In a time when many companies are evolving, modernizing, and growing, it can be difficult to determine how best to manage the projects that deliver such rapid change. Taking the time to understand and implement project management methodologies that best fit your organization’s strategic initiatives can result in improved business outcomes.
In this article we will unpack what a methodology is, the types of project management methodologies, why and when you should use them, and common pitfalls companies face when deploying the methodologies. Now, let’s dig into it.
What Is a Project Management Methodology?
A project management methodology provides a framework for strategic alignment, a path for delivering value, heightened awareness of risk management, and increased visibility across the team and other stakeholders. When reduced to its most basic form, a methodology is a set of “rules of the road” for completing a project. Continuing with this analogy, a methodology provides the means for a team to navigate the strategic “road” efficiently, safely, and with visibility on each other's progress. Methodologies are extremely useful when understood by not only leadership, but all project or program (group of projects) stakeholders, allowing everyone to operate under similar assumptions and to be proactive in their collaborative pursuit of success.
Figure 1: Project management methodologies can help organizations improve strategic alignment, risk management, stakeholder visibility, and ultimately the organization’s ability to deliver value. The most common project management methodologies can provide each of these benefits to varying degrees when applied correctly.
Why Use Project Management Methodologies?
There are many reasons why an organization should and could leverage project management methodologies. Methodologies can help organize a team, can enable better tracking of priorities, status, risks, and blockers. It can even increase team velocity when implemented correctly. To shed more light on how useful implementing a methodology can be, let’s consider a hypothetical scenario:
Shayla works for LitWare and has just been made team lead of the Cheetah Project. The goal of the project is to accelerate the speed with which LitWare delivers software to the market. In the project’s current state, Shayla feels she can’t organize her development team's work and struggles to stay on top of project deadlines. She decides to implement a project management methodology to establish a process for how the team will get from start to finish, work through obstacles, and meet project milestones.
When Should You Use Project Management Methodologies?
How will Shayla know she needs to utilize a project management methodology? She has been on other projects before, each of them unique and with varying degrees of complexity. How will she even know the Cheetah Project is a good candidate for using a project management methodology? To help Shayla gauge the complexity of her project, there are a few simple metrics that can be used as a “measuring stick” to determine if a methodology may be useful:
The project has four or more people allocated to the effort.
The project has three or more key milestones over a calendar period.
The project has three or more deliverables associated with the effort.
Popular Project Management Methodologies
When selecting a project management methodology, there are many different frameworks from which to choose. For Shayla to pick one that is best suited for her company and project, she must understand the strengths and weaknesses of each of the options. The table below provides a high-level overview of some of the more popular project management methodologies, their strengths, their weaknesses and what differentiates them from one another to help simplify the decision-making process.
Figure 2: All project methodologies are not designed the same way or for the same purpose, so it’s important to understand what differentiates one from another and to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Let’s take a closer look at how each of these methodologies work and further explore their strengths and weaknesses.
Figure 3: The iterative nature of the agile methodology allows value to be delivered early in the project but requires diligence to keep the team focused on what could be fluid priorities from one iteration to the next.
Agile methodology is a project management approach in which teams work iteratively in short increments to turn around project deliverables or a software development product faster than other methodologies. This emphasis on product delivery and managing work in small batches provides for quick turnarounds and consistent tracking of status, risks, and blockers. Agile delivery requires constant work refinement from a dedicated leader to keep moving objectives and deliverables to completion.
Agile is incredibly helpful for an effort which requires strategic alignment because its focus on early tangible results, testing, and iteration keeps the team grounded as they work toward a minimum viable product (MVP). This approach aligns well with Shayla’s goal of getting to a MVP as quickly as possible, but it will require buy-in from her team and strong leadership from her.
Lean methodology is a process of innovation through continuous experimentation with the end goal of delivering value without defect and waste. A strength of the lean method is how it prioritizes delivering value by focusing on purpose, process, and people. Like agile, lean also emphasizes accelerating delivery by actively managing work in progress to produce results in small batches.
One of lean’s key differentiators from other methodologies is that it stresses bringing the work to the people, not the people to the work, by leveraging product-focused teams to minimize handoffs between team members from various functional silos. This methodology would be helpful in keeping Shayla’s team focused on developing the most impactful software features for the company.
