Agile, Waterfall, and Hybrid: Managing the Multiple-Methodology Portfolio

(This post has been updated for 2020.)

Synopsis: Smart Program Management Office (PMO) and Professional Services Organization (PSO) leaders can solve the many obstacles inherent in hybrid portfolios. Written by business leader and PMO expert Lauri Klaus, this article covers the challenges and solutions of integrating agile, waterfall and hybrid project methodologies, as well as introduces methods to provide a flexible workflow engine among the various approaches.

Today, PMOs working with waterfall (predictive), agile (iterative), and hybrid project methodologies have a difficult time identifying a single version of the truth, which causes serious obstacles to productivity. Siloed project information scattered across numerous systems and geographies blocks decision-makers from insights into cost and schedule problems, and cripples performance-measurement processes.

Recent research from the Project Management Institute is clear: almost fifty percent of projects managed in PMOs are agile or hybrid based. In our travels among industry peers and colleagues, we’re always hearing that – as a result of this mix – “visibility” remains the number one challenge and predictor of project success. Just what does this visibility look like?

Project methodologies

Project methodologies are systems of practices, techniques, or procedures to help managers and teams use a structure to deliver projects. Methodologies enable them to efficiently carry a project to completion. Over time, new methodologies developed in addition to traditional models.

Waterfall is a linear project management (PM) methodology considered to be among the traditional models. It has at least five phases sequenced one after another. A phase cannot begin until the previous phase has been completed. Phases are not repeated unless failure becomes obvious in the latter phases of acceptance or maintenance.

Agile is iterative and not linear. Smaller project deliverables are presented to the customer more frequently. Customer feedback and new requirements are considered to make up the next cycle of work.

Hybrid methodology is a combination of two or more project management methodologies to create a new or more fitting model for a project with unique requirements. This methodology can be applied over the whole project life cycle or only to particular parts of it.

Holistic technology

Agile projects are structured for iterative planning, forecasting and reporting, and can look very different and come at a much quicker cadence than traditional PM like waterfall. Decisions are often made faster, and by comparison, change management may look like chaos from the outside but may be exactly the innovation that the project, and by extension, the company’s business strategy needs.

Project leaders comfortable working in agile PM systems like Jira for product development programs and portfolios must be able to plug into the status and progress of other projects and shared resources —some in their infancy, and some almost complete. API and integration capabilities remain paramount in ensuring PMOs are pulling in their waterfall and agile projects under one umbrella — especially when it comes to resource capacity planning. The financial, ERP and IT service management systems need to be pulled in, as well, to effectively manage resources or costs across disparate projects. Transparency remains crucial to controlling crises and managing constrained budgets.

Resource ramifications

Streamlining resource utilization can vastly improve company profit for companies with talent and materials scattered worldwide. Project methodologies like agile have quite different approaches to resource planning and utilization than the way one assigns tasks and time to waterfall portfolios. When resource deployment data remains trapped in multiple systems, you can’t be as flexible when assigning what are essentially “super-experts” to common agile tasks. Between each multiple-week phase (sprint) of common agile projects, you may have 100 percent resource replacement needs, based on the scrum-master’s need for a completely different expertise mid-flight.

The days of double booking your waterfall projects and assigning usage percentages that pad the calendar are gone. There was once a certain amount of over-run that could be absorbed. Now, the intensity of work during IT projects, product development and certain kinds of services contracts require leaner budgets and focused skills in any given sprint. If your PMO technology can’t allow you the freedom to forecast, scenario model and test-retest deployment across hybrid programs, today’s profit margins have no room for the errors that result.

Money matters

Delayed financial reporting based on inaccurate and time-consuming manual processes can result in cost overruns, time lost to non-strategic projects, and lost profits. These issues are especially apparent in product development and professional services portfolios – the ones that most often have a high mix of agile methodologies. Within agile, PPM solutions must provide data in real-time, or PMOs are at risk of losing status visibility. By the time you assign a cost variance to an activity, process, or product, your team has already moved on to the next phase of the project. If you’ve eaten up budget in phase one, you may not know about it until the mid-point of phase three, when your project managers are forced to level slipped schedules and manually pull up project cost data information into quarterly reports.

The good news: PMO leaders can integrate and streamline portfolio-level data from a variety of execution tools to plan, forecast and ensure that real-time visibility and executive reporting insights come to the executives in time to be actionable. This can avert budget flameouts, as well as category five resource crises.

In summary

The challenges:

  • Siloed project information across systems of PM solutions supporting different methodologies can decrease transparency, lower visibility, and block insights.
  • Visibility in a mixture of projects each following a specific methodology can be poor, raising the difficulty of project success.
  • Resource data can be trapped in portfolios composed of projects using multiple methods, decreasing allocation flexibility and preventing accurate forecasting.
  • Today’s leaner budgets of projects prevent the inclusion of a greater degree of allowance in schedules for contingency.
  • Delayed financial reporting can directly result in cost overruns, time lost, and lost profit.

Top PPM solutions:

Here are some solutions that can help you manage your portfolio of projects, regardless of the methodology used, whether waterfall, agile, or hybrid.

ProjectManager.com – a cloud-based project portfolio management software that gives managers the up-to-the-second transparency they need to manage their portfolios, their project managers, and their stakeholders.

KeyedIn Projects – provides business solutions for project and portfolio management, agile portfolio management, and professional services portfolio management.

Saviom – offers an enterprise project portfolio management software designed to utilize human resources most efficiently and intelligently, so you can get more projects done with fewer resources.

Genius Project – a highly flexible and configurable portfolio and project management software that lets you tailor featured sets for various project teams and types.

Meisterplan – a Lean project portfolio management and resource management software built for the cloud.

Lauri Klaus

Lauri Klaus

Lauri Klaus is the CEO and Cofounder of KeyedIn, a Minneapolis-based company that helps organizations simplify business processes, improve performance and drive results through its innovative SaaS-based PPM, PSA and ERP business solutions.

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