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What is Project Management?

Project Management, as both a profession and specialised discipline, is relatively young.

From the dawn of time, humans have been pretty good at setting objectives and organising people, skills, tools, methods, and processes in a way that made the achievement of those goals more likely than not.

From the tribal hunt to building pyramids, cathedrals, and cities.

Yet, it is only around the 1950’s that Project Management emerged as a formal set of processes that became the standard for how people and companies approached the planning, implementation, and performance management of their projects.

Article Contents

  • Project Management Definition
    • What is a project?
  • Project Management Methodologies
    • The origin of traditional project management methodologies
    • The evolution of project management methodologies
    • Project Management as a discipline
    • Project Management as a profession
  • The 9 Most Popular Project Management Methodologies
    • Waterfall Project Management
    • Agile
    • Scrum
    • Kanban
    • Lean Project Management
    • PRINCE2
    • PRiSM
    • Six Sigma
    • PMI / PMBOK
  • Summary of Project Management Methodologies

Project Management Definition

Project Management is defined as ‘the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills, and experience to achieve the project objectives’ by the Association for Project Management (APM).h

The Project Management Institute (PMI) define Project Management as ‘the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.’

There are a number of other definitions from project management training specialists to professional industry bodies, which pretty much express the same sentiment.

All emphasise the application of processes and resources to deliver a project within a specified time frame.

It’s this intense focus on process over people, hierarchy over collaboration that has given rise to a host of new project management methodologies over the past 20 years.

We’ll take a look at some of those project management methodologies in this article, but first, let’s start with what a project is.

What is a Project?

A project is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.’

The Association for Project Management (APM) expands on this and defines a project as “a unique, transient endeavour, undertaken to achieve planned objectives, which could be defined in terms of outputs, outcomes or benefits. 

A project is usually deemed to be a success if it achieves the objectives according to their acceptance criteria, within an agreed timescale and budget.”

In short, a project could be anything from building a website to building a house.

In most projects, there is an element of building, developing, or improving but that isn’t always the case nor is it a rule

For example: Research with the aim of achieving a specific objective or proving a hypothesis could accurately be described as a ‘research project’.

In its simplest form, a project can be thought of as a framework that is used to describe, document, action, and manage everything that is necessary to achieve an objective.

Once you have the idea, vision, or objective in mind, the focus shifts to making that vision a reality. Bringing that idea to life. Taking the specific steps necessary to achieve your objective.

That’s where planning, organising, co-ordinating, and managing a project come into play. So how does that work?

Project Management Methodologies

Project Management methodologies have been shaped by a myriad of factors over the past few thousand years, but for the purposes of understanding the present, it’s worth looking back to the rise of the Industrial Revolution, roughly 150 years ago.


The Origin of Traditional Project Management Methodologies

Mainstream or Traditional Project Management is a methodology governed by the thinking of its time, the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.

A time when people were removed from traditional roles as farmhands, soldiers, craftsmen, etc. and placed into factories during the rise of the Industrial Revolution.

Where people previously behaved in fairly collaborative and creative ways to solve a variety of problems, such as managing livestock, they were now instructed to perform simple, mechanical, and repeatable tasks in a very specific way.

Senior Management would dictate the best way for labourers to perform a task, and labourers would simply do as they had been told.

The thinking of that time was that an individual whose sole task was to repeat simple and mechanical tasks, was cheap to acquire, easy to train, and easily replaceable.

A manager was appointed as a supervisor in a narrow spectrum of the operation, and to ensure that people were productive despite the tedious and repetitive nature of their work.

In this way, success was guaranteed if the individuals within the organisation were assembled, and functioned, in much the same way as cogs and parts in a machine.

Traditional Project Management, by definition and application, can look like a production line that is mechanical, sequential, and focused on moving from point A to point Z in a prescribed manner, within a prescribed timeline.

