As an avid chess player, I can attest that a proven, sound strategy can be the key to victory. However, using the same strategy doesn’t always work. Winning sometimes requires the adoption of varying strategies to adjust to new opponents and different styles of play.
This same lesson can be applied to rebuilding a healthcare organization’s IT infrastructure. When engaging in such a large-scale project, a flexible approach that combines alternative strategies to solve different problems can be the most effective path to success.

Mix planning with agility, and the client wins

For organizations that provide essential services, such as hospitals serving the healthcare needs of an entire community, completing IT projects quickly and properly is critical. With these projects encompassing dozens of stages comprised of hundreds of individual steps, it’s essential to employ methodologies that are effective for completing the tasks at hand on time and on budget.

Two common approaches to IT project management include using a waterfall approach or adapting agile principles. These respective methods each have their strengths: agile provides flexibility, and the step-by-step model of waterfall provides clear direction.

Whether you’re a particular proponent of learning as you go or meticulously plotting your direction, experience has shown that using just one statically defined approach isn’t optimal. Rather than adopting the priorities of one type of method, a mix of methodologies provides a better solution for meeting the needs of clients in IT.

The main objective in IT project planning is to satisfy implementation goals. To do this, it pays to blend appropriate planning with needed adaptability. In this regard, a waterfall-based model used in overall project planning, goverance and initiation will give you an effective roadmap, and an agile-based method of iterative execution will allow you to evolve over the duration of the project and employ lessons learned.

A waterfall model helps you plot a course

Recently, I wrote about how the traditional waterfall model can pigeonhole you into a plan without providing the chance to change your scope or processes before completion. This is still true, but when you are initially planning out your first steps, you need a roadmap, or nothing will get done.

With the waterfall model, each phase of a project for most part occurs in sequence, and the completion of each phase flows down to the next phase. This is a sequential process that travels through the phases of conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, production/implementation, documentation and maintenance. In line with the waterfall approach, a successful methodology starts with a clear charter and plan of action.

The next phase of a successful project plan then breaks down each phase of the project into steps. Upon completion, each of these steps cascades down to the next phase per the waterfall structure.

However, while waterfall has great advantages in providing a straight-forward, linear system that’s easy to understand for everyone involved, it does have its drawbacks. For example, the product produced by the process could have flaws that will only be caught during the testing step, requiring it to be sent back to the development team for rework.

Save time and effort by enforcing agile principles in the next phase

Because of the drawbacks to a more lock-step approach, agile diverges from waterfall when it comes to actually implementing a project. During implementation, agile principles will allow you to avoid the risks that may come from a traditional waterfall model.

The agile approach diverges from the linear, sequential format of waterfall and, instead, approaches projects in an incremental, iterative fashion. To implement agile principles, project managers can break the overall product down into iterations. Each iteration consists of multiple tasks in order to complete a phase of a project.

Unlike the waterfall model, testing is completed in each incremental phase, which ensures any problems encountered can be resolved sooner. Testing individual pieces of the overall project allows for quicker adoption of improvements, and you can ensure each step is done properly.

In healthcare IT, client objectives are often evolving and expanding. An iterative implementation provides the flexibility necessary to accommodate changing requirements and incorporate new knowledge. Even if you may have to change your scope or processes, the focus in an iteration is on making the appropriate corrections in order to get each phase of the job done right. Use the right tools at the right time. Combine the best aspects of waterfall and agile to deliver optimal results.

Quick tip: During planning, use a waterfall-based model. When it’s execution time, bring in agile principles. This combination of approaches will provide a working roadmap and the capability to evolve before a project is completed.

Where we left off: Last time I posted a blog, I wrote about reflection and how an agile-based execution allows for retrospection between iterations. While implementing IT projects, the agile ability to reflect before completion will allow you to avoid risks that may come from more rigid planning.

What’s up next: A hybrid method to project management helps teams achieve a balance between detailed planning and agile flexibility. In my next post, I will go into more detail about why this balance is important and how you can achieve it.