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The Ultimate Guide to Project Management Methodologies

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As a project manager, you may find yourself at the reins of many different projects. Different industries require different protocols, and different customers will have different demands. So, how do you pick the right project management methods or tool for the job? 

Luckily for you, there have been many Project Managers before you who have faced a plethora of different project requirements and challenging environments. Many effective approaches have been developed to help you and your team reach the finish line with gas left in the tank! 

One size does not fit all, and one approach is not the best for every project. You have to pick the right tool for the job. And, being well versed in a variety of methodologies will make you a versatile project manager ready for anything that comes your way. 

Let’s talk about some of the major methodologies that will benefit you throughout your project manager journey. 

Waterfall

The Waterfall method is also known as Traditional or Predictive. In the Waterfall methodology, sequence and planning are everything. Most importantly, you need to have well-defined requirements up front. 

The Waterfall practice is often used in physical industries such as construction or manufacturing because they require a rigid, step-by-step approach compared to others. These projects have a major constraint in material and equipment costs. The project manager must work closely with the team and contractors to have the right materials in the right place at the right time. 

Another name for waterfall is predictive, and that name helps describe the nature of these projects. If your firm completed a ten-story office building last year, and now you’ll build another next to it, you can predict with some accuracy how this work should be carried out.

In essence, a Waterfall project involves a sequence of phases, and subsequent steps depend on some level of completion of the prior phase. Think of building a house. You should follow a specific sequence and downstream activities need to take place in order. 

  • Draw the blueprints. 
  • Budget and schedule the purchase of materials. 
  • Perform site prep and pour the foundation. 
  • Frame and roof the house. 
  • Install plumbing and electrical.
  • Install sheetrock and trim.
  • Paint the house interior and exterior. 
  • Install landscaping.

Each of these steps depends on the prior – scheduling software calls these dependent tasks predecessors and successors. You can’t plumb or run electrical if the walls aren’t studded. And, the framework goes up only after the concrete foundation has been poured and had time to dry. And, nothing happens until after the blueprints (scope) have been drawn up! 

The Waterfall methodology is comparatively strict and rigid. And, for the right project, it is an excellent approach. 

To learn more about the Waterfall method of project management, check out this Introduction to Project Management course online. In addition, Velociteach offers an instructor-led Project Management Fundamentals course that provides a great foundation and teaches you the language of project managers.  In our instructor-led course, we cover the main components of the waterfall method and reinforce the learning through hands-on application of concepts using a case study.

Agile

Agile Project Management is true to its name – It’s all about adaptability and agility. In fact, you may see the name Adaptive used in place of Agile.

Developed in the early 2000s, the goal of the Agile Methodology was to combat delayed software production. At the time, software projects were progressing too slowly. In some cases, by the time the project completed, the technology had already moved on making the project results obsolete.

While the agile approach is its own breed of project management, there have been many other approaches that fit under the broad agile umbrella. Our Fundamentals of Agile course is a great introduction to understanding all of those approaches and their differences.  

Here are six key characteristics of the agile approach to managing projects:

1. Value

At the heart of agile is the commitment to delivering value to the customer as early and often as possible. This focus on value is paramount to all other aspects of agile. 

2. Transparency

Healthy communication is key to any management style; however, agile absolutely depends on it. 

With such a strong emphasis on transparency, agile team members are encouraged to openly discuss where they are in the project, allowing others to view the progress of the team. In fact, agile encourages posting big charts in the work space – open displays of the status of tasks, story cards, burndown charts, and feature progress… even the tracking of code bugs!  That’s transparency alright.

3. Customer Focus

While this could be seen as “customer transparency,” it implies more than that. Agile values a complete and regularly-updated understanding of customer wants and needs. Customer focus is essential. 

A pivotal role in agile projects is that of the product owner. The product owner acts as the customer or client representative, helps define the project requirements, and is responsible for ranking those features or requirements. The product owner is expected to work daily with the team – just like another team member.

Having a regular cycle of collaboration and input from the customer keeps the project fresh and relative, reducing stagnant periods of non-work and avoiding a finished project that is no longer what the customer needs. 

4. Adaptability

In an agile project, we don’t look at one big deadline but rather several rally points along the way. Teams are expected to deliver regular updates and incremental steps that the customer can inspect and collaborate on. Agile encourages short work cycles – called iterations or sprints in Scrum. These work cycles are typically 1 week to 4 weeks, and each iteration has its own set of goals – what the team plans to accomplish in that short work period.

At the end of each work cycle, the product owner recalibrates priorities, and the team plans accordingly. This way, the project has a regularly updated lifecycle, and if a shift in direction is necessary, it’s caught earlier rather than later. 