For this reason, traditional Project Management is often described as ‘Waterfall-style Project Management’. A cascading approach to managing tasks, resources, risk, and objectives.

The Evolution of Project Management Methodologies

In an environment where simple, mechanical, and repeatable tasks form the bulk of a project’s components, for example: transporting bales of hay across farmlands, the traditional project management approach works a treat.

It’s predictable and regardless of the number of moving parts, it’s fairly easy to forecast time, resources, and project scope with precision and accuracy.

It also sets up well for automation as and when technological advances make that transition inevitable.

However, with the introduction of new technology, a greater number of knowledge workers, and more complicated variables, project management as a discipline needed to evolve in order to;

  1. harness new opportunities,
  2. manage risk from new threats, and
  3. deliver results in alignment with the growing demand for productivity and profitability.

Project Management as a Discipline

Each generation has built on the knowledge and expertise of the generation that precedes it, and over the past thousand years, we’ve documented that knowledge and expanded on the lessons to create a curriculum that informs, educates, and empowers newcomers to the field and/or industry.

Universities and Colleges combined with entities like the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the Association for Project Management (APM) produce courses and certifications that validate the learning and project-specific expertise of an individual within a Project Management context.

There are 5 groups of Processes in Traditional Project Management

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Executing
  4. Monitoring and Controlling
  5. Closing

Project Management as a discipline attempts to shape goals, resources, and efforts for each project in ten (10) broad areas of thinking:

  1. Project Integration
  2. Project Scope
  3. Project Forecast – Time
  4. Project Estimation – Cost
  5. Project Outcome – Quality
  6. Project Resources – Procurement
  7. Project Capability – Human Resources
  8. Project Communications
  9. Project Risk Management
  10. Project Stakeholder Management

View Project Management Courses if you’re interested in Project Management Career options.

Project Management as a Profession

Project Management was an informal practice, for example: a designer would do the work and determine how it would be done, but by the mid-20th Century, Project Management began to emerge as a discipline and profession in its own right.

Enter the Project Management Professional.

People whose sole focus lies in managing a project, from start to finish, by employing Project Management tools, processes, and methodologies to co-ordinate the tasks and optimise the resources of a project team in alignment with project stakeholders and organisational requirements.

Complicated? Yes, but still relatively predictable.

If you need to build a bridge, and you have a team of civil engineers working with a construction company that’s successfully built bridges in the past, there is a fairly good chance of;

  • defining the scope of the project,
  • mapping out the moving parts,
  • predicting with accuracy how long it will take,
  • predicting with accuracy how much it will cost,
  • knowing what resources are required, and at what time(s) you will need them

As the majority of variables are static, for example: regulatory framework, building materials, contractor availability, etc. the Project Manager can build fairly reliable contingency plans to deal with risk and/or unseen circumstances.

In the event of X, do Y.

Waterfall Project Management is, traditionally, the preferred approach for this kind of project. It is, however, an entirely different ball game when ‘complexity’ and ‘adaptive environments’ enter the equation.

It’s at this point, complexity, that Traditional Project Management becomes hyper-stressful with all the disaster stories documented in media outlets around the world.

In the rapidly evolving Information Age, traditional project management processes and practices appear to impede, rather than foster, progress.

Critics of the traditional approach believe that people, creative collaboration, continuous improvement through continuous learning, and a desire to build the most valuable product/service are conspicuously absent from the traditional mindset.

Whilst valuable, many speculate that Waterfall may not be the best approach for the 21st Century.

In response to this phenomena, alternative Project Management Methodologies such as Agile are being rapidly adopted and implemented in organisations around the world, from progressive Tech companies like Spotify and Netflix to aeronautical engineering giants like SAAB.

The 9 Most Popular Project Management Methodologies

Waterfall Project Management

As discussed above, Waterfall Project Management is a linear and sequential style of project management that cascades from one task to another, ideally in alignment with predetermined timelines and availability of resources.

