Mythics Blog

Selecting the Right Project Management Methodology

Posted on April 17, 2013 by Grace Okwumabua

Tags: Mythics Consulting, Project Management, Oracle

The implementations of technology solutions, such as those provided by Oracle are often large-scale projects in complex organizations. Project management is a key to success in these projects, and that is the focus of this blog posting.

Project management has never been simple. The first formalized methodologies were developed and implemented decades ago precisely because managing projects well is difficult. But the last couple of decades have seen a profound acceleration in the complexity of project management. Consider how much the business world has changed since the 1980s. There has been an explosion of globalized opportunities, accompanied by more competition than ever.  When we also consider lightening fast advances in technology, it’s no surprise that even a modest undertaking in today’s organizations can be profoundly more challenging than a full scale project back in the day.

However, too many organizations simply accept that constant cost overruns, delays and sub-optimal outcomes are unavoidable in delivering projects. Such obstacles are certainly part of the PM landscape. However, they should not define it. If your organization is running into the same problem over and over, it may be time to consider whether you are using the correct project management methodology. Here’s a look at a couple of the most common approaches, along with the benefits of each.

Traditional “Waterfall” Project Management

If you’ve ever used a Gantt Chart to outline a project schedule, you’ve done “waterfall” project management. This methodology is the kind most commonly used today. It encompasses a series of steps that follow each other in logical sequence. These may be given different names and include various sub-categories. But the big picture looks like this:

  • Initiation
  • Planning/Design
  • Production/Execution
  • Monitoring/Controlling (testing)
  • Closing

At the beginning, you have nothing but a concept. At the end, you have a finished deliverable. If problems are found during the monitoring stage, you may loop back to the design stage and then through production again. However, that’s always seen as a setback and can be associated with substantial cost and time overruns. In an ideal PM world, the waterfall method never flows backward. It moves inexorably forward to completion. At the end, it’s time for retrospection to uncover lessons learned so the next project can be better.

“Iterative” Project Management

If the traditional approach is a waterfall, the iterative PM methodology is more like a whirlpool. You expect to go through round after round of “iterations” that get you closer and closer to where you want to end up. Specifically, each iteration builds on the results of the previous one to incrementally achieve the overall project goal. Although distinctive, the iterative approach incorporates both “waterfall” thinking and a flexible “agile” mindset. In iterative PM, iterations are constant small, self-contained projects that typically last between two to six weeks and produce a unique demonstratable deliverable.   

“Agile” Project Management

Agile project management focuses on eating the elephant piece-by-piece, rather than in one big chunk like the traditional approach. Agile methodology manages project change and complexity through intense communication between project team members and end users. It enables teams to appropriately respond to unpredictability through short incremental work sections, such as Scrum “sprints”. These sprints aim at delivering a well tested, functional deliverable or a working prototype. Planning and changes in design occur throughout the project based on lessons that are learned along the way. There’s no shame in looping back to refine the deliverable at any stage. This is expected and not viewed as a risk that must be heavily mitigated and controlled.

Quick PM Methodology Comparison

Traditional/Waterfall Iterative/Agile
  • Best for large projects that are highly complex.
  • Best for small to mid-scale projects of moderate complexity.
  • May be required for risk-averse customers with rigid requirements (e.g. government).
  • Tends to be beneficial for creative endeavors.

  • Very effective for projects with a well-defined scope.
  • Ideal for customers who don’t have a fully formed concept of what they want/need (since scope and deliverables may change).
  • Better protected from disruption if team members leave midway through.
  • Works well when funds are limited since the project can be closed at any time.
  • Offers more control over changes including those that may lead to scope creep.
  • Great for organizations that have solid teamwork and collaboration; Communication is paramount.
  • Provides detailed documentation that can pass on lessons learned to future teams.
  • Extremely flexible with the potential to deliver better than expected outcomes.
  • Has a high level of accountability and delivers expected value (if all goes reasonably well).
  • Ingrains best practices in current team members through lessons learned.
  • Best fit for hierarchical organizational structures where team members expect clear instruction and direction.
  • Delivers some value fast even if the project is interrupted or closed early.

 

So you’re probably asking yourself, which project methodology is best? There really is no single best methodology. The approach when developing a project must be determined situationally by the project team and end users. In some cases, a hybrid of these methodologies is ideal.

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