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How to pick the best project management methodology for success

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Choosing the right project management methodology for the job is essential. Our guide to evaluating project management methodologies will ensure you pick the perfect fit for your next project.

 

Choosing the right project management methodology for your team is the first step to success.

But with so many different — and in some cases, overlapping — approaches to managing the complexities of any given project, how can you know which project management methodology is best?

Project managers can assist their organizations in improving how they implement projects in the most effective and efficient way while reducing risks. But this requires much more than just recognizing organizational priorities. You have to have a deeper understanding of how each project management methodology can create the greatest positive impact — and how each can derail your organization’s likelihood of project success.

[ Thinking of going agile? Check out our switcher’s guide to agile project management and our comparison of Scrum vs. Lean vs. Kanban. | Find out why IT projects still fail and beware the 10 project management myths to avoid. | Get the latest project management advice by signing up for our CIO newsletters. ]

Here, we outline the most popular project management methodologies (PMMs) in practice today, showing you how to evaluate which is best for your project and organization. Once developed, a process for evaluating and choosing the right project management methodology can be documented and repeated, enabling your organization to spend less time haggling over how to structure and manage your projects, and more time on achieving project objectives and deliverables.

The most popular project management methodologies today

Waterfall: Waterfall has been a mainstay project management methodology for years. It is sequential in nature and is used across many industries, most commonly in software development. It comprises static phases (requirements analysis, design, testing, implementation, and maintenance) that are executed in a specific order. Waterfall allows for increased control throughout each phase but can be highly inflexible if a project’s scope changes after it is already under way. It offers a more formal planning stage that may increase the chances of capturing all project requirements up front, reducing the loss of any key information and requirements in the initial stages.

Agile: Agile takes a significantly different approach to project management. It was initially developed for projects that require significant flexibility and speed. To achieve this, agile is composed of short delivery cycles, aka “sprints.” Agile may be best-suited for projects requiring less control and real-time communication within self-motivated team settings. As a project management methodology, agile is highly interactive, allowing for rapid adjustments throughout a project. It is commonly used in software development projects in large part because it makes it easier to identify issues quickly and to make modifications early in the development process, rather than having to wait until testing is complete. Agile offers repeatable processes, reduces risk, allows for immediate feedback, provides fast turnaround and reduces complexity.

 

Hybrid: While many teams will favor either waterfall or agile, the benefits of both approaches can create a case for a hybrid project management methodology solution, one in which the planning and requirements phase is undertaken under a waterfall approach and the design, develop, implement, and evaluate phases follow the agile methodology.

Critical path method: Critical path method (CPM) is a step-by-step methodology used for projects with interdependent activities. It contains a list of activities and uses a work-breakdown structure (WBS) and a timeline to complete, as well as dependencies, milestones, and deliverables. It outlines critical and noncritical activities by calculating the “longest” (on the critical path) and “shortest” (float) time to complete tasks to determine which activities are critical and which are not.

Critical chain project management: Critical chain project management (CCPM) differs from CPM in that it focuses on the use of resources within a project instead of project activities. To address potential issues with resources, buffers are built in to ensure projects are on-time and that safety is not compromised.

Six Sigma: Six Sigma was originally developed by Motorola to eliminate waste and improve processes and profits. It is data-driven and has three key components: DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve and control), DMADV (define, measure, analyze, design and verify) and DFSS (Design for Six Sigma). DFSS can include the previous options, as well as others, such as IDOV (identify, design, optimize and verify). Six Sigma is sometimes debated as a methodology in the project management community.

For more on Six Sigma, see “What is Six Sigma? Streamlining quality management” and “How to find the perfect project for Six Sigma.”

Scrum: Named after rugby, scrum is a part of the agile framework and is also interactive in nature. “Scrum sessions” or “30-day sprints” are used to determine prioritized tasks. A scrum master is used to facilitate instead of a project manager. Small teams may be assembled to focus on specific tasks independently and then meet with the scrum master to evaluate progress or results and reprioritize backlogged tasks.

