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Hybrid Project Management: An Agile Response in Today's Volatile Market

By Mark Tolbert, PMP, PMI-ACP and Susan Parente, PMP, PMI-ACP

We live in a very interesting time. There is much more volatility today in our marketplaces than even a decade or two ago: the level of competition is much greater, the need to operate in a global economy is more apparent, and working virtually is no longer an anomaly. It’s much more difficult for organizations to survive, yet there is tremendous opportunity for organizations who are able to be innovative and remain resilient especially ones who create, or develop, the right set of products and services at the right time.

As project managers, we help our companies survive in this difficult landscape. We are “agents of change” and “drivers of change.” We are key to helping our organizations survive in this volatile, difficult world. The most important trait that will help us as project managers deal with this change and volatility is agility. We believe all project managers need to come up-to-speed with at least the core principles of Agile and understand how and why this is so important. Another important aspect of an Agile approach is applying it across a virtual team. Virtual teams have become quite common out of necessity; however, too often ‘Agilists’ (or purists of one of the Agile methodologies) lecture that Agile can only be done in a co-located environment. This is no longer the reality; many of our clients are using a Hybrid Agile approach for virtual project teams. This is a necessity for many organizations, including those that have multiple headquarters, a small team which includes experts based around the world, or even a few hours’ drive away. Virtual project teams are now commonplace for modern-day projects.

However, no one process or project management methodology fits all situations! Agile is not a panacea for all projects. We believe many projects are large enough and complex enough that some parts of the project may be best suited to using a predictive planning approach, and other parts are more suited to using Agile. Similarly, today’s project manager is expected to wear many hats; PMs need to be flexible. We need to be mature, adapt, and not simply be a purist applying one and only one approach. In other words, don't be a strict Agile partisan who believes Scrum should be implemented wholly and solely in all situations (Susan Parente has coined the term ‘Scrumdamentalist’ to describe this type of person), and don't be a ‘process purist’ who believes following a set of predictive planning processes must be enforced religiously subsequently guaranteeing success. There are both strengths and weaknesses in different approaches, and the more project teams are aware of these options, the more effective we will be as project managers. We should be open to using a Hybrid approach, which may even include the traditional waterfall approach.

This concept is the basis of our book, “Hybrid Project Management: Using Agile with Traditional PM Methodologies to Succeed on Modern Projects. In this book, we explore several key risks frequently faced on projects, and how Agile can help project managers solve these problems. We address how and when a traditional project management approach using predictive planning is more appropriate, and when a Hybrid approach makes most sense.

Key risks we will explore are:

1. Poor Scope definition – (the #1 risk on projects)! This usually stems from doing the gathering process poorly:

  • missing requirements

  • misunderstanding requirements

  • misunderstanding the complexity of requirements

  • missing key stakeholders and not obtaining their requirements

2. Impossible constraints starting out, and instances where the customer/sponsor wants assurances these constraints will be met.

3. Allowing “Half-Baked Ideas” to survive

4. Poor communication

Other topics explored throughout the book are:

  • How to implement a hybrid approach that employs both traditional approaches and Agile approaches.

  • The value of Virtual Agile Teams

  • Whether or not Agile can be used successfully with Earned Value (EVM)

  • A Thoughts and Retrospective Review of the PMBOK® Guide (Sixth Edition)

  • Initial thoughts on the exposure draft of the PMBOK® Guide (Seventh Edition)

View a sample of our book, “Hybrid Project Management: Using Agile with Traditional PM Methodologies to Succeed on Modern Projects”, or purchase your own print or Kindle format on Amazon.

About the Authors

Mark Tolbert and Susan Parente are co-authors of “Hybrid Project Management: Using Agile with Traditional PM Methodologies to Succeed on Modern Projects”.

Mark Tolbert is a senior PM instructor with more than 15 years teaching PMP and Agile classes. Mark has been actively involved in the Washington, DC PMI Chapter (PMIWDC) since 1996, and was the trustee of the Chapter from 2009 through 2013.


Susan Parente is a senior PM instructor with more than 10 years of experience teaching PMP, Risk and Agile classes. Susan is the owner of S3 Technologies, LLC and is an adjunct professor at University of Virginia, Post University and Montclair State University.

Additionally, Mark Tolbert and Susan Parente are both senior instructors with Essential Assets Group. Together, we bring a collaborative approach to client engagements ensuring results focused on improving efficiency and effectiveness in key areas across the program portfolio.

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