Pure Waterfall and pure Agile is a myth

In my experience, I have never seen a “pure waterfall” project. In my opinion, this is the same myth as “pure agile”

In my experience, I have never seen a “pure waterfall” project. In my opinion, this is the same myth as “pure agile”.

We are discussing project management, team motivation, and improvisation with Tomáš Marek, a senior consultant at FBE.

When you mention the word “project” in some companies today, managers might cringe. Yet, the history of project management could be as old as humanity itself. The results of projects like the construction of pyramids can still be seen today… even though it’s said that there was more of a project dictator rather than a project manager involved.

Currently, it is literally redesigned in many companies. More and more activities are defined as a project, their number grows literally exponentially, and everyone loses track of it. How can it be dealt with?

I wouldn’t make too much of a fuss about it. In reality, many of these project-related activities are more like standalone tasks with what’s called a “project character.” This means that while we manage them as standard projects, extensive project documentation is not required. In my practice, I usually proceed by setting a minimum scope with my clients for what will already be considered a project. For other standalone tasks, there’s no need for formal committees or defined sponsors, etc.

On the other hand, if a company truly has a large number of (standard) projects, it’s necessary to prepare an appropriate management structure. This indeed needs to be well thought out and designed. This often applies to companies or business units engaged in construction or development of any kind. For instance, companies constructing steel structures, local heating plants, or developing custom parts for automobiles, to name a few examples.

So are we talking about multi-project management?

Yes, definitely. And with that comes the related setup of an appropriate organizational structure, support, and architecture of corporate IT systems, etc.

And what do you think is the most common problem that companies face in this area?

There are perhaps two main issues: malfunctioning or nonexistent systems that should support efficient resource utilization – I’m mainly referring to the capacity of internal specialists. And a very significant problem is also incorrect and outdated data. It is said that Charles Babbage (English mathematician, philosopher, visionary, and mechanical engineer, who came up with the idea of building a programmable machine) once received a question: “Please, Mr. Babbage, if you put wrong numbers into the machine, will it produce the right answers?” to which he replied, “I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”

And for that, the best phrase applies – as I like to say: “Garbage in – Garbage out.” This, in the context of project management, means that the outputs of a project can only be as accurate as the information that is input into it.

Project management is characterized by its “Waterfall” approach. The latter requires that one task be completed before the next can begin. However, projects are becoming increasingly complex and complex. Is it still possible to manage effectively in this (waterfall) way?

Pure waterfall methodology never really existed, even in those ancient times. It was never allowed by the demand for on-time completion. Throughout my practice, I’ve never seen a “pure waterfall” project. In my opinion, it’s the same myth as the “pure agile.” However, it holds true that the majority of projects essentially require a form of waterfall approach, especially those with very precisely defined outputs and their quality. Agile elements can be incorporated only in certain situations.

Digitalization has significantly affected project management. How did it manifest itself, is it manifesting itself, and what is still expected?

In general, I believe that IT is a supportive tool meant to assist. It’s not the centerpiece because what truly matters is the actual project outcome. If IT tools help me in that regard, I want them. If they don’t help, I’ll wait until someone comes up with something better. It doesn’t make sense to force it if it’s not working just because “it works elsewhere.” From my experience, I can provide numerous examples where a project took 3 months without IT tools, and with them, it took 5 months. This is a beautiful illustration of Murphy’s law in practice: “The computer is a machine that works faster and more efficiently than we do, especially at the tasks we wouldn’t do at all if computers didn’t exist.”

One of the famous Murphy’s laws also states that “90% of the project consumes 90% of the time. The remaining 10% of the project consumes another 90% of the time.” What to do to prevent this from happening?

I’m familiar with various versions of that statement. It’s also referred to as the “onion syndrome,” and it’s a simple concept: what you deceive at the beginning of a project will come back to “slap you in the face” tenfold during implementation.

Many experts say that the position of project manager is comparable to dinosaurs – now they own the whole business, but with the advent of artificial intelligence they will disappear. What do you think about it?

I currently don’t fully believe in super intelligent artificial intelligence – I know how it (doesn’t) work. I’d rather leave it somewhere in the matrix for now. I see its place primarily in working with data – when you feed it with APPROPRIATE AND CORRECT data, it saves you tedious work. However, we still have the same issue as in the previous questions: DATA DATA DATA… and we’re back where we started.

Can you please briefly explain the main differences between waterfall, agile and hybrid project management methods? Which one is suitable for which projects?

I mentioned it briefly before, but I’ll elaborate – agility is more applicable the more we explore “uncharted territories” in the project’s output. On the other hand, if we require a precise outcome, then waterfall is more suitable.

Real situations in companies often fall somewhere in between, which is where the hybrid approach comes into play. Essentially, we decide what parts of the project can be handled in an agile manner and what must be managed differently. Many agile ceremonies can be adapted to even the strictest waterfall environments. A great example is the “daily stand-up” or backlog.

Is it appropriate in practice to combine multiple roles in one person? For example: can a project manager be a product manager or a scrum master?

I don’t really place a lot of emphasis on terminology myself. In my opinion, in practice, the name doesn’t matter all that much. The same job title/role can have completely different meanings and responsibilities in different companies. What truly matters is the content. If you want a specific product/output, everything else must align with that. However, the real and recurring issue is that these roles and positions often lack clear responsibilities, defined tasks, and also authorities.

If you had to give today’s project managers 5 pieces of advice, what would they be?

Identify who all have an influence on this project.

Thoroughly inquire about their expectations from the project.

What’s not being monitored, won’t be adhered to.

Don’t rely solely on reports, verify on-site.

Don’t get bogged down in project details, you need an overview of external connections as well.

Can project management be implemented even when the project team works remotely?

Yes – for overall task assignment and monitoring.

No – for project quality control (gemba principle – it’s necessary to go and see the operations in action).

In the current energy crisis, the number of companies that will go into bankruptcy and insolvency will probably increase. How can project management help in this case? For example: energy saving project, etc.

This probably goes a bit beyond the topic of traditional projects (development, construction, IT, administration). Here, we’re talking about improvement projects, where another approach can be applied – that’s DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) projects and the lean philosophy. But that’s for another time.

How is project management with improvisation?

Improvisation is received differently, especially in German-speaking environments. It could be said that in such an environment, it’s literally undesirable. On the other hand, it’s typical in the east and south of us.

From my perspective, it’s useful not to be afraid of improvisation in project management. However, we must reach an agreement with all stakeholders that in a specific situation, improvisation is permissible. But improvisation must not be an excuse for sloppy project preparation. In this aspect, I fully agree with our German colleagues. The mentioned “onion syndrome” is indeed a result of excessive reliance on improvisation.

In any proceeding, there is one element that is common to all, and that is the people. Project management is actually about people management. Do you have any tips to make it as efficient as possible and work?

Communication – not about talking nicely but:

Transmission of information

Obtaining information

Information verification

In other words, why do people have a problem? Because:

No one will ask them anything

Nobody ever tells them anything

The information they receive is bad

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