For a deeper look at what sets Scrum apart, see “Scrum vs. Lean vs. Kanban: Comparing agile project management frameworks.”

Other PMMs: In addition to the project management methodologies mentioned above, there are other PMMs to consider, including event chain methodology (ECM), crystal, feature driven development (FDD), dynamic systems development (DSDM), adaptive software development, rational unified process (RUP), lean development (LD), Prince2 and others.

It’s important to note that there is no one solution in all cases, even within the same organization. Project management experience comes into play, and this is where a project manager’s knowledge of the pros and cons of each methodology can greatly assist organizations in successfully navigating projects in ways that allow them to maximize the potential for stakeholders.

How to effectively evaluate project management methodologies

The process required to assess, document and select the right project management methodology for each project is detailed, time-consuming and complex initially, but worth it in the end (assuming the most appropriate PMMs have been selected).

The Project Management Institute (PMI) has developed a globally recognized standard called the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3). This assists organizations in identifying, measuring and improving PM capabilities and standardizing processes. It helps solidify successful project outcomes, ultimately determines best practices, and strengthens the connection between strategic planning and execution. OPM3 focuses on overall organizational strategic effectiveness and incorporates project, program and portfolio management. In 2013 it was recognized by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as an American National Standard.

Within its Implementing Organizational Project Management: A Practice Guide, PMI discusses high-level processes for tailoring PMMs that organizations should carefully evaluate and use to determine which methodologies work for various projects. Decisions should also be based on factors in the PMI Methodology Tailoring Process to maximize strategic benefits.

Benefits of Organizational Project Management

It may make sense for your business to adopt OPM3, given that a primary goal of OPM3 is to achieve successful strategic alignment and successful project outcomes depend heavily on such alignment. Organizations will need to include enterprise program management offices (EPMOs) in high-level planning sessions to ensure the right methodologies are deployed for specific projects to increase productivity and customer satisfaction, gain a competitive advantage, improve cost control and communications and predict performance. Ultimately, this will improve and expedite decision making as well as support alignment with company-wide goals.

Because of the various strengths and weaknesses of each PMM, organizations may want to consider adopting multiple project management methodologies based on the unique nature of their project, organizational makeup and project goals. Either way, organizations need to develop standardized best practices that can be refined as various factors change. Here, the key is to figure out how a specific project aligns with company-wide objectives. Once success or failure criteria can be isolated, it’s easier to find the most suitable methodology or methodologies that will enable your organization to effectively and efficiently reach the desired business result.

Key considerations in choosing a project management methodology

When evaluating methodologies, here are just a few of the numerous factors that should be carefully considered:

  • Organizational strategic goals and core values
  • Key business drivers
  • Constraints
  • Stakeholders
  • Risks
  • Complexity
  • Project size and cost

The project management methodology assessment process

Once the assessment criteria have been factored into the decision, you need to develop a process to identify the best PMM option(s) for your specific project. This process will need to be revisited and modified from time to time to keep up with evolving business and stakeholder needs. Here are some general steps:

  1. Determine project drivers by identifying and weighing primary goals and priorities of the project.
  2. After determining project drivers, requirements and goals, identify all the criteria that a methodology will impact and vice versa.
  3. Identify all available/possible methodologies that are most relevant for the project.
  4. Spend time comparing and contrasting each PMM in relation to the project.
  5. Consider which methodology will yield the best results and offer the least risk.
  6. Gain feedback and buy-in.
  7. Document the methodology and rationale.
  8. Implement the methodology.
  9. Monitor and modify as required.

What to include in the project management methodology assessment

In organizational development, as well as within projects, this list of relevant assessment criteria applies. When it comes to selecting a methodology, these same criteria should also factor in. These can be broken down as internal and external criteria, with relevant subcategories for each.

Although the biggest risk factors are likely to fall within organizational capabilities and preparedness, any other criteria mentioned previously can create significant problems if they are in breach of a key project requirement.

