4 Hybrid Project Lifecycle Models that You Need to be Aware Of

Have you ever been in a situation where someone said: “we are not an Agile shop…we are following a hybrid approach”? I must admit that I have heard this statement many times over the past few years, and every single time, I am confused by what that actually means. I believe that this is because there is no formal definition of what a “hybrid project lifecycle” is. The PMBOK (Project Management Book Of Knowledge) does not define this term, so most of us are inclined to define and interpret this “hybrid” characteristic in our own ways.

Recently, the PMI (Project Management Institute) published the Agile Practice Guide which included coverage on “Hybrid Project Lifecycle Models” which was very enlightening for me. Since this publication is only available to PMI members, and those who are willing to pay ~$100 to purchase it, it is very possible that this information will not be cascaded very broadly to the Project Management community unless those practitioners actively seek out this information.

I would like to share a few highlights from this section of the Agile Practice Guide in an effort to help disseminate this knowledge, which I think will be useful to teams and organizations that may be following these models without being aware.

Hybrid Project Lifecycle Model Variant #1 – Agile (1st), Predictive (2nd)


Source: PMI Agile Practice Guide, 2017
This variant of the hybrid model begins with an Agile approach, then followed by a predictive/waterfall approach. Why would a project choose to follow this model? Some projects begin with uncertainty, which benefits from taking an Agile approach which expedites inspection and adaptation. Once the product/solution has been developed, the project team may follow a more structured, methodical approach to deploy the product to the user community. This model may also be useful if multiple teams are involved; Team A may build the product then hand off the product to Team B (which may be a different organization) for installation and support.

Hybrid Project Lifecycle Model Variant #2 – Agile + Predictive (in parallel)


Source: PMI Agile Practice Guide, 2017
This model is implemented by executing both Agile and predictive practices in parallel. It is difficult to see how this would work, because you may wonder why a project would purposely choose to do this. From my experience, many projects end up with this model either consciously or unintentionally through an attempt to transition from a predictive/Waterfall organization to more of an Agile model, which usually does not happen immediately. As a result, many project teams end up with this hybrid approach as an interim step. One important note – if a team spends too much time in this mode of operation, it may add risk in many fronts; following mixed practices for an extended period of time may increase overall project/program cost while postponing the potential gains in quality and efficiency.

Hybrid Project Lifecycle Model Variant #3 – Large Predictive + Small Agile


Source: PMI Agile Practice Guide, 2017
This variation of the hybrid project lifecycle model combines a large predictive effort with a subset of the work managed via Agile practices. The project overall is managed by predictive processes, while uncertainty is generally managed using Agile techniques. This model can work well for large, longer-term projects that benefit from focused prototyping and/or experimentation during the project.

Hybrid Project Lifecycle Model Variant #4 – Large Agile + Small Predictive


Source: PMI Agile Practice Guide, 2017
In this final variant of the hybrid model, we have a project that is primarily run using Agile practices, which a subset of the work carved out to be executed in a predictive manner. This model is often used when a project requires an external component, service or solution that is provided by a vendor. If the external vendor does not follow an Agile approach, which may be preferable, this hybrid model may work well for this situation.

In closing, PMI has shared the four basic hybrid project lifecycle models that are in use today. It is important to understand how these work and when might be the right situation to leverage these models in support of your projects. PMI also suggests that we consult experts prior to attempting to tailor the models because improper customization of the model can introduce more risks and issues than the benefits attained. You may want to take a relatively small project and experiment with one of these models and gain first-hand knowledge on how it may work for your organization.

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