Project management methodology is not of prime importance. What do you actually need to successfully finish your project? – Blog Solwit

Project management methodology is not of prime importance. What do you actually need to successfully finish your project?

Written by: Jacek Zgutczyński (IT project manager & delivery manager)

Properly managed projects have a better chance to be successfully completed. In this article, you will find which project management methodologies are the most popular. Is there the only one correct way to run a project? How does it happen that with any methodology, and its advantages and disadvantages, at Solwit we effectively bring projects to an end and complete our contracts to the satisfaction of our clients.

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As the business reality has changed, most commercial activities are now delivered as projects. This approach makes multiple tasks easier to manage, and the project portfolio itself is more transparent. The fact of framing a set of tasks as a project makes it easier to define the goal, and then to check if the expenditures commensurate with the goal.

Another thing is that the “projects” are just more catchy today and it is easier to attract talents to “manage projects” than managers to “coordinate”. This results in the new market being born: a market that provides both a product and a solution to any problems: “a project management methodology”. For nearly ten years, phrases such as: project methodologies, IT project management, agile project management methodologies, PMI, Scrum, Kanban, Kaizen, Six Sigma, ITIL, SAFe and Prince2 could be heard everywhere. Companies compete in implementing new ways to run projects effectively. It is quite common that a large company or corporation implements a new methodology, having not completed a  previously started implementation.

Despite the various effects of such implementations, the interest is still there, because the requirements defined in job offers, clearly refer to the knowledge of a particular project management methodology. Implementation of methodologies, in general, is very expensive and, most likely, the assessment of the profitability and effectiveness of it is then avoided. Nevertheless, if you want to appear in the IT market or develop your career in this area, then you have to “be into projects”.

The thing is that certificates and fluent knowledge of the methodologies may not help to successfully complete the project.

The most popular project management methodologies

Nowadays two directions of project management are developing. Waterfall and Agile. Both approaches have their supporters and opponents. It is true that both have advantages and disadvantages. It is not true that some are better and some are worse. Any method is better than no method, and the selection of one should be oriented on the specificity of the task. Following I will present the most popular and used approaches.

Waterfall methodology

The main representative of this approach is PRINCE2. Mistakenly considered as overloaded with documentation and heavy. There are also agile variants on the market today. I will focus on the version of PRINCE2, which is mainly used in public administration – the waterfall version. The model is based on the fact that we know what we want to produce at the very beginning and we are able to determine the budget of such a project.

There are no time limits for stages and no limits (or best practices) for team sizes. The methodology is composed of topics and processes, and everything rests on the foundations of the principles that are the core of the methodology. The framework includes the definition of the business case (for project validation), and supports the organization of the project by defining roles and responsibilities. It shows how to manage risk, quality, progress and change and supports planning. PRINCE2 is perfect both for corporate purposes, where a large back-up of documents is required, and for small teams, where the need for documentation is reduced and the group of people is smaller.

This methodology will fail if you ignore the principles. This is the most common reason for using the so-called PINO (PRINCE in Name Only). The key is:

  • maintaining the continuous business case and the ability to cancel a project when it no longer exists,
  • defining roles and responsibilities,
  • focus on products,
  • basing of experience,
  • management with tolerance,
  • stage management,
  • and most important: adjusting to projects set in a specific environment – using those elements of the methodology that are actually crucial for the project.

As you see, these principles are practically the same as in the Agile methodologies, which will be discussed later. PRINCE provides a complex framework for almost all aspects of a project and provides complete know-how on how to run projects and what to be aware of. New guides and textbooks include real case studies, which help to understand the elements of the methodology.

PRINCE2 provides a certification program. The first level can be obtained for an indefinite period of time. The practitioner diploma is valid for 5 years. PRINCE is used in IT projects as well as in construction, event and other projects. Created for the British government, it is great for public administration, but also in general business.

PMI, PMBoK, IPMA

The PMI is actually not a methodology. PMI stands for Project Management Institute – which is an organization/ association. The work of this organization has resulted in new versions of the Project Management Book of Knowledge(PMBoK) – a very extensive and complex collection of practices and tools divided into 5 groups of processes and 10 areas of knowledge. In this book, you will find everything you need to run your project.

At PMI they quickly realized that the waterfall methodologies were left behind the agile ones (at least if talking about the trends), therefore new versions of PMBoK were provided. Each one was meant to be more and more agile so in result, the recent PMBoK represents the agile methodology.

Another organization is the International Project Management Association. The IPMA approach is less technical and more based on soft skills and the human aspect of projects. IPMA is also called “a methodology”, while it is based on a number of other methodologies.

Both organizations provide own certification systems, and the higher we are in certification, the more difficult, and also more expensive the next exams are.

PMBoK is not to be defined as a specific methodology. This handbook is a collection of good practices, methods, techniques that are sometimes necessary, and sometimes just good to know and apply.