As mentioned, PMMs are definitely not one-size-fits-all, even within the same company, project type or industry. In one situation a specific methodology may work best, and in others, it may be more suitable to use a different project management methodology or even a hybrid approach. The same methodology is unlikely to work in the same organization on all projects; a best practice is to develop and implement a streamlined methodology assessment process (MAP) to determine the best approach for each project. Keep in mind, this process itself may require reassessment and modifications as business factors change.

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Agile

Kindness is a muscle that needs to be exercised

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Kindness is a muscle that needs to be exercised

About Julia Baird
Julia Baird is a journalist, broadcaster and author based in Sydney, Australia. She hosts The Drum on ABCTV and writes columns for the Sydney Morning Herald and the International New York Times. Her writing has appeared in a range of publications including Newsweek, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Guardian, the Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald, the Sun-Herald, The Monthly and Harper’s Bazaar. Her much lauded biography of Queen Victoria was released in 2017.

In 2005, Julia was a fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press and Public Policy at Harvard, researching the global response to American opinion in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Her Ph.D., on female politicians and the press, formed the basis of her book, Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians (2004). Julia has also taught history (20th century cultural history and personal narratives, involving the study of letters, diaries and journals), and made radio documentaries on subjects as diverse as black metal music and convent education.

Julia received both her B.A. and Ph.D. in history from Sydney University. She is a regular commentator on television and radio.

Join Julia Baird for the reprise of her much-lauded talk on
deliberate leadership at Agile Encore 2017

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From Runway Focus to Micro Focus: Kan Tang’s leadership philosophy

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Kan Tang knows a lot about combining wisdom from very different fields. A professional model in China for five years, Kan is the first to point out the commonalities between her previous and present careers. At five foot seven and a half, Kan says she was short for a runway model. To survive in an extremely competitive field, she advises, “you must discover your strength and maximise it”. If height wasn’t her strength, then speed would be: she became one of the fastest models in her team – averaging 17 second costume changes. This led to her receiving the honour of wearing the best designer dress in the first statewide top 10 model competition, where she won the title.

Kan also draws an important lesson from her family: her father, a senior executive responsible for electrical power in China, prioritised quality, as his position required “high integrity of execution”.

These two lessons, from the catwalk and from her family, inform her DevOps philosophy. She says:

“To me, in DevOps you can achieve agility and quality together – a lot of people say they contradict, but they don’t.”

This ability to combine wisdom from disparate areas of life has no doubt served her well as HPE commenced their recent spin merger with Micro Focus.

“I feel very positive about the move to Micro Focus – which created one of world’s largest pure-play software companies – and moving to more containerisation, more DevOps automation, more DevOps in the cloud, more secure DevOps and more powerful analytics for decision support. I think of my journey as what’s next. The opportunities are endless.”

The story of Kan’s journey to Micro Focus indicates her willingness to explore new fields and to practice the art of continuous learning. After moving to the US to study with no English language skills – she struggled. At the time there were no electronic dictionaries, so Kan took to hand-translating her books, often spending an hour translating and reading over a single page.

“There are two types of pain: the pain of regret and the pain of discipline. Looking back, I overcame the extreme difficulties during my early years in the US through my strong will to not give up – even though I had a million reasons to quit.  So perseverance is one of the most important qualities in achieving success.”

It was during this time that Kan decided to enrol in a computer science master’s degree – a move she puts down to bravery or naivety. Although she struggled with the language, she understood maths and logic, and as she puts it, “I fell in love with coding and relational database programming. If you’re sitting there doing something for six to eight hours without wanting to take a break, you know you love it.”

From there, Kan’s experience began to diversify. She started working with a startup company, writing up to 90% of their code for the primary system.

“For the first time I was an architect, a designer, a developer, a tester, an operation admin and a user! I had to figure out how to start from an idea all the way to the production. We did promotion every week! That was the first time I experienced End2End DevOps – back in 2000.”

In her next role at EDS, she worked as a senior consultant and architect, then moved into operations in a new position with airline solutioning company Sabre. Kan recalls that she was excited to move into Agile Transformation with FedEx, followed by a massive two year, $1 billion project at Disney.

