Today’s highly competitive business environment demands all organisations constantly be at the top of their game. Making it, or breaking it, depends on the ability to quickly capitalise on opportunities, shift product, embrace change, and innovate. Underlying all of this is successful project management—but what exactly makes a team a success? Should workers self-organise and self-prioritise workloads outlined in a project, or is a strongly defined, scheduled, and detailed plan essential in ensuring timely delivery?
Traditionalists favour top-down Waterfall methodologies, which neatly outline all steps within a project and define the scope, budget, and schedule upfront in order to erase risk and uncertainty. On the other hand, Agile methodologies promote the benefits of a bottom-up approach to produce faster, more responsive ways of working. Teams choose from the queue of a project plan and deliver small sections of the overall project on which the customer can then provide feedback.
Much has been made about the pros and cons of each approach, and the argument is often presented as a black-and-white choice—organisations must choose. Yet, when we examine some of the world’s most successful organisations, a third option, a best-of-both approach in which businesses compiled of coexisting teams using either method becomes apparent. Amazon, for example, is an Agile powerhouse, however its core web services products could not have been built without clear frameworks and end goals in mind.
In today’s world, we still need the rigidity of a Waterfall project, as well as the ability to also harness the responsiveness of Agile. As such, it’s crucial that large organisations, composed of multiple teams, learn how different project management methodologies can successfully coexist. There are several factors that need to be considered when creating such a system so that whilst certain elements of an organisation can be more flexible and responsive, executives don’t sacrifice the visibility and productivity that traditionalists hold dear.
Clear Communication & Metrics
As Waterfall is predictive and Agile is reactive, merging the two can feel disruptive and challenging for employees. Therefore, communication and collaboration are two of the most critical elements of an effective mixed-methodology enterprise. Everybody in the organisation needs to be on the same page and speak the same ‘language’. So Agile teams don’t find themselves sealed off from other departments, visibility is key in developing essential organisation-wide standard processes and effective interactions.
Agile teams need to report project progression into the company in a manner that allows for easy comparison with Waterfall methods. Identifying key data points which are translatable into metrics recognised by both Waterfall and Agile teams using a language management understands will help avoid miscommunication. Teams can focus, for example, on three main points—these could be “What is the team working on?”, “What are they doing right now?”, and “When will they be finished?”
In addition, the setting of benchmarks, for example, number of customers gained or whether a new feature drives sales, will also allow for easier comparison of Agile teams within a Waterfall environment.
Choosing The Right Tool
It’s an increasingly obvious myth to most employees that traditional tools for collaboration are failing us. With the average worker sending and receiving 190 emails per day, juggling multiple chat screens and working from islands of data spread across different programmes and formats everyone has had those moments when they feel out of control and drowning in requests and irrelevant information.
According to recent research, one third of people would rather clean their toilets than clean out their email inbox! The truth is that the tools we use to communicate and work in can in fact waste time and leave room for errors, lost work, and miscommunication.
Adopting a mixed-methodology in such an environment can be particularly difficult, and is much easier with the help of a tool that facilitates communication, connects the two sides of the business, and offers reporting capabilities to aid both Waterfall and Agile teams in proving their value. A tool which proves of benefit and enables success for both Waterfall and Agile teams will automatically translate data from an Agile team into Waterfall-like dashboards, reporting on the progress of all teams, all work, and all methodologies.
By having information accessible on one central platform, which all employees understand, they will no longer feel burdened by irrelevant data and isolated from islands of information held within inboxes or captured in ways unfamiliar to their particular method. This not only prevents the success of projects, but ultimately impacts the bottom line.
Slowly Does It
Agile and Waterfall, when compared, don’t appear to have similar goals. Mixing the two can be tricky, and therefore due diligence is critical for success. Whilst Waterfall requires the completion of step A before step B, and so on up until an agreed delivery date, Agile is reactive and teams can self-prioritise tasks, often enabling faster delivery. .
Changing the mind-set of employees to accept these processes can be difficult. To make the transition smoothly, it’s important to do so slowly. Dramatic shifts in culture take time, teams and leadership must be patient and, crucially, professional training and advice need to be taken into account. Agile methodologies are complex, and traditional Waterfall teams will need consultancy in its business value and incorporation into strategy and planning.
Middle management in particular must be on board as they are the ones who set procedure and policy. When properly trained, not only will they understand the value of Agile in their own work, but will be influential as advocates of the mixed-approach when demonstrating its value to leadership, and mentoring their teams.
With the UK and European economy and business landscape starting to pick-up momentum, it’s time for enterprises to make the most of opening markets, and the new opportunities available, to re-assess their project management. Adoption may take time, but by mixing methodologies organisations need no longer feel constrained by Waterfall methods, or feel they are losing control through Agile. A mixed approach offers the best of both, allowing projects to be structured in the most effective and productive manner.