SCRUM

The name origins from a formation of players used by American football teams. The whole methodology, pure agility, was meant to give a “kick” to projects, reduce documentation and manage business changes so that the delivered products would be useful in the current business situation.

The rules are simple:

  • teams of up to 10 people,
  • sprints lasting no more than 4 weeks,
  • systematic sprint reviews,
  • project control through daily meetings,
  • product owner as the one who manages the priorities,
  • scrum master as the one who watches the correct application of the methodology
  • easily made changes to the project.

All this is accompanied by retrospectives that are to eliminate bottlenecks and be a kind of “lesson learned”.

In theory, it looks good and makes perfect sense. In practice (as in the previous methodologies) it varies. It’s also hard to define SCRUM as a project management methodology. It is more of a production methodology that often helps to control workers/creators. It introduces rigid rules and events that keep teams self-conscious and disciplined. Certainly, in agile methodologies, it is not easy to control the budget, so if both parties do not agree to certain agility and trust, SCRUM often becomes a waterfall, with only sprints and a few other agile elements remaining. 

Agile methodologies, even if we talk only about SCRUM, are suitable not only for IT. They can be used in other projects as long as they are relatively small. If we want to manage large projects, or if we think of maintenance as a project, agile methodologies can turn out to be deadly.

The market does not like the void and a solution has also been found. These are corporate methodologies, such as SaFe, that accumulate various agile processes and, as a consequence, we return to rather ponderous processes that slow down the work.

Kanban boards in software development

The opportunity to “see” your project is priceless. The Kanban methodology, which is based on daily iterations and continuous delivery, “introduced” a tool that was adapted to all methodologies, not only in SCRUM, but also PRINCE, etc. The kanban table is a collection of columns, which reflect the stages of the manufacturing process along which the tasks are shifted. Thanks to this, it is easy to see what has not been started yet, what we are currently working on, what is in the testing stage and what is ready (it’s an example of column configuration). Kanban itself can be great in maintenance projects, where we do not produce a specific product, but we work on incidents and changes and we must be able to handle these issues efficiently.

Daily meetings, looking at the boards and systematic analysis of what there is, allow avoiding surprises when we do not know what is happening in the project and something just “explodes”. Kanban, like SCRUM, helps in this systematic approach in Agile projects. However, the kanban board will show the current stage of the project. Therefore, it is not a Gantt tool where we can see the entire project. It is good to keep that in mind.

Project plan – good practices

The selection of the right methodology or practices is important because it defines the framework of the entire project and determines the course of action. However, a good project plan is the best way to minimize the risk of failure or downtime. Depending on how the project is conducted, we either plan work for the next sprints or plan the entire project and only focus more on the detail of the next stage. Although the effect is similar, as a result, we can see the overall outline. The planning of the project itself is a moment when we shouldn’t rush. 

The common trap that project managers fall into is planning tasks that cannot be started. I call it planning fiction. What stops a task from being started? Some examples: we do not have the right competences in the team, maybe we do not know what to do, maybe there are no specified requirements, maybe there are no mock-ups, or maybe UX is still refining the details. We are talking about the so-called “definition of ready” –  describing the moment when a given task is ready to start. This means having everything needed to start the task and finish it.

Of course, in a project, it never happens that all planned tasks have the “ready” status, but it is crucial not to include such a task in the next iteration or stage if there is no chance it will be “ready” no later than in the first half of the time reserved for a stage or sprint. This approach to planning, to some extent, may save us from the inability to implement the project plan due to the blocked tasks. 

Methodologies and systematicity in the project

It’s not a secret that regularity pays off. If you look at any process of any project management methodology, you will easily see that they are structured in such a way that requires systematicity. The inspection plan in PRINCE, or the daily in SCRUM, is nothing more than a systematic control and immediate identification of derogation from the project plan.

Ignoring the basic elements of the process of a project management methodology is the common cause of failure of methodology implementations in organizations. Although one can argue about the details of the project approach proposal: whether agile or classic methodologies are better, it must be acknowledged that both approaches work if they are applied systematically.

Summary

Going back to the question I asked at the beginning: how does it happen that using any methodology, with its pros and cons, we bring projects to an effective end and close contracts with full satisfaction of the clients? The answer is simple: the client becomes the equal member of our team and participates in all events, checkpoints, and review meetings. That is how it is easy to identify all early warnings and work on any kind of discrepancies in quality, budget, and the contracted software.

They say the project plan gets invalid at the moment of signing. That is why, the systematic monitoring of all the project parameters and immediate reaction to discrepancies by efficient decision-making, as well as acting in accordance with the basic principles of the given methodology, will bring you closer to success faster than you think. Therefore, talking about which methodology is better is pointless. As a project manager, you have to choose the best methodology for a given project, and carry it out systematically. Keep in mind that the strength of the team is the people you manage and the customers for whom you create innovative products.

 

Jacek Zgutczyński, IT project and delivery manager at Solwit S.A. with 10 years of experience in implementing projects related to software development in banking, energetics, public administration and e-commerce.

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