Not every project or programme of work requires the same approach or methodology. There’s more to it than simply choosing one approach over another. But for organisations who don’t want or need to operate in one way or another, is there a case for a hybrid approach?
Agile Vs Waterfall
Being 28% more successful than traditional methodologies, it’s no wonder why an agile approach to project management is proving to be a popular way of delivering products. Agile project management is an iterative approach to deliver a project throughout its life cycle [Source: APM]. This approach has become popular among organisations that need to be flexible and responsive as quick changes continue to accelerate in business. Surely that’s most organisations, right?
Well agile isn’t for everyone. The principles behind the agile manifesto highlight the need for self-organising teams. It requires organisational culture shifts and executive support, and to trust in your self-organising teams to make decisions and deliver what is required without lengthy sign-off processes from senior teams. Ask yourself, how geared up is your organisation to deliver in an agile way?
On the other hand, we have the more traditional waterfall approach to delivery, a linear project management approach that gathers requirements at the beginning of a project, where a sequential plan is then created to accommodate those requirements [source: Project Manager]. It’s an approach that is often favoured among organisations with defined requirements, that operate in more stable environments, and have a distributed team with limited availability allowing for jobs to be easily booked in and worked on to an agreed deadline.
However, it too also has its limitations. It requires upfront investment to define the scope of work, any changes are hard and lengthy to implement, changes require strict change control processes, and there’s not a lot to show to stakeholders until the very end of the project or programme of work [source: APM].
There’s certainly a compelling argument for both options. When it comes to choosing the best methodology, there are a number of factors to consider. Type of project, how well scoped-out the brief is, time-frame, dealing with scope changes, measurements of success, as well as the capability and resource available in the team. Then of course there’s personal preference, habits and customer preference to consider too.
But does it always have to be one or the other? Both have benefits, but also limitations. A question that often gets posed is whether a hybrid approach exists, that takes the best bits of both approaches? An approach that keeps the agile nature of product delivery, but instilling the fixed delivery method task by task, with a Gantt style delivery. Could we blend the best from both?
The term wagile is met with mixed opinions. It was first coined in software development, rather cynically, as a pseudo agile approach, or one simply masquerading as another. Its critics will say that it simply refers to a few agile practices on top of a waterfall model. Admittedly, like any approach, there is a risk that if the most useful and relevant bits of each approach are not properly implemented and practiced, then wagile may become a frustrating, demoralising experience.
But it needn’t be. As mentioned, there are reasons as to why one method is chosen over another. And in the case of wagile, there is a need to introduce agile practices to an organisation who may not be ready to go ‘fully-agile’. It’s argued to be a necessary part of agile adoption. Remember, agile requires a large culture shift that not every organisation will be able to facilitate.
In this context, what aspects of waterfall and agile work well?
The best aspects of Waterfall
- Gantt timeline: some elements of an agile project can be high level, even the delivery sprints can be put in the timeline, as a simple block of time, even themed if you’ve managed to estimate a backlog and prioritised it.
- Discovery sessions: Understanding what is actually needed in the product and why we’re doing things. This should be the pre-requisite to any product build regardless of delivery method.
- Delivery rigour:some people like knowing what needs to happen, and think about the dependencies a little more closely. This helps protect people from slip ups down the line.
The best aspects of agile
- Flexibility: there’s always something that’s going to come up in a project and blind side you, no matter how well you plan, but being able to pivot and move direction slightly, without having to go through rounds of change requests is great.
- Rapid value: one of the best things about this is that there is less time thinking about what you’re doing, documenting everything and then getting that signed off etc. Instead, you get right to the heart of the problem you’re trying to solve and work out the solution and document as you go.
- Continuous release: if you need to get a product out to market fast, but you need to do it in iterations, then this is the best bit. You launch fast, and learn fast instead of holding on to a half finished product for a long time until it’s perfect.
Can we form a ‘wagile’ approach?
There are many that argue that it’s a solid no, but there may be some glimmers of positivity with the approach. And it’s really down to the fact that not all projects are born equal. Some organisations will have their own anxieties around working in a certain way that opens them up to risk, but they need a more rapid turnaround. This is where this approach would work. It’s a compromise on too much upfront thinking and not committing to anything.
So, what could this approach look like as a process?
We start to look at things in release iterations, but there are thought out tasks and dependencies within each release. It’s still agile looking at this point in terms of the quick releases but planned like a waterfall project.
The biggest elephant in the room is scope and budget. it’s the classic Project Management Iron Triangle, you can’t move one thing without affecting the others or the overarching quality.
The principle is simple. If you want something done quicker, you either need to reduce the scope or increase the budget to get more resources on the project, or you compromise on the quality of the output.
So how would this work? Traditionally in a waterfall project you’ll be working with a fixed scope, fixed budget and fixed timeline, where on an agile project you’re working on a fixed budget, and a fixed timeline, but you can give a little when it comes to scope.
This is where we need to bring in a bit more flexibility. The best way to do this is to agree upfront a set of deliverables that the team is happy to deliver within the time and budget, but leave a higher degree of contingency, so should any changes happen, the time and budget is there to make that pivot. The customer will get their agreed outcomes, and in the best case, a lot more of their “nice to haves”.
Is 'wagile' the answer?
The beauty of a hybrid approach combines the structure and planning of waterfall with the flexibility, speed and agility of agile. But there are some obvious downsides to this approach, it’s not going to fit everyone’s way of working.
On the one hand you’ll have organisations that purely want quick releases, and on the other you’ll have organisations willing to wait to get things just right. In either case, wagile presents an opportunity to introduce the organisation to a different approach, but the crux of how effective either will be lies in the cultural make-up of the organisation. And if your organisation isn’t ‘ready’ to choose one methodology over another, it may be that wagile is an approach worth adopting.
As with any approach though, the one you choose must be dependent on a number of factors, as highlighted above. Just like the sporting analogy, horses for courses, in product delivery there are different methodologies for different organisations. And wagile may be the solution for yours.
For more information about different delivery approaches and methodologies, and to discover which approach is right for your organisation, speak to Etch Products.