Choosing the right project management approach

Projects are unique in nature. Hence there is no one single management approach which will suit all projects. The project management approach should be carefully chosen. There are three types of project management approaches;

  • Predictive (Waterfall)
  • Agile (Adaptive)
  • Hybrid (Combination of agile and predictive)

Predictive (Waterfall)

For projects where the scope of work is very clear, and the frequency of releases of the product to the customer is low, then predictive project management fits in. Predictive project management comprises of well defined phases which are executed sequentially. For example;

  • Requirements collection
  • High level design
  • Detailed design
  • Construction
  • Testing

Between these phases, there will be a formal approval. One approved, the work gets transferred to the next team. For example, once the requirements are approved, the approved requirements are transferred to the design team. When the design is approved, it gets transferred to the construction team and so on.

Predictive desirable when;

  • Scope is clear
  • Technology is familiar
  • The engineering discipline of the project does not allow for frequent changes

For example, during the construction phase of the EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) projects, it is very difficult and expensive to incorporate changes. Hence predictive project management works.

Agile (Adaptive)

Then there are projects or phases within projects where requirements are vague (not clear), the technology is unfamiliar and the project domain allows easy incorporation of changes. In such projects agile or adaptive styles is better. In new product development, it is very difficult to identify all requirements in the beginning of the projects.

For example, if the project is about developing an engine for spacecrafts, one can expect lot of changes during the course of the project. So is the case with developing a company web site. Agile approaches are well suited for projects of this genre.

In agile projects encourages changes even very late in the project. The central theme of all agile projects is the iteration, which are 30 days (or lesser) buckets of work. Before the start of every iteration, the team gets into a detailed iteration planning meeting. Then the work is executed by the self organizing project team. At the end of the iteration, there is an iteration review followed by iteration retrospective.

Hybrid

For some projects, some phases are best suited for agile, where as some other phases are best suited for predictive. For example, for a project like the tallest tower in the world, or a metro rail, the engineering and design phases are well suited for agile, where as the construction phases are best managed with predictive. Very often, even within the construction phase teams adopt agile best practices like daily team meetings, fortnightly or monthly look ahead plans etc. These are best examples of hybrid project management.

Programs

Sometimes it is beneficial if projects are grouped as programs and brought under program management than managing them as independent projects.

Conclusion

The right project management approach and the project manager is key to project’s success. In other words, a wrong approach or a wrong project manager can kill the right projects. Hence, it will be a good investment of time, if the owners, consultants and the project management teams spend sufficient time in deciding the project’s management approach.

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