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This Year’s Model – Hybrids

Dave Prior
Reading: This Year’s Model – Hybrids

Recently new models have began to emerge for how different organizations, especially larger, legacy organizations are approaching managing their projects, programs and portfolios. Over the next few posts I will be highlighting key aspects of a few of these “new” models, while pointing out key differences. I am also hoping to record a few podcasts on this topic, so please keep an eye on our Sound Notes for updates.

Before digging in, there are three things I’d like to establish first:

1. When I say “new”, I don’t mean new as in something we have not seen before. For this post, “new” is a little more like, “put together in a way that let’s us give it a shiny new name and pretend this is something we’ve not seen before”. I don’t think that is a bad thing, but I think the newest part to these “new” models is usually their name.

2. The building blocks for all of this are traditional (waterfall) project management, a variety of flavors of Agile and Innovation capabilities (i.e. Lean Startup, Innovation Centers, etc.)

3. I am writing this both to explore new models and to clarify my own understanding as I attempt to share information. Any feedback, comments, thrown shoes, etc. are welcome and encouraged.

This post will focus on what many people refer to as “Hybrid Agile” (or any of the other names where they push waterfall and Agile/Scrum/whatever together).

And in the beginning there was waterfall.

And some folks said it was good.

Other folks said it was really awful and they created Spiral.

And the Spiral folks said it was good.

And other folks looked at Spiral, shrugged and said “Meh.”

And they created Agile.

And the Agile folks said it was good.

And then there were the banks…

…not just the banks, but any archaic organization steeped in hundreds of years using traditional ways of approaching work. They liked the idea of Agile, but it was really hard to make that massive a change.

Enter The HYBRIDS

For the purposes of this series of posts, Hybrids will refer to any mix of methodologies and frameworks with the desired end state of having a customized, or tailored approach to managing work in an organization.

For the past two years, I have been leading PMI workshops on how to establish a “hybrid” PMO. I have learned that when people talk about “hybrid” models of managing work, more often than not, they are talking about one kind of hybrid and doing another. They talk about a Conscious Hybrid approach in theory, but practice an Unconscious Hybrid approach with their actual work.

Conscious Hybrids

In a Conscious Hybrid organization, the mix of processes evolves over time. This is done by running experiments with the goal being continuous improvement of the way an organization is approaching work. The key factor here is that specific experiments are defined and run in order to test hypothesis about what might happen if a certain practice is introduced into the workflow and given time to stabilize. Once this has happened, the change is evaluated and kept or abandoned depending on the results.

For example, a traditional organization might decide that it wants to test out mob programming to see how it impacts the organization. A team (or teams) prepare for the experiment by learning about mob programming, an initial assessment is done to try and understand how it will impact other parts of the organization and then the test is run. Once the team has had time to get their legs with mob programming, management has seen the results and the rest of the organization has felt the impact and understands the ramifications, then a decision will be made to adopt or abandon mob programming.

It is important to keep in mind that this is not a decision that can be made by the team alone. Every part of the organization that is impacted by this test should weigh in as well.

Another example of this in the LeadingAgile model occurs during Basecamp 1, when we stabilize the system by establishing stable teams that can make and meet commitments. We start by working with organizations where they are and help them make a conscious choice to begin introducing Agile methods to understand the impact these approaches will have on their existing system.

Unconscious Hybrids

Trouble with HybridsUnfortunately, this approach is far more common. In an unconscious hybrid, a new approach is evaluated and a decision is made to adopt part of the approach. It is very important to keep in mind that this is usually done with the very best of intentions.

Each organization feels that it is different and has truly unique challenges not accounted for by standardized frameworks. So, an organization may take a look at something like Scrum and decided that they like the idea of working iteratively in short cycles and frequently delivering work to solicit feedback, but they may be unwilling to envision how their organization could possibly operate with individuals dedicated to a single team and/or project. So, they decide to adopt Scrum, but switch people around on teams and project at the start of each Sprint. This is a decision that is normally made without testing the alternative.

The difference between the two options above is that in the former, through investigation, a decision is made to incorporate a different approach into an existing approach. In the latter, a decision is made to adopt only a portion of a system without understanding how leaving part of it behind will impact the use of that approach.

In my own experience I have formed an opinion that there is nothing inherently bad about a “hybrid” approach to work. But there is something inherently dangerous about an unconscious hybrid approach to work. Regardless of how Agile we are, being more mindful about how and why we work is always going to elicit better results for ourselves and our clients.

In the next few posts I will be focusing on Organizational Agility and the Bi-modal approach.

Next A Day Without a ScrumMaster

Dave Prior has been leading technology projects and teaching individuals and teams how to manage their work for over 20 years.

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