The universe of project management is permanently changing, which makes its methodologies and approaches evolve over time, too. Project management methods can be divided into two different categories, depending on their focus: on the one hand a traditional approach, on the other hand an agile approach. Find here below everything you may need to know about the functional principles of the ten most popular project management tools and methods as well as their advantages and disadvantages!
- I. Traditional project management: the 3 most popular methods
- II. Agile project management: the 7 most popular methods
- III. Traditional vs Agile project management: what’s best for your projects?
Traditional project management: the 3 most popular methods
Traditional project management is characterized by a strict work organization and a sequential cycle – with no feedback loop inclusion – based on several consecutive stages:
- Once every aspect of the project has been defined with the customer,
- the project manager is responsible for monitoring tasks progress and completion throughout all the different phases of the project,
- according to these pre-defined objectives.
In other words, it is a systematic work organization whose aim is to avoid any possible risk, by sticking to the initial customers’ guidelines.
However, the major risk for methods that does not take into account any potential changes is to deliver a product that ultimately no longer meets the customers’ expectations, since their needs may have changed along the project progress. Actually, the main downside of traditional project management methods is that change comes with significant impacts, especially in terms of budget and time waste, since it will be necessary to review each and every project phase to detect precisely what has to be modified and subsequently restart from there. Nevertheless, traditional project management is still an effective approach that may suit some kinds of organizations. Here follows some details about the three most popular traditional methods:
The Waterfall approach is the most frequently used one to simplify project management through a strict sequential process. It is a very structured, linear method where the completion of each predefined phase leads to the next one, streaming down just like a waterfall, with no possibility to step back to the previous stage.
The Waterfall Method is based on 6 main phases :
- Requirements: the assessment of customer’s needs
- Design: it includes both the logical and physical design of deliverables
- Planning: it basically aims to define budget and deadlines
- Implementation: all the specifications and requirements of the project are put into effect
- Verification: the complete product is delivered to the customer to make sure that it sticks to their initial requirements
- Maintenance: this is the ultimate phase for the customer to use the product and report any bug to fix.
The main advantage of this model is to provide a clear vision of the schedule to be followed, from the beginning. This means that teams will have to rigorously follow it in order to complete the project. However, this approach comes with significant shortcomings, especially in terms of flexibility.
The V-Model can be considered an extension and improvement of the Waterfall model. The « V » reflects the graphical representation of this method, which considers that for each development stage there is always a corresponding validation phase.
However, it is important to underline that it is not a suitable frame for every business because of its lack of both flexibility and adaptability. But it can end up being a useful model when all the specifics of the product to develop are crystal clear from the beginning, invariable and must comply with high quality standards.
Ultimately, the V-Model represents a rigid project management approach whose final purpose is to ensure deliverables’ compliance not only to customers’ expectation, but also to potential norms and standards.
The Program Evaluation and Review Technique (aka PERT) is a useful graphical representation to define the sequencing of specific project phases. More precisely, it is a network chart that represents all the tasks and milestones involved to effectively get your project across the finish line. Moreover, this tools also aims to highlight what has to be done fist, depending on its priority as well as the set deadline.
To put it another way, the PERT method is a traditional approach for process development framing which focuses on task scheduling coordination. This way, it provides clear guidelines to implement any operation while making it possible not only to define in advance any resources (including human and financial ones) and roles, but also to estimate the process duration.
Agile project management: the 7 most popular methods
Nowadays, the continuous advancements in technology are challenging more and more traditional methods, particularly because of their complexity and lack of flexibility. The agile approach can be hence considered as the ideal solution to ensure more efficient and secure project management… but beware of some preconceived ideas: agile doesn’t mean no rules ! In fact, even agile methods require a minimum of guidelines to be truly effective.
What’s different here is that customer comes first: actually, agility put customers’ satisfaction at the very heart of its practices, rather than contract terms.
There are so many different agile methodologies that could be applied to an organization, depending on its specificities and context. They all have in common the following pillars:
- Split the project into short cycles (or iterations)
- Organization of tasks according to priorities, avoiding unnecessary work
- Focus on customer’s value creation
- Continuously looking for feedback and deliverables’ validation
- Adapting to change, at any time
- Creation of a collaborative environment among all the stakeholders involved in a given project
If you’re willing to learn more about these methods, their characteristics and how they actually work, here follows a selection of the most popular agile methods in today’s market.
The Scrum method is definitely one of the most frequently used approaches by agile enterprises. Without getting into too many technical details, the main point to keep in mind about Scrum is its core principle: coordinating an iterative project through regular cycles – called sprints – that can take one to four weeks long. Communication among all team members is key to ensure the development project’s success.
Kanban is both a method and a well-known agile tool, providing a clearer visual representation of projects’ progress. In fact, the Kanban’s final purpose is to optimize workflow management by progressively making tasks advance throughout the dashboard, one column after the other.
At the same time, this method facilitates better collaboration and coordination among teams, who gain clearer, centralized information as well as a real-time progress update of the project.
