Hybrid is Agile | Jesse Fewell
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Hybrid is Agile

By March 16, 2018Blog

I want to talk about this topic “hybrid”, because hybrid is agile. Hybrid is agile. Let me tell you a little bit more about where I’m coming from and unpack the topic a little bit.

The buzzword “hybrid”

is coming up a lot in the conversation of agility and innovation, and it helps to start with a couple terms. We can reference a diagram in the Agile Practice Guide and derive some terminology.

If you’re pretty straightforward with your project, not a lot of change, not a lot of frequent delivery, you’re plan-driven. On the other hand, if you have a lot of different opinions and a lot of people coming at you and a lot of change, you probably need to be more iterative in responding to that change. Or, incremental would mean that you’re more aggressive with your delivery, multiple deliveries, delivering early and often. If you have both incremental and iterative aspects, then you’re agile. Awesome, perfect.

Everybody mostly agrees those are good terms, and everybody agrees that agile is a journey. You don’t get there overnight, and you certainly have some bumps along the way, but it helps to know that I am here, but then I’m there, and I used to be here. Isn’t it great that everything fits into a nice quadrant? Except when you start looking into it, to discover that your project is pretty agile on the front end but not on the back end.

Like construction

Got some sketches, maybe some models, and then blueprints, and then build. Very structured build. Not a lot of adaptation the way there was during the design process. But that’s not the same as maybe that hot new tech gadget, like the smartphone, where there’s a lot of innovation happening on one work stream, but then you have another work stream that’s very much about the supply chain. And there’s not a lot of change responding and there’s not a lot of deliver early, often. It’s turn it on and go. So two different kind of work streams on the same product. Not very straightforward.

And then what if you work in one of those large bureaucratic environments that’s very much about phase gates and very much about stage gates and gates, gates, gates, and control, change control boards. The only thing you can ever hope to do is be a little bit more aggressive just in your own department. Maybe be more adaptive and deliver your outputs more frequently, but the outcomes of the overall project are still very fixed and very long tail.

So you don’t fit into any one quadrant

…and the more you look into it, the more you realize your environment is a mishmash of all kinds of pieces and different stages of delivery. Congratulations! You’re in hybrid, where, by definition you’re a mishmash of a whole bunch of different kinds of delivery approaches.

And I’ve got two concerns and one conviction.

You’re going to hear a lot of criticism coming from agile advocates, where they are going to first say, “Don’t do that, because it’s very confusing.” And there’s a point here, if you’ve got some people doing more plan-driven processes and policies but then other people are being more aggressive and adaptive and directly interacting with customers, when they’re going to ask, “What’s our official process? I thought our official process was this one and this one, this one.” People freak out.

And arguably, this is the natural response to change, but it’s painful. And so it could be argued that a healthier approach to change would be to move everybody all the time from one part of the diagram to another part of the diagram to avoid confusion, to be much more explicit about, “You are here, we are here but not here, and this is why.”

So be prepared if you’re in a hybrid environment for people to argue about, “Agile means this.” “No, it doesn’t. It means this.” “Well, we’re here,” “But no, we’re not. We were there, but now we’re not there anymore.” Confusion. That’s one concern.

Another concern in a hybrid environment is that because you put a little bit of red, because you put a little bit of agile, now you can be fat, dumb and happy. “Oh, yeah, we did our agile transformation. We changed our requirements format, but everything else is the same. We’re agile now. Because we get a little bit of agile, all of a sudden now we don’t have to challenge ourselves, we don’t have to look in the mirror too hard. We really don’t need to shake the boat too much. We’re complacent.”

And there’s some truth here. There’s the old proverb, “Never waste a crisis.” If you have a crisis in your organization to challenge you to evolve and move forward and you use that crisis up to make a tiny little change, you missed an opportunity.

On the other hand, I’m a little bit okay with those issues. I’m a little bit okay, because as I recall, agile’s a journey, and you can’t go on any journey without being lost a couple times and without being stuck a couple times. So sometimes, confusion and complacency are part of the journey.

And so if you’re in a hybrid place right now, don’t take all the criticism to heart. Take it with a grain of salt, because all the people that are coming at you saying, “You need to be agile now. You’re not agile and you should be all red and all agile, and none of this other stuff,” they went on a journey, too. There’s just a lot of passion around helping people evolve. So as long as you, scrum master, agile coach, transformation lead, remember that this is a journey, hybrid is okay, man.

Conversely, if you are in the middle of this journey, your hybrid, is only the beginning. Do not settle, because if you settle, then all you’ve done is just shifted what mediocrity means. Instead, be aggressive with your growth, be aggressive with your hybrid. Move. And in my book, that’s how you can say that hybrid is agile, because it’s a step in a journey.

I’m sure everybody’s got some thoughts on this, so I’m around. Feel free to share in comments below…

2 Comments

  • Jeffrey Gaver says:

    I would rather say that Hybrid is a state you might find yourself in on your journey to the destination of Agile. Having seen Hybrid offered as a destination, “should we adopt Hybrid?”, is what concerns me with the definitive that Hybrid IS Agile. The thought remains consistent with your point to continue the journey, but does not offer Hybrid as the end-point.

    • jessefewell says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jeffrey. I agree that “Hybrid” as a destination is problematic, but then how is that any less a problem than “scrum” as the finish line, or “kanban” as the victory lap? From where I sit, even agile itself it not the destination, but rather is a direction. If that is true, then Hybrid is just as much on that path as anything else. Our job is to remind leaders that they are never done challenging their status quo.

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