5. Sense of Ownership

Typically a project manager is the de facto spearhead of the project, someone who is the anchor between all the moving parts. With traditional or waterfall projects, the project manager is generally seen as holding the most ownership and has the most interest in project success or failure.

With agile, the team members share responsibility and accountability. They are self-managed. The idea is that the team members are the ones closest to what they’re working on and thus have valuable insight into how to best shape the project. They share ownership.

6. Constant Improvement

Frequent updates and enhancements are a key tenet of the agile methodology. Team members collaborate with each other, the product owner, and other stakeholders to seek out better ways of getting the work done. 

Agile’s commitment to constant improvement can be seen in the ceremonies common to agile, such as the iteration retrospective and the daily standup meeting. 

Velociteach offers several options to help you learn more about the Agile method of project management. Whether you prefer a live, instructor-led course or a self-paced, online course, we have content created by our expert team to help you gain a deeper understanding of Agile project management.

Scrum

The most widely used agile framework is called Scrum. The term Scrum comes from a 1986 Harvard Business Review article. The authors Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka made an analogy comparing high-performing, cross-functional teams to the scrum formation used by rugby teams.

If you’ve never played rugby, you can still figure out Scrum! True to the agile approach, Scrum focuses on value delivery and creating a steady but adaptable work flow. Agile refers to the short cycles of work as iterations, and Scrum calls them Sprints.

A Sprint is a team-defined amount of time, usually a week or two, in which the team works to create value in the form of working code and completed features. The team members view the product backlog, the ranking of features by the product owner, and commit to the features (or user stories) they can complete in a Sprint.

The Scrum Master (similar to the role of project leader) is in charge of removing all barriers from the team that may deter them from completing their sprint. (We’ve got a great Crash Course in Agile Scrum available online if you want a deeper dive.)

Lean

This next methodology is often combined with an adaptive or predictive approach in project management – it is called Lean. As the name suggests, the Lean methodology focuses on cutting waste from a project to optimize every aspect to its full potential. 

The origin of Lean concepts goes back to studies of the Toyota Production System. Writers of articles and books on Lean defined five essential steps to follow in the Lean plan:

1. Identify Value (From The Perspective of the Customer)

What is the value of the product or project from the client’s point of view? Specify important deadlines, product requirements, and goals of your client.

All of this will help you, the project manager, establish a focus and streamline the rest of the project. 

2. Map Value Within Your Team and Process

A value stream map is a visual tool that displays the critical steps in a process and quantifies the time and volume taken at each stage. The project manager works with the team to map out the current workflow and identify the ideal workflow – a future state. 

This effort helps uncover faults within your given system. This will immediately relate to the next step. 

3. Identify and Eliminate Waste Within The Process

Eliminating waste is key to the Lean methodology. Where do your team and process create waste? What is waste? 

The Lean protocol defines waste as anything that detracts from your set value – unused inventory, wasted time, or wasted efforts exceeding client requirements. 

Given your analysis of the current state of your process, the goal is to create the smoothest possible system. You don’t need to exceed your goals or inventory (because that’s waste), and you certainly don’t want to be waiting around for something to happen (because that’s also waste). 

4. Create a Pull System

A Pull System means that your team is working when there is demand. You aren’t continuously working on something in the future if you haven’t already received the order – work is done as it is needed. 

This might seem counterintuitive for some industries, and it certainly doesn’t fit every project. However, maintaining a strict protocol of waiting for demand reduces waste when it comes to inventory and time. 

5. Continually Improve and Remove Waste From The Process

The Lean Methodology is not a set-it-and-forget-it approach. Instead, it requires constant attention and improvement. (Sounds a bit like agile in that regard!)

Because the system is, well, lean when it comes to cutting waste, you have to check regularly for evidence of wasteful practices and unnecessary redundancy. Also, the team must be careful that you don’t cut too deeply and undermine the success of the project.  

Lean is an excellent mindset to be used in conjunction with predictive and adaptive approaches, as it encourages the team to challenge processes and steps. Ask: Is this needed? Can we improve it?

In Conclusion

Select the project management methodology that is the best match for your project. What is the industry? What does your customer expect of you? How large is the team? What about the nature of the project outcome or deliverable?

No matter what the project requires, a good project manager will be well-versed in many different methodologies. And if you’re interested in learning more about any of these or others, check out velociteach.com, where we have a wealth of material available. 

We’re passionate about sharing our knowledge and experiences with you. Whether it’s through our instructor-led courses, online courses, self-study resources, or our podcast Manage This, we know that you’ll enjoy learning how to take your project management skills to the next level with us. 

Sources:
  1. Is the Agile Manifesto Still a Thing? | Atlassian.com
  2. 5 Lean Principles Every Engineer Should Know | ASME.org
  3. Scrum – The Most Popular Agile Framework | ScrumAlliance.org

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