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Posted by on Jun 3, 2021

Federal Projects Require a Hybrid of Agile and Traditional Project Management

Federal Projects Require a Hybrid of Agile and Traditional Project Management

Young woman seated at a desk working on Agile framework board for product development on a laptop

Hybrid project management is soon to be (if not already) the predominant methodology for projects in any sector, but especially in the federal space. It is not because it is inherently more effective nor because it generates opportunities that couldn’t be found with more traditional methodologies. It is because there is no singular definition for hybrid. Without a clear definition of the approach, any definition is acceptable.

While that may sound cynical, it’s just the opposite.

Demand for Hybrid

Hybrid project management grants project managers something they claim to have craved since the earliest project management studies by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) in the 1980s.

The lack of a clear definition of hybrid project management affords managers the opportunity to select the elements of traditional or waterfall management that appeal most to them. It also allows them to enjoy the flexibility and opportunities created by Agile. In a recent article, author Bob McClean examines how government entities have little choice but to seize upon the best practices in both environments because of the nature of the stakeholder base. He points to the hard and fast regulatory environment that manifests itself in the government sector and addresses the need for software developers to adapt and adjust as technologies and opportunities evolve.

Leveraging Authority

For both subsets of stakeholders, the project managers need some measure of authority. That authority may make itself evident through the PMs’ definitions of hybrid. When project managers declare that a certain subset of the deliverables will evolve through waterfall, that perspective becomes fact. If the graphics, for example, are well known and well understood, there’s likely little sense in working within a highly adaptive framework. And when the project manager declares that element as waterfall, there’s little sense in challenging her logic. She developed a definition of one element of her team’s hybrid model. She has authority.

Defining Agile

The same applies even more powerfully on the Agile side of the equation. Consider the Agile Manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

There are a lot of unanswered questions within those four bullets. The questions of the manifesto could all be asked as “How far over?” If it’s individuals and interactions over processes and tools, how far over? If working software is to prevail over comprehensive documentation, to what degree? Each of the four tenets of the manifesto raises the specter of how heavily scrum masters and project managers should emphasize the new perspective on this dynamic.

How Far Over?

That “how far over?” question is a question for a hybrid project manager. Because most organizations don’t dictate an answer to the question, the hybrid project manager’s authority grows. And, within the government sector, the answers to those questions grant even higher authority. As many agencies perceive hybrid to mean either/or, they can fail to recognize the range of possibilities between the either and or ends of the spectrum. The authors of the hybrid lexicon can not only generate definitions but also create approaches to serve those definitions.

T-Shaped Skills

Hybrid project management hearkens back to the 1980s and the days when project managers were known as generalists. These generalists were respected professionals tapped for what are now called “T-shaped skills.” They had a specific area of expertise coupled with an ability and willingness to take on challenges in areas outside their core talents. In hybrid project management, the project manager has the capacity to identify their core PM talents and leverage them. At the same time, hybrid PMs have the faculty to jump over to those talents outside their core and take full advantage of the alternative processes and approaches.

It’s a rare time for those who have “all this responsibility, and no authority” in that hybrid PM affords both.


Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP, is the principal and founder of Pritchard Management Associates and a senior instructor at Management Concepts. An expert lecturer, author, researcher, instructor, and coach, Carl focuses on project management, particularly risk and communications. Carl earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and PMP. He welcomes your comments and insights.

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