Hybrid Agile delivery and minding the 3 risks

Several small and large organizations in a hybrid agile state have been my clients over the years. These organizations were stuck between Waterfall and Scrum. Some called that state “Water-Scrum-Fall”, some called it “Scrummerfall”. Regardless, they knew they hadn’t made a full transition agile delivery and are still working mostly the same as before. I discovered there are three key risks to avoid: development risk, cost risk, and market risk. Proper use of an agile framework would mitigate all these risks. However, you can only mitigate some of them when you stay in a hybrid agile state. In this blog, I’ll cover these three risks and how you can improve the efficacy of an agile hybrid.

Hybrid Agile Development Risk

Development risk is high if not fully certain of a clients needs. For example: there’s a lot of development risk in building a time machine. No one knows if a phone booth, a hot tub or a DeLorean will make it work :). The best way to mitigate the risk is to start building and learn. Most companies have eliminated some development risk in their hybrid agile environment by using Scrum. Some risk is contained even if applying agile practices to the development phase. While these companies mitigate some development risk, working this way does not mitigate all risk.

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Hybrid Agile Cost Risk

Projects are estimated to determine cost. If the return on investment (ROI) is high enough, the development effort moves forward. With any uncertainty, a project’s cost cannot be precisely known until it’s finished. If you’re never done the costs keep adding up. Software that hasn’t been tested is subject to change if defects are later found. The longer you wait to test the more cost risk accumulates. Defects are least expensive to fix if addressed as soon as possible to producing them. To mitigate cost risk, test all features you build as soon as you build them. Better yet, mistake-proof your work by using test-driven development. This idea is hard for agile hybrids to adopt, but when they do, they see the benefits of cost risk mitigation.

Hybrid Agile Market Risk

Market risk is the risk of not building the right thing. The way to mitigate it is to show your finished features and see if the customer approves. Its the hardest risk to mitigate in a hybrid agile environment. Most hybrid agile companies still have long development lead times because they’ve injected agile development practices into traditional phases. It’s common for hybrid agile delivery to span one to three years. With so much time before a release, you may discover what you have is no longer relevant. This is a big problem in fast-changing industries. The only way to eliminate this risk is to build, test, and release in the shortest cycles physically and financially possible. Release in shorter cycles and you will see more benefits.

The length of your development cycle will depend on what your building. Hardware might take longer. Build with architectural modularity and loosely coupled systems when shortening delivery cycles. These practices make your product easier to change. You eliminate market risk by delivering value quickly. Hybrid agile companies are less likely to benefit from market risk mitigation until they fully embrace modern agile development practices.

Boiling it down

Looking at your development risk, cost risk, and market risk, you can get a sense of how much benefit you’re getting from a hybrid agile environment. If you want more risk mitigated it’s important to shorten up delivery lead time. If you can’t or won’t change how you work don’t expect to eliminate all the risks described above. Value can be achieved in a hybrid agile environment, but it’s hard to get all the benefits when phase-gated development prevents you from delivering high-quality product quickly.

Have you experienced any other benefits in a hybrid agile waterfall environment? Any other risks not considered? Leave a comment!

Robert Pieper

Robert Pieper has been a licensed Scrum.org Professional Scrum Trainer since 2014 and National Public Speaker since 2013. Robb holds an MBA from Marquette University and an Electrical Engineering Degree from Milwaukee School of Engineering. Robb has 15 years of professional software development experience with a passion for making Scrum work delivering real products and services