• The Rise & Rise of Hybrid Project Management

    In one of my earlier articles, I had briefly touched upon the genesis of Project Management. However, I felt that an apt preface to this topic of discussion would be to delve deeper into the history and evolution of project management, which would set the context to discuss the latest trend that has been evolving in the project management world.
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    History of Project Management:

    Preposterous as it may sound, Project Management shares its existence and evolution timeline with that of the human kind, it’s just that it was not christened then and got its name much later during the day. However, the history or project management is relatively recent.

    Before project management was defined and named, there were projects. The Pharaohs built the pyramids of Egypt around 2500 BC, and to this day there are unanswered questions as to how they accomplished such an engineering marvel without the aid of any modern-day tools that we are aware of. There are records, however, that does indicate that there were managers, even back then, who was responsible for each of the four faces of the Great Pyramid. Another instance of a great project management feat was The Great Wall of China, constructed circa 208BC, which suggests the immense amount of planning which would have gone in to build this wonder of the world. Historical data reveals that the workforce for this large project was organized into groups. There were three that we know of: soldiers, common people, and criminals. Millions were ordered to complete the project.

    Fast forwarding by a few millennia, the need for a more pronounced structure in construction, manufacturing, and transportation in the 19th century led to the birth of the modern-day project management as we recognize it today. While there might not have been task management, scope, or workload considerations at the time, there was certainly leadership at play, and there must have been some budget, even if open-ended, and scheduling of some sort. But with practice came process and refinement, as we shall see moving forwards.

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    It wasn’t until the 1900s that project management as we know it began to take form. As projects became industrialized, the process to manage them also experienced a revolution.

    Henry Gantt, rightly conferred the title of the father of modern Project Management, in the year 1917 created a scheduling diagram (which later came to be known as Gantt Chart) using a visual timeline to plot tasks as points with durations and linked them if they were dependent. This was used in the construction of Hoover Dam in 1931, which remains a cornerstone in modern-day engineering and project management.

    Development of Critical Path Method by Dupont in 1957, development of Program Evaluation & Review Technique in 1958 and Work Break Down structure in 1962, both by US Department of Defense, formulation of Theory of Constraints in 1984, the definition of Scrum model in 1984, ideation of Earned Value Management in 1989 and creation of the Agile Manifesto in 2001 were all significant milestones in the history of Project Management. In parallel, the formation of organizations/bodies like The American Association of Cost Engineers (1956), the International Project Management Association (1965), the Project Management Institute (1969), and the UK Government created Projects in Controlled Environment (1996) provided the much-needed cradle support to nurture and mature the project management theories.

    With globalization, and the need for increased speed-to-market with products and services, Projects have become larger, more complex and increasingly difficult to manage. Teams have grown more diverse and spread across the world, there is an eternal need to cut costs but not corners, enhance product and service features, and make amends while the “machine is still running”. No doubt there have been better techniques, integrated with enhanced Artificial Intelligence (what machines learn from humans) and Machine Learning (what humans / machines learn from machines) capabilities, that are all shots in the arm for the modern Project Manager. However, in addition to these tools and techniques, there is an even greater need for the Project Management methodology to be more adaptive, nimble, agile and visual. Does Hybrid Project Management provide all of it and more? Let’s read on.

    Case for Hybrid Project Management

    The conflict between proponents of Agile project management method and those of the traditional waterfall method have reached legendary status. Agile proponents argue that since most of the projects involve some sort of research, where the scope is not defined and the requirements are in flux and where there is a need to show tangible progress as early as possible, this methodology aces. They further point that short duration sprints help teams to focus on important tasks and discover flaws with design assumptions and development processes much faster. The proponents of the traditional project management argue that for large projects, especially those which combine multiple disciplines, a clear blueprint is required for the work to be planned and executed. Without a robust structure, large teams consisting of multiple disciplines may get distracted by their own little problems and lose the focus on the overall objective.

    The truth lies somewhere in the middle. The best project management method used in a project depends on the size of the team, the team’s experience, and the complexity of the project. Hybrid Project Management combines the best of what Agile offers in terms of speed of execution plus the detailed planning and clarity on objectives offered by traditional project management. Hybrid project management methodology is better suited for the majority of projects in which agile or waterfall methods don’t meet the need of the project.

    What is Hybrid Project Management?