Figure 4: Sequential and distinct phases simplify project management, but the waterfall methodology lacks the flexibility for teams to respond to changing priorities.
The waterfall methodology takes a linear approach to managing a project. When the project begins, requirements are gathered from customers and stakeholders. A sequential project plan is then created that outlines the work necessary to deliver those requirements. The cascading nature of the project phases, flowing from one to the other, is like a waterfall, thus the methodology’s name.
This methodology is very intuitive and allows a team lead to easily control a project through sequential progress, but it also limits innovation from team members. Risk management is the key differentiator for the waterfall methodology given its linear and controlled approach. Although this methodology is less common today, it is still favored by government entities and industries that emphasize regulatory compliance and design control. The waterfall methodology may not be a good fit for Shayla because the linear nature of waterfall projects can inhibit innovation and the ability to quickly adapt to shifting demands in the marketplace.
The Kanban methodology applies a visual approach to managing the flow of work and can be leveraged to minimize the risk of having too many tasks in progress at once. Kanban allows leaders to compartmentalize work and find new routes to project success. What differentiates the Kanban methodology from others is the ability for leaders to see work in progress and match it to a team’s capacity. It also allows them to quickly visualize the status of backlog items and the flow of work from intake to completion.
Whether or not to use Kanban to visualize work is a case-by-case decision, depending on the toolset the team selects (Jira, Azure DevOps, etc.) and the working style of the team. The Kanban methodology could help Shayla better organize, assign, and visualize her team’s work for the Cheetah Project. Kanban is also unique in that Shayla can combine the methodology with the agile, waterfall, or lean methodologies.
Figure 5: Kanban boards are typically organized into columns that represent different stages of a team’s workflow to make tracking work progress intuitive.
Other Project Management Methodologies
There are also other less common project methodologies in the marketplace that are tailored to specific use cases. Among some of the less common ones are adaptive project framework and eXtreme programming.
Adaptive project framework methodology is a five-phased approach that allows teams to learn, change, and pivot as they move forward, while adapting to unknowns and preparing teams to anticipate potential issues.
eXtreme program methodology is a subset of the agile methodology, specifically designed for rapid adaptation to evolving and changing requirements.
If one of the main methodologies does not fit your needs, there are other options available to utilize for your project.
Hybrid Project Management
Shayla can realize even greater benefits by implementing a hybrid project management approach that capitalizes on leveraging multiple methodologies. The strengths of one methodology can compensate for the weaknesses of another and vice versa. When used together and implemented properly, combined methodologies can address a company’s needs better than a single methodology used on its own. For the Cheetah Project, Shayla could utilize an agile methodology to deliver iterative and expedited software improvements to the market and Kanban to plan, manage, and delegate work to her team.
It is common for companies to employ multiple methodologies while in transition to a new way of working or as a model for managing programs and projects. In fact, Credera has partnered with many clients who have adopted a hybrid project management approach. Most companies are interested in applying concepts like agile, lean, and Kanban to drive efficiency and accelerate responsiveness to market conditions.
What Are the Downsides of Using Project Management Methodologies?
Implementing a project management methodology doesn’t come without challenges. Team members may push back on new processes, thinking they are “too rigid,” “too restrictive,” or “too difficult, so why even try.” The harsh reality is that a poorly implemented methodology could lead to all the above sentiments having some foundation in truth. Before implementing a methodology, Shayla should have an approach for socializing, aligning, and gaining buy-in on the methodology from key stakeholders. Teams that share a common vision for how a project will be executed have a lower risk of materializing those aforementioned negative thoughts.
Applying Project Management Methodologies
It is important for today’s leaders, like Shayla, to understand what a project methodology is, why methodologies should be used, and the pros and cons of popular project methodologies: agile, lean, waterfall, and Kanban. Achieving your desired business outcomes starts with selecting the right approach for your project or program based on your organization’s objectives, requirements, and goals.
Credera has partnered with many clients to bring an unbiased perspective in assessing and implementing project management methodologies that are the right fit for the clients’ needs.
Are you looking for the right project management methodology to fit your organization’s key initiatives? Reach out to us at email@example.com to start a conversation.
To learn more about Credera’s perspectives on Program Management, see these related insights:
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