“I’m always asking ‘what’s next’. I didn’t know anything about media – I didn’t know about photo-editing or videotranscoding. I jumped into the Disney project, and within a few months, I started to learn the basics and then gained industry specific knowledge. By the time we delivered NextGen Experience NGE, I became a trusted advisor for my customers.”

Kan has moved from industry to industry – working with airlines, manufacturers, logistics, healthcare, government, retail, pharmaceuticals, insurance, media, and banking.

“I like navigating through and learning different industries. Sometimes I don’t have a choice, you are requested by a client or you are called to save an account. You learn to swim, you struggle, you survive, you excel.”

She was one of few women awarded as a distinguished technologist at HPE, and one of 50 future potential executives selected to enrol in the Harvard Leadership Program. It is to this program that she attributes her strategic expertise.

STRATEGY AND PRIORITISING THE CUSTOMER

Strategy and passion for customers are the traits to which Kan attributes her success.

When asked to elaborate on these, Kan’s enthusiasm becomes clear.

“You have to understand strategy – there are three elements. The first is the goal or objective; second is which domain you’re going to play – there are so many areas, so much competition, that you have to understand which domain you play in; and third, you have to understand your competitive advantages. With these three elements, you have to do a lot of research, align with the organisation, and if you don’t have the competitive advantage and you absolutely need it, then you have to build it. Once you understand strategy, you can move into execution, but this is a totally different ballgame. Very often visionary leaders can create great strategies, but very often fail in execution.”

Kan cites the process which saw her obtain the role of Distinguished Technologist as an example of her passion for the customer.

“One thing I found out is what people actually mean by customer care. Number one is that you actually think on their behalf in the long-term. When you make a decision, a recommendation, you think on behalf of them – not yourself. Number two is how quickly you respond to people. Speed is about respect. There are always a lot of priorities, but if you delay the response then they consider you not trustworthy or inefficient. If you think on behalf of your customer and do your best, they will always come back. You shouldn’t think only about how to sell the product, but how to think on behalf of your customer and how to solve the pain they can’t solve. I’m always very focused on the customer. I do whatever I can to help facilitate the conversation, and in the end I bring a lot more business than those who just want to sell the product.”

LEADERSHIP AND SUCCESS

Kan’s founding pillars of strategy and customer passion are underpinned by another key interest: leadership.

“One of my favourite bosses said that you actually learn more from bad bosses than from good bosses. A lot of enterprises are looking for the best pattern – they want to hear the positive stories; but the negative stories are equally important.”

She cites a Gartner report that indicates the biggest challenge for DevOps transformation today and in the future is people and culture.

For organisations thinking about adopting DevOps, her advice is focused on the importance of leadership. Managing change is a lengthy process and very disruptive, with many elements in play. Getting the team on-board and implementing an effective change management process is critical. “If your team doesn’t think they’re going to benefit, they’re not going to be part of the change, they’re going to be resistant. They have to understand what’s in it for them. You have to start small, and be very strategic.” She advises that the team needs a clear vision, and importantly, she adds, “in any management of change, you must balance freedom and control.”

Her definition of success is also integrally connected to her sense of leadership.

“When you are an individual performer, success is all about yourself. When you’re a leader, success is all about your team.”

Last year, Kan recalls, she had a vision. She wanted to bring Micro Focus’s product together in an integrated way, and bring people process into the technology platform. Initially, there were a lot of doubts and skeptics amongst the stakeholders.

Kan began by talking to individual people, because, she says, “success is different for everyone”. For some it is money or a promotion, while for others it is about the type of work they enjoy or learning new skills. She wanted to get to the bottom of each person’s individual preferences.

This comes back to the lessons she has learned from her experiences with leadership – including the idea that you can learn more from bad bosses than good ones.

“A lot of the time in my career I was struggling, frustrated, wishing my leaders could listen to me and bring out the best in me. I applied this same principle to my team. I asked them: ‘in five years, what do you want to do? What are your strengths?’ Then I would give feedback on how I felt they could reach that goal. By better understanding each person’s strengths, weaknesses, and goals, I was able to create a lot of synergy.”

