There are project management methodologies for every situation, but do you really want to spin the wheel every time you start a new project? Focus on these three essentials instead.
If you’re a project manager, or even someone with a vague interest in project management software, you’ve heard of Agile project management (the hot industry buzzword for the past several decades) and Waterfall project management (the time-tested but dated approach).
If you’re really into project management, you could probably talk about a myriad of other approaches, such as Extreme Programming (XP), Lean Six Sigma, and 23 Skidoo. (Only one of those is made up. Can you guess which?)
But no matter your level of familiarity with these methodologies, when it’s time to start a project you have to choose one. And do you really want to sit down and open up “The Big Book of 101 Project Management Methodologies” every time you start a new project? Of course not.
The only 3 project management methodologies you need for success
A much wiser approach is to familiarize yourself with the industry’s two tentpole methodologies—Agile and Waterfall—and use them when appropriate, sprinkling in aspects of other offshoot methodologies when helpful.
Let’s take a look at how you can do this.
1. Waterfall project management
In many project management circles, “Waterfall” is a dirty word owing to its perceived rigidity. In fact, the Agile Manifesto explicitly set out to fix all of Waterfall’s ills: the heavy documentation and strict adherence to processes and plans, not to mention the lack of a hip-sounding name.
The truth is that Waterfall—or at least certain aspects of Waterfall—are still useful in the right situation. It’s easy to rag on Waterfall project management, but it’s also important to remember that Waterfall was good enough to get humans to the moon and back.
What type of projects is Waterfall project management good for?
Waterfall project management is good for projects that have steps that need to be completed before other steps can begin, projects that require heavy documentation, and projects with a very clear road map.
Here are a few examples:
- A building construction project that requires a foundation to be built before framing can begin.
- A government contract with clear, precise specifications.
- A highway resurfacing project with (hopefully) few surprises.
On the other hand, if your project is creative in nature or can benefit from having multiple pieces worked on at once, Waterfall may not be the best choice.
Before starting your next project, answer these questions to determine if Waterfall is the right approach:
- Does this project require some parts to be completed before others can begin?
- Does this project have lots of specific requirements, calling for tight documentation?
- Does this project already have a very clear road map, from kickoff to finished product?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should use a Waterfall methodology foundation for your project.
2. Agile project management
Agile is more of a mindset than a methodology, but it uses Agile methods like Scrum in its implementation.
What’s not to like?
Since Agile favors face-to-face communication over heavy documentation and regimented processes, it’s not ideal for projects that must adhere to meticulous specifications (e.g., government contracting) or projects that already have a precise road map (e.g., rebuilding an airplane engine).
What type of projects is Agile project management good for?
Agile project management is ideal for open-ended projects that can be delivered incrementally, such as software development and most other digital projects.
Here are a few examples:
- A video project that can benefit from the creative input of contributors throughout the process.
- A photo-sharing app project, where the project lead does not have a definitive idea of what the finished product will look like at the outset.
- A project to develop a new communication plan at a business, where the process can be rolled out incrementally and adjusted as necessary.
Because Agile projects go through multiple iterations, errors and defects can be discovered and addressed throughout the life of the project, as opposed to Waterfall, when they are carried through to the final testing phase.
Before starting your next project, answer these questions to determine if Agile is the right approach:
- Is the deadline on this project more of a date range than a hard and fast delivery date?
- Will the team working on this project be meeting frequently to discuss progress and share ideas?
- Do you anticipate multiple change requests on this project?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should use an Agile project management approach on your project.
3. Hybrid project management
Why should you have to pick one approach and stick to it? Hybrid project management is more of a combination of methodologies than its own methodology. But, it’s a useful approach for anyone who has ever struggled to keep up with all the trendy new project management styles (more on those below), or has had trouble applying a one-size-fits-all approach to a complex project.
You should use the guiding principles of Agile (like communication and flexibility) most of the time, you should use a Waterfall foundation when the project or organizational requirements demand it, and you should incorporate elements of other methodologies when they can improve the success of your projects. Just like that: You’re using hybrid project management.
We’re not suggesting that you play mad scientist and experiment with ingredients from all of the different project management methodologies you’ve ever heard of just so you can say you’ve used them. But what’s more agile than Agile? The freedom to use what works best, no matter what it’s called.
Gartner recommends turning Waterfall projects into incremental Waterfall projects, broken into a series of smaller waterfalls, as a first step toward hybrid project management for Waterfall-fixated organizations (full report available to clients).
As a refresher, here are some offshoot methodologies that you can combine with Agile and Waterfall, along with their defining features that you might want to incorporate into your project management approach.
What to borrow: DMAIC (Define opportunity, Measure performance, Analyze opportunity, Improve performance, and Control performance).
What to borrow: The card based visualization tool that shows what is being worked on and what needs to be worked on next.
What to borrow: Predetermined sprint cycles and daily standup meetings.
What to borrow: Weekly cycles, building slack into the system, and continuous integration.
Using the methods above, a hybrid project manager could start with a Waterfall project, use a Kanban board to visualize workflow, and have daily standup Scrum meetings to update progress. Call it WaterScrumBan.
What type of projects is Hybrid project management good for?
Hybrid project management is useful for most types of software development projects, as well as any type of project that doesn’t fit neatly into traditional Agile or Waterfall methodology.
Here are a few examples:
- A project to launch a combination online and physical retailer.
- A project that involves many volunteers, where shared Kanban boards are useful.
- An engineering project involving software and hardware components.
Before starting your next project, answer these questions to determine if Hybrid project management is the right approach:
- Am I working with disparate teams with traditional and non-traditional backgrounds?
- Are there parts of this project that have interdependent tasks, along with other parts with tasks that can be worked on simultaneously?
- Do you want to test out a new project management tool, like Kanban boards or daily stand-up meetings, without completely scrapping your proven approach?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, go ahead and try Hybrid project management on your next project.
3 project management methodologies to rule them all
Now that you are familiar with these essential project management methodologies, you can apply them to any project.
Do you think that these approaches are enough to cover any situation, or am I missing the mark? Is there a less-heralded approach that I didn’t mention but you think is essential? Am I reckless and irresponsible to suggest mashing up Agile and Waterfall on a million-dollar project? Let me know about it in the comments or call me out on Twitter @AndrewJosConrad. It’s the only way I’ll learn.