There are two main methodologies to choose from when deciding how to manage a project – Traditional (or waterfall) Project Management, and Agile Project Management.
What Is Traditional Project Management?
Sometimes referred to as the waterfall methodology, traditional project management assumes that within a phase of a project, processes required to execute the project follow a roughly linear sequence:
- Monitoring and Controlling
It is assumed that project requirements are largely defined up-front with the customer. Following planning and budgeting, the project is executed and then the customer is presented with the product for validation and feedback. There may be a significant focus on processes and tools and up-front formal documentation. Changes to specifications will typically go through a change management process, and must be formally signed off.
An organisation must decide if it wants additional iterative steps in the project execution cycle – since obviously interacting with the customer only at requirements gathering and “finished product” stages of the project would be an approach with a high failure rate.
A traditionally run project may last from a few months to multiple years. If a project is divided into phases, each phase can be treated as a mini-project within itself, and will generally follow the same project processes.
A traditional project management approach may be the requirement of the commissioning organisation (for example, large corporations or government departments). Organisations often define the precise project management processes that must be followed, and which project gates, project meetings and document templates must be used during the project.
Management of a set of related projects is referred to as Programme Management.
What Certifications are Relevant for Traditional Project Managers?
Typically, project managers who are trained in the traditional project management methodologies will be certified by either the Project Management Institute (PMI), with a PMP certification, or by AXELOS Limited’s Prince2 certification. Both organisations have subsequently developed agile extensions to their frameworks, and also support rolling-wave planning.
What Is Agile Project Management?
In the 1990s, software developers began to experiment with lightweight alternatives to the waterfall project management methodology – which was deemed as over-planning, over-regulated and micro-managing in style. These frameworks included Scrum, Extreme Programming and Feature-Driven development.
The Agile Manifesto
In 2001, 17 software developers met in Snowbird, Utah, USA and created The Agile Manifesto. The manifesto holds valid to this day, and states that they put greater value on:
|Individuals and interactions||over processes and tools|
|Working software||over comprehensive documentation|
|Customer collaboration||over contract negotiation|
|Responding to change||over following a plan|
Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto
The Agile Manifesto was built upon 12 principles – these forming the basis for Agile Software Development:
- Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
- Welcome changing requirements, even in late development.
- Deliver working software frequently (weeks rather than months)
- Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
- Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
- Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
- Working software is the primary measure of progress
- Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
- Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
- Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
- Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly
What Is Agile Management?
Agile Management is the application of the Principles of Agile Software Development to the field of management, and in particular project management – “Agile Project Management”.
“Agile Project Management” as a methodology, requires different roles than traditional project management. The Project Manager role itself is often replaced by the combination of a Product Owner and Scrum Master – in less complex projects. In complex organisations and projects, a Project Manager role may be required to coordinate work across departments – for example with IT Infrastructure, Legal, Procurement, Sales and Marketing.
Typically, agile project management will put less focus on early-stage detailed planning (since the number of unknowns in the early stage of a project means that a large investment here rarely pays off), and will also combine the building and testing phases during project execution. Product development iteration cycles are typically set at between 2 and 4 week cycles in the world of agile development. Parallel building and testing thus ensures that each development iteration releases a validated product that the team (including the Product Owner and stakeholders) can experience and give feedback on.
There are numerous frameworks that have been developed to support agile software development. Two of the most popular frameworks are Scrum and Kanban.
What Is Scrum?
In short, the Scrum methodology uses short and fixed duration product development cycles (typically 2-4 weeks), called sprints. The team members must decide up-front which product features they can incorporate within the sprint, using their combined experience and estimation techniques (which improve as they gain experience). Key roles include the Product Owner (typically a business role), who owns the product backlog and prioritises new work, and the Scrum Master. The Scrum Master works with the development team to remove impediments that they face, and also with the Product Owner to maintain the product backlog and move features into the current sprint backlog.
15 minute daily stand-up meetings, often led by the Scrum Master, allow the development team to communicate progress and impediments with the Scrum Master and each other. At the end of the sprint, a sprint review meeting is conducted to demonstrate the working software and discuss what was delivered (and not), A sprint retrospective meeting is held to discuss what went well and what didn’t during the sprint, to allow for self-learning and continuous improvement.
What Is Kanban?
The Kanban methodology revolved around a Kanban board which is used to display the status of features in the product backlog. The Kanban board could be either a physical board (preferred) or an electronic equivalent. Typically, features are written onto sticky notes and placed in one of several status columns on the Kanban board – for example: “backlog”, “in progress”, “in test”, “done” and “blocked”. The purpose of the visual board is to try to balance capacity (people) with demands (features queued for development) – thus managing and limiting the work in progress (WIP). The technique originates in Lean Manufacturing, itself a derivative of the Toyota Production System.
Both Scrum and Kanban methods allow for the collection and calculation of a number of metrics that will help product owners and project managers with planning. Typically, team velocity can be extrapolated to give an indicator of the rate of implementation of new features.
How Do I Scale An Agile Approach?
In complex development projects and organisations, delivery of a product may require using people from multiple teams across the organisation at different times in the project. In this instance, it may not be feasible for team members to be 100% allocated to the project team at all times. In addition, the project may require multiple teams to deliver components in a coordinated manner – while respecting a larger work prioritisation backlog within the organisation. Release cycles must be coordinated across potentially dozens of teams and components.
Such complexity will not be solved with simple scrum-based setups alone.
It can be a good idea to review if you need to introduce a scaled agile framework within your organisation, such as LeSS or SAFe.
The SAFe agile framework has become extremely popular in large organisations globally. By pulling together expertise from specialists such as Don Reinertsen, the SAFe framework has processes and methodologies to solve many of the issues that are encountered within an agile transformation.
In addition, its certification programme is a great way to educate staff and ensure buy in – from executive level through to programme managers (“Release Train Engineers”), architects, scrum masters and developers.
How Can Peak Cadence Assist With Project Management?
Peak Cadence has consultants with extensive experience running projects with both traditional and agile project management methodologies. Our consultants can bring expertise that we’ve used in large international organisations in the banking sector, as well as tech scale-ups, incubators and small start-ups.
If your project is in need of assistance with project management, please do not hesitate to contact Dan Hill to discuss how Peak Cadence can help you.