Kanban is often used in addition to other agile methods, such as Scrum, and it basically consists of a dashboard divided into several columns to better organize tasks – which are represented as post-its to « paste » on it – and keep track of the workflow.
To be more precise, each column corresponds to a specific stage within the project development process and is customized depending on the business (an on the team) needs and characteristics. However, we can find quite a similar column structure for most projects: To Do (for upcoming tasks to accomplish), Work in Progress (for undergoing tasks) and Done (for finished work).
3. Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®)
SAFe is an agile management method embodying a mindset and a framework for teams to be aligned with the overall business strategy.
The core principle is to split work into smaller tasks to be framed and scheduled within teams, making sure that each one of them stays focused on the ultimate goal to achieve. Implementing SAFe means improving the project management efficiency as well as ensuring greater flexibility and cross-functional collaboration… being increasingly agile at scale.
Moreover, SAFe introduces a common technical glossary to set the bases for more efficient collaboration among all the stakeholders involved in the same project for a given product development. Differently from other agile methods, such as the eXtreme Programming (XP), SAFe agile framework better suits larger teams, made up of at least 50 people.
4. EXtreme Programming (XP)
The eXtreme Programming (XP) is part of the most frequently used agile methods for project management, too. What’s particular with this approach is that it pushes the principles of agile development to the extreme: customer-centric organization, iterative development process, continuous improvement and integration, just to name a few. In a nutshell, the eXtreme Planning method goes straight to the point: this project management approach aims to rapidly deliver the expected product version to the customer, thanks to an efficient management of both the workflow and the relationship between the stakeholders.
This agile methodology relies on five core pillars:
- Communication: it is a key value to project success. Communication should be ensured and encouraged over time among all project’s stakeholders, including team members and customers as well.
- Simplicity: the project team aims to get the work done in the easiest way possible to exactly meet the requirements, nothing more, which will also facilitate any further integration and future development of the same product.
- Feedback: quick and regular feedback between the team and the customer is key at every phase of the project, so that any change request will be immediately handled.
- Courage: this value is essential to face with potential changes that may occur. Actually, it helps the organization be more flexible and quickly reconsider, test and/or reorganize a few aspects of the undergoing project.
- Respect: last but not least, mutual respect among management, team members and customers is a fundamental value to make any project succeed, which is all the more important considering the fact that here the quality of the delivered product is strictly dependent on the quality of human relationship, collaboration.
Subsequently, all the specific agile practices to the XP method are the result of this founding principles. More precisely, there are 13 interdependent practices for which project management is made up of a set of short development cycles (or iterations), ensured by the steady involvement and increased collaboration especially between team members and customers. Here’s a list to name a few of them: on-site customer, continuous integration, small deliveries, sustainable pace, unit and functional tests, project adjustments, language standards, pair work, collective involvement in the project…
5. Rational Unified Process (RUP)
Another agile method for project management is the Rational Unified Process, a software development framework and process. This method helps define the project’s milestones to subsequently adapt and define its different phases, organizing tasks accordingly. Here the purpose is to optimize as much as possible both the software development lifecycle management and the expected product delivery; all this, making sure that the product is meeting specific customer’s needs and requirements, including time-limits and budget.
The RUP method essentially involves the following 4 main phases (or cycles):
- Creation (or Inception): it represents the starting point based on risks assessment, architecture definition and planning of the project, which is then articulated into several activities.
- Elaboration: at this point, understanding customer’s needs and validating product’s features is key to go to the next level, hence launching the development.
- Construction: during this phase, the software system is created and then tested to ensure its compliance.
- Transition: this last cycle aims to carry out final tests and ultimately release the software to the end user.
Besides better quality product, this method contributes to improve the quality of team team work too, by encouraging the participation of all the stakeholder involved in the same project. Flexibility is one of the major assets of RUP framework: development is considered to be an iterative and incremental process, which means that potential adjustments and modifications will be continuously integrated. On the one hand, this adaptability makes it possible to solve any technical issue that may occur and, on the other hand, it allows to even better adapt the product to the real needs of the customer.
Lean Management is a project management method created in the 1970s by Toyota and first introduced in its Japanese factories. The principle at the very heart of this approach is removing waste – in terms of resources, budget and time – and ensuring a continuous improvement process to improve work performance and quality. To achieve this, the Lean method also aims to improve both the environment and working conditions of all teams, which means improving their productivity. According to the Lean philosophy there are essentially 7 recurring sources of waste within a company, and more precisely ,during any development and/or production process: overproduction, unused stocks, waiting, manufacturing defects, transport and maintenance activities and superfluous operations and relocations.
To improve project management and the ROI of the organization, the Lean method represents a pragmatic solution proposing to regularly assess the results obtained comparing them to the set goals. Actually, this monitoring is generally planned at each stage of the development process and specific indicators have to be defined according to both project features and the organization’s needs (i.e. the number of functionalities successfully developed, quantitative cost reduction…).
