An interview with Steinbeis Entrepreneur Dr. Karen Dittmann and parsQube CEO Mehrschad Zaeri on the topic of hybrid project design
Constructing a hospital, introducing new software at a company, re-organizing a company division – very different tasks, but they all have one thing in common: They are projects. In the past, there was a tendency to tackle such tasks by resorting to classic, plan-based project management. These days, people increasingly turn to agile project management. The underlying motivations for using agile methods are the increasing pace at which projects now happen and the intention of dealing better with complexity. Despite this, many firms struggle to cope with the challenges of making their projects more agile, or they don’t actually need full-blown agile management to the extent they are given to understand. This is where there are benefits in using hybrid project management, which merges classic approaches with agile methods. Dr. Karen Dittmann, Steinbeis Entrepreneur at the Steinbeis Transfer Center for IT Project Management (ITPM), and Mehrschad Zaeri, CEO at parsQube, who together have implemented a variety of projects over the years, recently launched their HybridBlog on YouTube to talk about the dos and don’ts of project management, underlying philosophies, and examples of best practice. TRANSFER Magazine has been following the blog and recently interviewed the two experts on project management.
Hello Dr. Dittmann, hello Mr. Zaeri. It’s been a while since your YouTube blog went live. How did you come up with the idea of launching a blog on hybrid project design?
Mehrschad Zaeri: One thing we’ve learned after such a long time working in project management is that it’s extremely important to master classic methods, but at the same time, given the increasing number of challenges and growing levels of project complexity, you can’t do without agile methods. We’re familiar with both worlds of project management – classic and agile – and want to build a bridge to bring together the best of both worlds and exploit synergies.
Karen Dittmann: For me, it’s also important to offer the experience I’ve gathered while working in different sectors of industry. As an Entrepreneur at the Steinbeis Transfer Center for IT Project Management, I’ve been exposed to all the ins and outs of the IT market, mechanical engineering and machine construction, the agricultural sector, but also pharmaceutical research – and they all have different cultures, approaches, and requirements. This abundance of differences allows you to develop a broad outlook, and that encourages you to think in hybrid terms.
You base your customer consulting on a rather unique compass. Could you tell us about it?
Zaeri: Our compass is a powerful tool that we use with companies to tackle the shift toward hybrid procedural models. Our method involves making distinctions between the different points of the compass. To the north you have attitudes, or the mindset. What’s the attitude like at the company, and what do you need to take into account for the change project? To the east, we have the organization itself. Which areas of the organization are projects taking place in? What tasks have already been delegated? What processes and standards need to be taken into account? To the south, there is existing front-line experience with projects at the company. How much know-how does it already have in this area? And then finally to the west, there’s a toolkit of theories and methods, that are already so well rehearsed that it’s no major effort to tap into them.
Dittmann: One thing you might want to ask is what all this has to do with hybrid project design. An important thing we’ve learned through our consultancy work at the Steinbeis Transfer Center for IT Project Management is that introducing hybrid methods should always be based on a holistic approach. It’s not enough to send everyone on courses and then expect them to use hybrid methods in their work, which is the western point of our compass analogy. If the company culture still hasn’t got a construct for “failure” or “fail fast” – the northern point on the compass – it’ll be difficult to adopt agile principles. And if the organization – the east – swears by hierarchical project management, it’ll have problems adapting to the agile principle of “servant leaders.” Last but not least, you have to think about the south – practical experience – because if you’ve had no previous experience working with projects, the organization will have to introduce fundamental rule sets and strategies for project work.
Zaeri: In general it can be said that the hybrid approach is difficult if you’ve had little exposure to project work, because it represents the most challenging aspects of all three approaches – agile, classic, and hybrid.
Dittmann: Exactly, and lots of people underestimate this aspect. This is because with hybrid approaches not only do you have to understand classic project management and be in a position to apply it without thinking, you also need knowledge of the whole spectrum of agile frameworks, including changing mindsets.
That sounds challenging. Is this the sort of knowledge you can expect a project manager to have?
Dittmann: Not really, no. And this brings us to an important point. When we use project design, we’re not just talking about small or medium-sized projects ticking over in the background within organizations. Our main intention is to use it for big, challenging, and complex initiatives. Or for designing procedural models for a specific organization. To do this, you need experts in project management, with the right knowledge and skills.
Zaeri: Hybrid project design is the ultimate challenge of project management.
Dittmann: That’s exactly how I see it. But it’s also the most fun!
To find out more about hybrid project design, watch the (German) HybridBlog run by the Steinbeis Transfer Center for IT Project Management by searching for HybridBlog on YouTube.
Dr. Karen Dittmann (author)
Steinbeis Transfer Center IT Project Management (ITPM) (Ludwigsburg)