Tailoring Project Methodologies For Productivity

Tools 700 x 400“Intelligence is based on how efficient a species became at doing the things they need to survive.” Charles Darwin

Organisations also need to survive, and in the constantly changing world of business that means being able to quickly adapt. Being productive at the same time takes organisations beyond just surviving, they thrive. Productive teams consistently do high quality work in the optimum amount of time. This minimises waste and has a positive impact on work life balance. Project management methodologies focus on enabling this in a repeatable way. There are a range of available approaches including Waterfall, Agile and Lean. Each of these is very different to the others; so which one is going to add the most value to your project team’s productivity and efficiency, and how do you choose?

How do you pick the right approach?

Like all management and business practices, there are fads which come and go. Some prove to be more effective than others and stay the distance, others fade into distant memory. All these fads have one thing in common – they promise success! Whether or not they end up being useful to an organisation will depend on:

  1. how well they are implemented,
  2. whether they are what that organisation really needed in the first place
  3. and whether they were put in place at the right time.


What Is A Project Management Methodology?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a Methodology as “a system of ways of doing, teaching, or studying something”.

Waterfall and Agile are two recent approaches to delivering outcomes, however projects have been delivered for millennia. Agile and Waterfall actually use ideas that have been used to deliver business change over decades.


Why Use a Methodology?

By grouping a set of procedures and tools into a methodology and basing that methodology on a guiding principle, project managers have been given a framework (tools and repeatable processes) to maximise their success. Research from the Association for Project Management and the Project Management Institute demonstrates year after year that methodologies not only support project delivery teams to be effective, but they dramatically reduce wasted money too.

PMI’s 2015 Pulse of the Profession® study: “the projects of high-performing organisations successfully meet goals two–and–a–half times more often, and these organisations waste 13 times less money than their low performing counterparts.”


What Are Waterfall & Agile Anyway?…

…The Carefully Planned Waterfall Approach

Waterfall uses a series of sequential phases to deliver outcomes. Each phase should be completed before the next one starts (although in practice it is common for phases to be overlapped / crunched to meet deadlines). It works on the premise that the full requirements are known up front, and that if any requirements change over time a change control process or phased delivery approach will be used.

Benefits of the Waterfall approach are that it pushes the team to fully understand their requirements and scope upfront. Outcomes are delivered when everything is complete and expected quality and benefits can be defined for the team to deliver. Status reporting shows what is being worked on, it’s current status and when will it be complete.

One disadvantage is that it can be rigid and too restrictive in environments where requirements may not be known up front or where needs may change mid cycle. Because testing doesn’t take place until the end of the project, meaning you won’t know if it actually works until late in the day.


The Flexible Agile Approach

Agile was developed by software engineers, possibly as an antidote to the rigidity of the Waterfall approach and enables rapid prototyping.

There are scenarios where requirements evolve quickly e.g., agile works well for games developers because they need to quickly and iteratively test they are making something fun, as well as something that works. Agile focuses on strong collaboration between cross functional teams. Instead of using a sequentially phased approach, it uses an “incremental, iterative one”.

Prince 2 was originally designed around the Waterfall approach however the Prince 2 Agile approach was launched in Q2 2015 with the goal of “making Agile more effective” and provides “further guidance on how to apply agile methods to the world’s most recognized project management method”.

Benefits are that incremental changes and adjustments can be quickly shown to the client, incorporating their feedback. The inherent flexibility can make it extremely difficult to forecast how long a project will take.


Back To Basics

If we take a step back from the different methodologies out there to think about what we are trying to achieve it comes down to some basic principles. Fundamentally we are trying to create an organisational culture that enables its people to effectively deliver its strategic objectives. And if we can use a repeatable process that speeds outputs up, all the better.

If that’s the case, why should you have to choose one methodology over another?


Finding Balance Between Too Much Order And Too Much Chaos

Organisations vary massively in terms of culture and mind-set. It’s important to understand that what works for one might not work for another. These are tools to give productivity a framework, and as with any job, it’s important to select the right tool for the job – or in this case, for the project, team and culture.

The skill of the project manager starts to shine when they are able to assess the industry/cultural environment they are working in, understand the different phases the project will go through and have an awareness of the skills and experience of the project delivery team.

That highly skilled project manager can then use that information to design a delivery approach that will work for that project, adapting, mixing and selecting the right tools for each stage of the project. This ability uses a wide range of leadership and project delivery skills. Flexibility is key.


Mix & Match…The Third Way?
A traditional Waterfall approach could be used early on. A full set of requirements is produced, giving the project scope and a clear timeline. Then Agile could be used during development phases to help maximise creativity. The team would be enabled to quickly deliver in increments, testing and getting feedback during the process.

Alternatively it may be that a full Waterfall approach is too heavy and bureaucratic, and you choose to use a lean streamlined approach. Whatever approach you design should be tailored for your environment and should focus on giving the customer what they want.

By swiftly reacting to a rapidly changing business environment, you are maximising the chances of success and providing that all important framework for productivity.

Key points:

  • A methodology is a framework designed to increase productivity – reliably.
  • Methodologies have to be committed to at all levels to be used to their maximum potential.
  • There is not a one size fits all solution.
  • Methodologies must be adapted to fit the project, team and culture.
  • Everyone in the core and wider team must fully understand the approach being used.
  • Resistance to this mixed approach is likely, but if executed well, organisational performance can be enhanced by having the confidence that you are using the most effective approach, at the right time, for the right project and the right team. After all, project managers excel at leading things that have never been done before.


What are your experiences of tailoring your project delivery approach? What worked and what didn’t? What advice do you have for others considering tailoring and mixing methodologies?


Recommended reads:

  • Raconteur article on methodology flexibility.
  • The Association of Project Management’s view on mixing methodologies.
  • Implementing Mixed Methodologies Whitepaper


About the author: Grace Lawless is a Process improvement specialist who believes it is possible to eliminate waste caused by poor project performance; dramatically increasing success and significantly improving effectiveness! After spending nearly two decades leading projects and programmes for companies including American Express, Aviva and General Electric, Grace now helps her clients tap into those best practices to successfully deliver, consistently.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s