    The hybrid approach includes the best principles practiced in both agile project management and traditional methods. In the hybrid methodology, the project is broken down into manageable components called sub-projects by discipline (hardware, software, mechanical, etc) or by functionality (navigational subsystem, computation modules, etc). This simplification can be accomplished by using a Work Breakdown Structure or WBS.

    When a project is broken down in terms of functionality, the waterfall is used to map out the path from the requirement and specification to the development, testing, and final release to the customer. Each component is then specified in more detail and developed using an agile project management method like Scrum.

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    In Hybrid project management approach, all high-level tasks, their interrelationship (dependencies), and final product delivery are defined by the traditional method (Work Breakdown Structure). Agile is then used to speed up the development of each component and its sub-component in the plan. This defines a clear interface between separate disciplines. The hybrid approach is simple. It makes it possible for better quality products with less development time and faster reaction and adjustment to market changes.

    After each component of the project is broken down into tasks that may take anywhere from one month to a few months, the Agile method comes into play. These components are broken down further into four to six weeks product releases called sprints. Here all principles used for the agile project management method are applied. The outcome of each sprint is tested and sent either to the market (if applicable) or used as the base for the next sprint. These iterations continue until the final product is developed and ready to be shipped to the market.

    Hybrid Project Management Definitions

    Components: The individual building modules driven from product requirement document. For example, a mobile phone has electronics, display, WIFI and software components. A software product may have UI, Business Logic and communication components. Product requirements establish which components are needed in a project.

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    Track: The path for development and release of each component. Some tracks could be shorter or longer than others.

    Backlogs: The list of tasks for each component. Tasks for each sprint are derived from backlog of the same track. Both project manager and scrum masters add or modify the backlog.

    Sprint: 4-8 weeks long development effort and each includes development, testing and release (deployment). Each track has its own backlog and sprints. Sprints from different tracks run in parallel. The output of each sprint from different tracks may or may not combine with sprints from other tracks to make it into a release

    Project Team: Each project team is made up of dedicated team members. The essential members are 100% assigned to the project, and there is no sharing of resources across multiple projects. Team members report to scrum masters for day to day development effort.
    Components: The individual building modules driven from product requirement document. For example, a mobile phone has electronics, display, WIFI and software components. A software product may have UI, Business Logic and communication components. Product requirements establish which components are needed in a project.

    Track: The path for development and release of each component. Some tracks could be shorter or longer than others.

    Backlogs: The list of tasks for each component. Tasks for each sprint are derived from backlog of the same track. Both project manager and scrum masters add or modify the backlog.

    Sprint: 4-8 weeks long development effort and each includes development, testing and release (deployment). Each track has its own backlog and sprints. Sprints from different tracks run in parallel. The output of each sprint from different tracks may or may not combine with sprints from other tracks to make it into a release

    Project Team: Each project team is made up of dedicated team members. The essential members are 100% assigned to the project, and there is no sharing of resources across multiple projects. Team members report to scrum masters for day to day development effort.

    Hybrid Project Management Guiding Principles

    The guiding principles of Hybrid Project Management is enumerated as below:

    • A Hybrid project is managed by a Project Manager using WBS methodology who has overall ownership and responsibility for the project.
    • Scrum Masters support the Project Manager by executing each Agile Sprint.
    • Continuous Team Collaboration is required for ongoing reporting, analysis and management review.

    Hybrid Planning Phase:

    In the traditional methodology, the entire project plan is scoped and planned before the start of the project. In agile, only the first sprint is planned. Hybrid Project Management recommends a complete project plan but the specific details of each sprint is not defined until the first sprint is completed. The Project Manager has overall planning responsibility while each Sprint is managed by the Scrum Master.

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    Hybrid Supporting Processes:

    Hybrid project management method suggests to follow the Agile methodology. At each iteration, customer feedback is sought, testing occurs and fixes made to enable continuous improvement. Formal method is used to define the outcome for each iteration.

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    Hybrid Execution Phase:

    In Hybrid the Project Manager is assigned the overall project ownership, and the individual Scrum Master is responsible for executing Sprint. Reporting is a joint responsibility requiring continuous collaboration and communication.

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    Concluding Thoughts:

    Hybrid project management, with all its novelties, is still in its nascent stage, and the methodology is yet to be formally acknowledged by the global Project Management bodies. However, the methodology does appear to hit all the right notes with the practitioners and it is only a matter of time before it edges out many of the existing methodologies. The pioneers of this school of thought are indeed driving a paradigm shift in the realm of project management as we see the rise and rise of the hybrid model. Do watch out this space for more on this.

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