Like any agile approach, this project management method is based on an incremental and iterative process. More precisely, the Lean method relies on 7 key principles:
- Eliminate waste: it basically consists in identifying all the potential cost reduction sources, such as unnecessary relocations, non-priority operations, unnecessary additional features and unused stock. In short, anything that doesn’t add value to the end product, and that therefore is likely to slow down the development process, has to be avoided.
- Create knowledge: it means optimizing skills, sharing knowledge and providing training as to make sure teams have all the required competencies and tools they need to work effectively.
- Defer commitment: it aims to reduce risks and ensure greater flexibility and adaptability throughout the development process. This way, it is possible to keep on improving the overall quality and ultimately to limit commitments to actual delivery capabilities.
- Deliver fast: an iterative process, based on small and frequent deliveries, helps obtain the customers’ validation for each and every deliverable, ensuring it still meets their requirement and needs.
- Empower teams: it is fundamental to rely on collective intelligence and encourage peoples’ participation at all stages of the development project and, more broadly, in the corporate life and dynamics.
- Build quality in: quality assurance has to be the guiding principle throughout all the development process in order to ensure the delivery of high-quality end product.
- Optimize the whole project: although the project is divided into several consecutive iterations, it is of paramount importance to see it as a whole, as to make sure that it remains firmly in line with the ultimate goal to achieve. Moreover, bearing in mind this overall view of the project helps avoid potential risks, such as additional costs or longer lead-time.
7. Feature Driven Development (FDD)
The Feature Driven Development (FDD) is another agile solution for project management that is generally implemented within large organizations.
It is essentially based on risk management and focused much more on the software features that have to be quickly designed. For this, this method requires a closer collaboration with the customer, who is often solicited to validate and provide feedback about these features throughout the whole project.
The FDD approach sets that each development process (or iteration) consists of 5 consecutive phases, as follows:
- Create a product model and a set of technical documents, which are generally flowcharts, in order to set the scope of the upcoming actions/operations to be done.
- List all the expected features to be developed.
- Assign the development of features having common characteristics to some specific developers who will be responsible for their compliance.
- Create a model for each feature, as to better underline every specificity of it.
- Launch the actual development phase to rapidly deliver the end product.
So, the FDD approach ensures better communication throughout the development process, not only between the team members, but also with the customers involved. In addition to this, it also put forward the importance of providing precise information about the project’s progress, which will definitely help and contribute to the developers’ work efficiency. Actually, having a clearer insight into the project’s evolution also makes it possible to release deliverables more frequently, whose quality and features are tested and then validated directly by the end customer.
Although this approach meets all the agility’s criteria and values, the FDD method is sometimes considered as a borderline case, as far as good agile practices are concerned; this, because of defining roles and precise tasks throughout the project.
But be careful, assigning functions doesn’t necessarily mean being « not agile »! However, it is true that agility has been evolving over time – increasingly getting rid of this kind of frames – in favor of those approaches fostering the sharing of responsibilities among all the stakeholders of a given project which is, by the way, the case of the agile methodologies above.
Traditional vs Agile project management: what’s best for your projects?
Now that you have a clearer overview of the most popular existing methods for project management, it’s your turn to choose the most suitable solution to succeed in your projects!
Keep your actual processes and use traditional methods…
All those companies that have opted for a traditional approach, or those which will be more likely to do so, can still benefit from some of its functional aspects: for instance, no risk of overlapping among several tasks, a clear, fixed vision of the whole project from the beginning even in terms of budget and deadlines.
In other words, a traditional method can be useful if your organization needs to strictly follow sequential protocols and processes, due to specific requirements and standards related to your business field. Nevertheless, the weaknesses of traditional methodologies will soon come to light: for example, the lack of both collaboration and flexibility. Why? Because a strict project planning from the very beginning does not automatically lead to the project’s success… quite the opposite! It is a fact that the great majority of projects following a traditional frame end up failing.
… or start your Agile transformation
Instead, agile methods bring more flexibility, adaptability to your projects, while also supporting change. This latter is no longer seen as something risky to avoid, but more as an opportunity to improve your project’s trajectory and hence to deliver better quality products to customers.
Moreover, agile approaches come with a major advantage: they can be easily adapted not only to any kind of organization and business field, but also to different teams and profiles. So beware of preconceived ideas: agile methods are not suitable for IT department, developers and small organizations only! Choosing agility is not compulsory, but highly recommended for those enterprises willing to take a decisive step towards a transition that aims to sustainably improve their organization, communication and collaboration at all levels. Actually, if we take into account the fact that the business environment is not that stable over time, being able to be reactive and flexible is of paramount importance when facing changes. What does it mean? In a nutshell, working on and enhancing one’s agile mindset!
Agile or Not Agile, that’s the question: regardless of your final choice, what’s also important to know is that there are collaborative project management software that can perfectly adapt to your organization, no matter your current working methods and functioning.