At a recent all-team planning session, agency founder Tim Haskins threw down a gauntlet:
“I want clients to pick COPIOUS because of our reputation for exceptional project management.”
As Lead Producer, I was excited by the challenge. Project management can make or break a project — especially the type of projects digital agencies like us often lead.
A pure Agile approach isn’t ideal for most agency projects because the projects are too small, too creative, or on a very fixed budget. A pure Waterfall approach isn’t ideal for most agency projects because it’s too slow and too black box — a client may review requirements, specs and designs during the first six weeks and then see nothing functioning until 12 weeks later when it’s expensive to start reworking things.
The best approach for most web or mobile development projects is to blend them. Project management purists would have you believe that Agile and Waterfall are oil and water and mixing the two is tantamount to heresy. That’s not the case at all. Generic Agile (we won’t get into the various “flavors”) is a framework — really just an overarching approach to getting the work done in an iterative, focused, results-driven fashion. Waterfall is a full-blown (maddeningly linear) methodology with its own distinct phases and steps.
When you remove any biases and preconceptions, you find the two nest together quite nicely and, in fact, represent a pretty perfect way to deliver work to clients. Agile adds velocity and transparency to projects while waterfall brings predictability and control.
The simplest way to illustrate the benefits of the hybrid approach is look at a very high-level slice of a simple website development project and how the engagement would be handled in the hybrid approach.
Example of a Hybrid Approach:
- User Experience/Information Architecture creates a sitemap and homepage wireframes. Reviews with client. Refines. Client approves. Meanwhile, Development is gathering backend requirements and setting up the development environment.
- UX moves on to secondary/tertiary wireframes. Creative team creates homepage concepts. Reviews/refine/approve. Dev continues laying the backend groundwork.
- UX continues with wires for other remaining page types. Creative team moves on to secondary and tertiary page design. Review/refine/approve. Dev is implementing the homepage.
- Client provides feedback on the completed homepage and then it’s handed off for initial testing. Dev moves on to secondary and tertiary page builds. Creative moves onto other pages designs.
- Lather/rinse/repeat as necessary.
How does this benefit the client and the agency?
A few highlights:
- The client gets to see something functional sooner, and can provide substantive feedback with fewer ripples. It also allows them to show continual, meaningful progress to their stakeholders. Traditional waterfall is slow to show results and typically has a lengthy “dark” period between creative lock and Beta review.
- The project has locked approval points at the end of each UX, Creative and Development deliverable round. In an Agile project, iteration is constant and final approval only happens on the finished project. This means budgets need to have enough flex in them to allow for degrees of rework. These approval points, on the other hand, make for more controllable budgets, schedules and scopes.
- The entire production team is engaged almost immediately after kickoff. In a waterfall project, a developer may sit in a kickoff meeting for a project they won’t touch for another 10 weeks. Engagement happens while information is fresh and idle time is minimized.
- It mitigates the — how shall I put it — “poop rolls downhill” phenomenon. Traditional waterfall projects often end up with development and testing putting in extended hours to try to make up time caused by over-extended UX and Design phases.
The hybrid approach is by no means a magic bullet. Large-scale software and IT projects are prime targets for Agile. So is a “big idea” site or app development project — if the client wants to build the next Facebook but isn’t 100% sure of all the business rules and features, Agile is your way forward. Mini-site projects, media development, print projects are strictly Waterfall.
At COPIOUS, the hybrid methodology allows us to cherry-pick the best of the Waterfall and Agile trees — to create that seamless project management experience we want to build a reputation around. It’s an uncommon, common-sense approach to producing great Agile-like results while delivering on time and on budget.
How have you approached the Agile/Waterfall conundrum? Where did you end up? Leave a comment and let us know.