This was especially important when news of the HPE-Micro Focus merger broke last year. During this period of change, Kan asked her team to achieve what she calls “an almost impossible goal” – building a sophisticated end-to-end platform while in the midst of a transition with a lot of uncertainty. Kan recalls: “I said, be focused – everyone else might not be focused, but we’re going to do the most advanced stuff. If you decide to leave, you’ll take these extra skills with you, and if you stay, you’ll be recognised as a frontrunner.”

The team bought into this message – and it worked. “Everyone played a role, and played to their strengths, and created something impossible – the End2End DevOps Model Office”. The new platform was shown to the CEO and presented at their company-wide ‘all-hands’ meeting.

WHAT’S NEXT?

For someone interested in constant challenges and exploring the next thing, Kan is the right person to ask about what is hot now and coming next in DevOps.

Right now, she elaborates, containerisation and Micro Services are improving development agility, deployment flexibility and precise scalability, making work quicker, better, and cheaper. Kan also points to collaboration through ChatOps, which is helping to reduce meantime restore services in production and can help to provide accurate insights immediately. Its ability to resolve issues quickly and transparently leads to increased trust between teams.

So what’s around the corner? We asked Kan to give us a hint about what’s next.

App Security in DevOps

“Software is ubiquitous today. It’s in the phones we carry, It’s in the cars we drive,  It’s in the planes we board, it’s in pretty much everything! Today’s greatest risk is apps that run your business. It is the weakest link. 75% of attacks are at the application layer; network-based security solutions are ineffective against this threat. With an alarming growth rate in breaches through web apps, enterprises are looking for how to effectively integrate their application security into their DevOps continuous delivery strategy.”

DevOps in the cloud

“With more enterprises moving their workload into the cloud and going through internal DevOps transformation, customers are becoming interested in cloud-based DevOps. In other words, you can plan in the cloud, develop in the cloud, integrate in the cloud, deploy in the cloud, test in the cloud, operate in the cloud, and monitor in the cloud.”

IoT and DevOps

“We need to understand how IoT relates to DevOps – if you can’t do DevOps, it will be really hard to move to future IoT. IoT success requires a DevOps mindset. The same DevOps principles and concepts apply to IoT: from test and deployment automation, service virtualisation and network virtualisation, to monitoring, security, small batch and microservice deployment. I believe if you want to do IoT, you must do DevOps well first.”

WOMEN IN TECH

For a former fashion model turned Chief Technologist, the question of gender parity is most likely a common one. Kan acknowledges that “the challenges will always be there, because IT is a very male-dominated industry.” Many women in IT, she says, have shared their experience that, “as a man, you’re assumed to be competent unless proven otherwise, whereas as a woman you’re presumed to be incompetent unless proven otherwise.” She believes a positive support system is vital for women in IT to survive and excel.

Kan adds that a lack of role models contributes to issues with gender equality in technology. “If they can see it, they can be it – as an organisation, we need to have a more supportive system to promote women, so people can look up to her, and think ‘I might be able to do it too.’ It creates motivation for younger female engineers.”

As does much of Kan’s business philosophy, questions of gender equality return to her sense of inclusive, people-centred leadership. Kan does a lot of coaching for women in IT, and says that she’s known as a “tough cookie” who is not afraid of debate and challenging assumption. She believes women in IT need to improve on their sense of competitiveness.

“Competitiveness is like a muscle; the more you practice, the stronger it becomes. But I also believe in balance – be thoughtful, collaborative and considerate as we always are, while being tough on important issues, be confrontational if needed, and be mentally and physically strong in front of criticism and challenges.”

 

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CTRLing the Shift That Happens Every Day

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CTRLing the Shift That Happens Every Day

When things shift, control over your response gives you the ability to navigate and make sense of the change… You don’t wear your parka in a heatwave and you don’t host a party on the arrival of bad news. Or maybe you do. Your response is up to you.

But some ways of responding to the type of day you’re having are better and more likely to be effective than others. This is what CTRL Shift provides—50 games to play at work that have been structured as ways of responding to different kinds of days. Each game gives you a way to control the shift that happens around you.

