How to differentiate between Myth, Hype, and Reality: Hybrid, Agile, or Waterfall project management?

I have been in project management directly or indirectly since 1984. Also, I have a master’s degree in engineering and construction management that I had achieved 30 years ago. Further, I had worked on projects for leading global companies like Exxon, Shell, and Saudi Aramco. However, I have never heard the term “Waterfall Project Management” until! Until the Agile “Movement.” In other words, I started hearing about “waterfall project management” a few years ago when reading posts and articles by Agilists advocating “Agile Project Management.”

Agile Project Management

I have recorded many videos and wrote many articles about the Myth of “Agile Project Management.” Here is a past article on the subject. In this referenced article, we also wrote about what are the foundational elements to have a project management method, anyway, back to the waterfall (not Niagra).

Many of the posts promoting the myth of agile promote the value of agile by criticizing the Waterfall Method” or “Traditional Method.” Further, many of these online articles try to label all bad PEOPLE (and organizations) practices as “waterfall” and good practices as “agile.” Finally, before closing this paragraph, here is another link to a past article on the subject. So, what is Waterfall Project Management?

Waterfall Project Management

What is the Waterfall Project Management Methodology? As I mentioned in the introduction, in my years of education and experience, I have never heard the term. Therefore, some research is due. Here is one reference:

Waterfall methodology is a linear project management approach, where stakeholder and customer requirements are gathered at the beginning of the project, and then a sequential project plan is created to accommodate those requirements. The waterfall method is so named because each phase of the project cascades into the next, following steadily down like a waterfall.”

https://www.projectmanager.com/waterfall-methodology
A typical image representing Waterfall Project Management Methodology

Waterfall Project Management, a Myth?

I often like to simplify things. Therefore, let us think of a real waterfall, like Cataratas del Iguazo. In an actual waterfall, water always falls down – hence the term water-fall. However, in project management, if we refer to a typical image like what I showed here, the output from one stage goes into the other. Also, the quotation I shared includes: “each phase of the project cascades into the next, following steadily down like a waterfall.

Is this logical?

Have you ever worked on a project where information is only one way?

In my years of experience, mostly on capital projects, we have used what some label as “Traditional Project Management.” Some practitioners consider “traditional” as an equivalent of “Waterfall Project Management.” Consequently, in all of these years of practice, we never experienced a one-way flow of information. A feedback loop is always there. Therefore, the team can still request changes or amendments to the work from the prior stage, if necessary. In other words, technically, academically, and practically, waterfall project management methodology does not exist, period. However, in my professional opinion, I do recognize and accept that some practitioners and even academics use the term. Nonetheless, they are using it out of convenience and not 100% accurate.

Traditional Project Management

Another Agile invention is the term Traditional Project Management. What is it? I know we have project management (PM), PM processes, PM competence, PM Methods, and so on. OK, I am willing to accept that traditional project management is honoring traditions, which typically means traditions of the past. Then, are we saying traditional project management is the old way of doing things, and there is a new way? According to Agilists, yes, Agile is a new way, the correct way; traditional, waterfall, predictive are all wrong.

Maybe, I need to refer the reader to a video from our library on what is a project management method.

Consequently, if we understand what a PROJECT management method is, one might understand the following: There are no Agile Project Management methods; Agile is about the development of a product, applicable during the implementation stage of a project. Also, there are NO waterfall project management methods.

But, we can always use the Hybrid Project Management Methods.

Hybrid Project Management Methods

Consequently, I realize that some readers might be saying: Mounir, there are Hybrid Project Management Methods. In the car industry, an electric engine and a fuel-based engine are both engines; engines to move a vehicle. Therefore, a hybrid of two things that have a similar purpose can be logical. However, in project management, a hybrid between Agile to Waterfall is not logical, since:

  • Neither is a project management method, as we outlined before. So, if neither of the components is a PM Method, then how can the hybrid be a PM Method?
  • Further, for debate’s sake, let us assume there is a Waterfall and Agile – they are not equal. If we compare them, it is like comparing a small room to a house. I will explain it below.

A Room or a House?

For the context of this section,

Let us accept that there is a waterfall project management method. If you refer to the earlier picture, you see that waterfall project management is a full life cycle. In other words, it is a project life cycle covering the project from end-to-end. Therefore, this is the House.

Also, let us accept that there is something called agile project management. I think most practitioners would agree that agile (for example, per the Manifesto) is about the development of software or product. In other words, it is about a phase in the project life cycle, the room, a big room.

However, we maintain our professional opinion that neither is a project management method. Consequently, there is no hybrid project management methods. Finally, to move beyond waterfall and agile, in 2017, CRC Press (A Taylor & Francis company) published our book, Project Management beyond Waterfall and Agile.

What can we use for a Project Management Method?

The video that we shared and many others on our Applied Project Management YouTube Channel have videos on this topic. Also, our Blog site, here, includes many articles about our views in SUKAD. Although we promote CAMMP, the Customizable and Adaptable Project Management Methodology, we are not saying this is the only solution. The solution is that a PM Method must have these four components as the foundation:

  • An end-to-end project life cycle, which we prefer to be concept-to-closure
  • The project life cycle would be divided into phases or stages.
  • In each stage, we produce a stage deliverable (the output of the stage), which can include many sub-deliverables.
  • Finally, the stage deliverable must go through a stage gate, where management approves the prior stage work and authorize the next stage, or stop the project.

Then, how to use waterfall or agile?

We try to avoid using these terms, and instead, we use Big Bang or Iterative/Iterations. For more information, start with the image, then refer to this article. An e-book is with the publisher and should be available soon.

Development Approach Per CAMMP, Big Bang or Iterative/Incremental Development

Closing Comments

Finally, I have to close with a disclaimer. I often here that some practitioners think that I am anti-agile. When they read a professional article like this – some agilists take it personally and claim that I am bashing agile. Here I must stress the following:

  • Please read again, did I say anywhere in the article that Agile is not good or agile practices are bad?
  • Did I present, anywhere, that Agile Development does not work?

For those who do not know, we have used Agile development on the PM Quest online training program that SUKAD launched in 2018. We are using incremental development on building the SUKAD’s Uruk Platform. Therefore, our view is that when Agile Development is applicable, it is good and often the preferred choice, where applicable!