the project, the development team can run into unexpected problems that prevent them from meeting their delivery deadlines and adhering to budgetary constraints.
Traditional PM routine includes heavy documentation that supports continuity of operations by any knowledgeable developer. However, Agile PM emphases delivering iterations of viable software quickly versus producing detailed design documentation. A high level of team collaboration helps Agile teams to achieve their quick delivery goals, and geographically dispersed teams present a challenge to Agile-based projects. Co-located team members who are exclusively assigned to particular software development efforts work best for this type of software development approach.
An even bigger challenge of employing Agile PM methods is getting your customers to trust a process that involves less predictable timelines and budgets. Customers who are not familiar with Agile PM methods may feel like they are writing blank checks for their software development projects. Agile-based projects also require a heavy user involvement throughout the project lifecycle. Besides having busy customers, your teams may have clients who are geographically dispersed. This makes it tough for development teams to get feedback from every stakeholder who needs to evaluate the viable software at the end of each sprint.

How Employing the Hybrid Project Management Strategy May Help Your Organization

While certain PM experts argue the benefits of the two popular frameworks, others think outside the box and borrow appropriate attributes from both methodologies to create a Hybrid PM approach. Project managers broadly divide the Hybrid approach into planning and execution phases. During the planning phase, they utilize the strengths of the Waterfall techniques to define system components and work packages via WBSs. Project managers set milestone deadlines and associated budgets, but team members determine how they will complete the milestone’s work within the allotted timeframe. Team members use Agile methods during the software development process while adhering to strict deadlines and budgets that project managers derive from Waterfall-based plans.
This hybrid approach, which combines the best practices of Waterfall and Agile PM frameworks, helps PM teams to flexibly respond to market and customer-related requirements changes and quickly deliver systems of the highest quality. For instance, business leaders who oversee the development of large systems within military organizations often want shorter software delivery cycles to meet aggressive schedules. Gaining improved cost efficiencies is like icing on the cake to them. While Department of Defense programs are constrained by regulatory requirements for the structure that the Waterfall PM method provides, the Hybrid PM method might be a better fit for many of their software development projects.

Conclusion

When choosing PM strategies for various software development efforts, you may consider a number of factors such as:

• Project size;
• Geographic location of project customers, stakeholders and development teams;
• Availability of critical material resources such as test equipment or laboratory space;
• Customer- or market-driven timelines.

While thinking about the numerous projects that you have encountered over the years, can you recall an instance where the Hybrid PM methodology would have worked better than either the Waterfall or Agile framework? Maybe you have implemented the hybrid PM model recently and discovered some keys to successful execution of that approach? Please share your thoughts.


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Adriana Blum is a senior technology architect at Iflexion with more than 12 years of experience in managing and delivering custom software solutions. She helps organizations to automate processes, find new opportunities and create applications that bring high value to businesses.

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