In this special excerpt, we’ll outline what shift is, what CTRL is, and give you games—ones that didn’t make it into the book and some that did—to respond productively to the kinds of days that can derail us all.

What is “shift”?

“Shift” is the unexpectedness of everything.

The flow of events in the networked world is continuous and volatile. There’s no script for it, or formula for dealing with it. The events that affected us yesterday are different from those that affect us today. Every moment is a new moment. We can know shift is happening, yet how it happens is very often a surprise, so we must be Agile.

Shift is a way of life.

The evolving environment in which we live and work demands that we evolve with it, or risk being made obsolete by it. This statement has always been true. It has never been more dramatic than it is today; if for no other reason than today it’s about us.

Shift is a thrill ride.

Remember when we were children, and almost every brand-new experience was thrilling just because it was brand-new? Our instinct was to enjoy these experiences and find new ways to play within them. They were markers of our growth. The wild rides we’re on today are also markers of our growth, yet we seem to have forgotten how to find the simple joy in them and, sadder still, how to learn by playing.

What is “CTRL”?

CTRL is a response to change.

Most days are rife with both pitfalls and opportunities. Some people are skilled at seeing pitfalls far enough in advance to avoid them (no one avoids them all). Some people are skilled at seeing opportunities early enough to take advantage of them (no one sees them all).

CTRL is perspective.

Perspective is vital to controlling shift. The view out your window might be the same as it was yesterday, but the way you respond to it today doesn’t have to be. All changes reveal opportunity that was not present before the change transpired. So when the shift hits the fan, let your new situation unveil the opportunities you couldn’t see before.

CTRL is presence.

Don’t give your attention to what you think should happen. Give it to what is happening.

Play It Up

Perhaps today is a ****ing day. Or maybe it’s a ****ing day. Either way, here’s a great game (that didn’t make the book) to practice controlling shift…

“No, You Didn’t!”

Have two volunteers come up to the front of the room. One person will play themselves (the “Presenter”), and the other will play a Contrary Client. The Presenter is instructed to take a strong position about their presentation, and deliver information with confidence, no matter what.

As the Presenter is giving their presentation, the Contrary Client will occasionally say “No, you didn’t!” (Or “No, you won’t!” “No, you don’t!” “No, you can’t!”). This Contrary Client needs to ‘read the room’ to feel when it is appropriate to call for a change.

When the Client protests, the Presenter needs to immediately alter course with whatever comes to mind, with the goal of justifying the revision in a way that maintains the endgame (supports the core pitch) and preserves their expertise. They may do this by providing concrete examples, more detail, alternative approaches, etc.

For example, let’s say the Presenter is a product developer and the Client is a major retailer…

Presenter: We’ve devised a really great way to increase foot traffic to your stores by doing an in-store promotion. This promotion is designed to educate your customers on our new product line and in the process, we will position you as the go-to retailer for this product trend.

Client: No, you won’t…

Presenter: You’re right to have reservations about our prospects for positioning you as the leader in this area. We will need to do test marketing in select stores in order to accurately predict wide-scale consumer response, but we’re confident we can execute these tests with limited stresses to employee resources.

Client: No, you can’t…

Presenter: It’s true that we won’t be able to fully educate and train your employees on the full breadth of the product’s functionality and benefits so we will switch our focus from sales staff training to a “what’s in it for the consumer” approach, with promotional displays that feature product information with free samples and exclusive offers.

The benefits of “No, You Didn’t!” are in illustrating (or practicing the illustration of) confidence — of being the expert, thinking creatively, making quick decisions (and in this context, quickly accepting the ideas that come to mind), playing with the concept that ‘mistakes are gifts’, and improving efficiency in reading an audience.

Let the interaction between the Presenter and the Client go for at least three or four exchanges, and then repeat the exercise with a second set of volunteers. You can keep the same scenario to see how different Presenters and Clients will progress and block the momentum in new ways, play with variations on the scenario or change it altogether, switch up participant roles, and so on.

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