Now that the Agile movement has expanded to larger organizations in more industries, we’re seeing a lot of variation. Granted, we’re used to a variety frameworks, techniques, and methods in use, from XP to Scrum to Kanban to Continuous Delivery. However, lately we’re hearing more and more about the use of “Hybrid” approaches.

Maybe you’ve heard an executive say, “We’re not Agile yet, but we’re using a hybrid approach”. Or maybe you’ve heard some consultant proudly declare, “Unless you do lots of prototyping, you’re only hybrid Agile”. And then at the meetup you hear another person say, “Oh, we’re not hybrid, we use a blended approach”.

With all this chatter, it can get pretty confusing as to what people actually mean. Those of us working on the upcoming Agile Practice Guide have heard this chatter too, and we’re adding a dedicated section to the guide focused on this topic. Here are some of the initial patterns we’re seeing...

"Iterative" vs. "Incremental" vs. "Agile"

Project lifecycles live on a continuum, ranging from Plan-Driven on one end to Agile on the other end. To help us understand this continuum, let’s say two of the key aspects of Agility are “Deliver Early and Often” and “Adapt to Change”. If we were to plot that on a two-dimensional graph, we would get something like this…

Project lifecycle continuum

On the continuum from Plan-Driven approaches (lower-left) to Agile approaches (upper-right) there are different degrees of delivery (incremental) and degrees of change (iterative). Those techniques that achieve BOTH high degrees of delivery AND high degrees of adaptability are called “Agile”.

"Blended" vs. "Hybrid"

But that’s just too simplistic. In the real world, we don’t just use one approach; we almost always combine different techniques together. To help us understand the different combinations, we’ve settled on some working definitions.

Blended Agile is the combination of two or more established Agile methods, techniques, or frameworks.

Blended vs. Hybrid Agile

That is, adding some Kanban and WIP limits to your Sprints would be a “Blended” approach.  Or maybe you want to “blend” an information radiator with your continuous delivery status. For many Agile practitioners, that’s easy to understand. We combine known adaptive-aggressive techniques to be better at what we do:

Blended = Agile + Agile = Better Agile

But what about the rest of us who are mere mortals? What if we’re not able to use these various techniques just yet? What if there are either constraints or demands that require some non-Agile elements to happen? Well, in those cases, you should consider the “Hybrid”:

Hybrid Agile is the combination of Agile methods with other non-Agile techniques..

Hybrid Agile is the combination of Agile methods with other non-Agile techniques

For example, a detailed requirements effort, followed by sprints of incremental delivery would be a “Hybrid Approach”. Likewise, frequent iterative prototyping of a design, followed by a single plan-driven implementation would be a “Hybrid Approach”.

Here, the idea is to take a non-Agile approach and inject some Agile techniques to address a specific issue or opportunity:

Hybrid = non-Agile + Agile = something in between that makes sense

When should we use Hybrid approaches?

Just like anything else in the world, there is a right reason and a wrong reason to do something. To be clear, the wrong reason for mixing techniques together is to keep up with the Joneses. “Doing Agile techniques” is not the goal. The goal is to deliver the right business outcome using the right techniques.

Here are two scenarios:

  1. Hybrid as Fit-For-Purpose: For projects that have a lower risk profile, use Plan-Driven approaches to look for lower costs. For higher risk projects, use Iterative techniques to repeat activities until issues are revealed and resolved. For projects needing aggressive delivery, Incremental techniques will deliver something sooner, to ensure customer engagement. Finally, in order to navigate complex environments, Agile techniques may have a higher initial overhead, but it might be worth it for the overall outcomes. Each has their own strength. Mixing these together in the right way can fit your context better than just narrowly using only one of them.
  2. Hybrid as Transition-to-Agile: Many teams are not able to make the switch to Agile ways of working overnight. The larger the organization, the more moving parts, the longer it will take to shift. If you’ve lived in a Plan-Driven world for several years, then Agile methods will look and feel very different. As a result, your initial foray into the Agile world will be a messy amalgamation of both. That’s okay. You’re using specific techniques to move in a direction that you want to go to.

Every project has different needs. For those finding themselves in a mostly plan-driven environment, a hybrid approach can be a transition to more adaptability and delivery. For those already delivering and adapting aggressively, blending in some new techniques can raise your bar even higher.

Don’t simply declare, “We’re Agile”; the reality is you’re almost always using some combination of different techniques already. Instead, a better strategy would be to stop and think about which approaches would be the best for where we are, and what we want to achieve.

 

About the Authors

Agile Alliance is a nonprofit organization with global membership, supporting and serving the Agile software community since 2001. We support people who explore and apply Agile values, principles, and practices to make building software solutions more effective, humane, and sustainable. We share our passion to deliver software better every day.

Becky Hartman is an energized and organized professional with more than a decade of combined experience in both Traditional and Agile methodologies with a predominant focus in the Information Technology arena. An articulate, collaborative communicator at all levels of an organization, she possesses a strong ability to internalize and share knowledge critical to successful projects. Becky is a detail-oriented, results-focused, and self-motivated individual with a history of facilitating successful outcomes for both the organization and the project team no matter the methodology.

Mike has been involved in agile methods since 1994 when he helped create the agile approach DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development Method). Mike served on the board of the Agile Alliance and the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN). He presents at agile and project management conferences worldwide and writes on agile leadership for a number of publications including Cutter Consortium, www.ProjectManagement.com and www.LeadingAnswers.com.

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” provides frank advice for your tough problems. She helps leaders and teams see problems and resolve risks and manage their product development. Johanna is the author of more than ten books, including: - Create Your Successful Agile Project: Collaborate, Measure, Estimate, Deliver - Agile and Lean Program Management: Scaling Collaboration Across the Organization - Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects, 2nd ed. - Diving for Hidden Treasures: Finding the Value in Your Project Portfolio (with Jutta Eckstein) - Predicting the Unpredictable: Pragmatic Approaches to Estimating Project Schedule or Cost See more of Johanna’s books and writing on http://www.jrothman.com, and http://www.createadaptablelife.com.

Jesse Fewell is an author, coach, and trainer in the world of innovation, collaboration, and agility. The founder of VirtuallyAgile.com, he’s helped remote teams from Boston to Bangalore catapult to better results. He journaled his global experiences in the handbook “Can You Hear Me Now: Working with Global, Distributed, Virtual Teams”. As a project management bridge-builder, he founded the original PMI Agile Community of Practice, co-created the PMI-ACP® agile certification, and co-authored the Software Extension to the PMBOK Guide®. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, he is the world’s only certified Project Management Professional® (PMP) to also hold the expert-level designations of Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST), and Certified Collaboration Instructor (CCI).

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Steve Matola is a Program Executive at Oracle Corporation, a provider of integrated Cloud Applications and Platform Services. A founding member of the Global Cloud Services PMO, Steve is a leader in delivery methods and management of programs that enable the successful delivery of Global Information Technology project. Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of Maryland and is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with the Project Management Institute since 2004. Steve lives in Northern Arizona with his wife, Colette and enjoys hiking, music and playing soccer.

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