Best for simple, straightforward applications where all variables are known and agreed upfront. Also works reasonably well in complicated applications such as construction and event management.

Tasks are grouped by type of activity, and each project generally follows 5 phases; 

  • Requirements: Gather information and produce documentation
  • Design: Based on requirements, design the appropriate and/or best solution
  • Build: Make the product, service, or required widget
  • Test: Once you’ve built the product, service or widget, you subject to testing.
  • Production: If it passes the testing phase, it goes into production and launch phase
  • Support: Project team shift to supporting the product/service in after sales support

 View Project Management Courses for more information on training options. 

Agile

The Agile Manifesto was written in February 2001, at Snowbird, Utah by 17 independent-minded and, in our opinion, brilliant software engineers.

In many ways, Agile is the antithesis of Waterfall Project Management and holds people, collaboration, creativity, and delighting customers through the continuous production of valuable software (products) as its highest values.

In contrast to the processes, resources, and logistical elements prized by traditional project management methodologies, an Agile mindset is built on the foundation of 4 primary values;

  • Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
  • Working software over Comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over Contract Negotiation
  • Responding to change over Following a plan

and reinforced by 12 Principles

  • Customer satisfaction through early and continuous software delivery
  • Accommodate changing requirements throughout the development process
  • Frequent delivery of working software
  • Collaboration between the business stakeholders and developers throughout the project
  • Support, trust, and motivate the people involved
  • Enable face-to-face interactions
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress
  • Agile processes to support a consistent development pace
  • Attention to technical detail and design enhances agility 
  • Simplicity
  • Self-organizing teams encourage great architectures, requirements, and designs
  • Regular reflections on how to become more effective

Whilst there are a number of methodologies, or approaches, which fall under the Agile umbrella, the most commonly used is the Scrum Framework.

It is also the most battle-hardened, having been forged in the crucibles of the most intense engineering and development environments on earth, and perfected through continuous learning, iteration, and incremental improvement since 1995.

For an in-depth insight into the Agile framework, visit our Agile section.

Scrum

Scrum provides a robust framework within which the Scrum Values, Agile Values and Principles thrive.

Co-created by Dr. Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, Scrum is built on Empirical Process Control theory which prizes (1) Transparency, (2) Inspection, and (3) Adaption.

Scrum Team

  • Scrum Master
  • Scrum Product Owner
  • Scrum Development Team

Scrum Events

  • Sprint Planning
  • Sprint
  • Daily Scrum
  • Sprint Review
  • Sprint Retrospective

Scrum Artifacts

  • Product Backlog
  • Sprint Backlog
  • Increment

The Scrum Framework is deliberately incomplete, in that it doesn’t contain dogma or step-by-step instructions from point A to Z. It has been designed this way to foster creativity, collaboration, and innovation in Scrum Teams.

Scrum is built on the following 5 values;

  • Commitment
  • Focus
  • Openness
  • Respect
  • Courage

Visit our Scrum Section for comprehensive insights into the Scrum Framework, visit our Scrum Certification page for insight into certification paths in the Scrum environment, and visit our Agile Scrum Training section for Scrum Certified Courses available from Agile Centre.

Kanban

The KANBAN method is a methodology that enables design, management, and improvement of flow systems for knowledge work.

The method derives its name from KANBAN, the visual signalling mechanisms that demonstrate work in progress for intangible work on products and services.

The method is popular because it allows organisations to visualise their existing workflow and drive innovation, improvement, and change from that point.

As with Agile and Scrum, KANBAN practitioners and teams embrace values over processes;

  • Transparency
  • Balance
  • Collaboration
  • Customer Focus
  • Flow
  • Leadership
  • Understanding
  • Agreement
  • Respect

Reinforced by the following 3 Change Management Principles

  • Start with what you do now
  • Agree to pursue improvement through evolutionary change
  • Encourage acts of leadership at every level

For more insight, visit The Kanban Method

Lean Project Management

Lean Project Management has its early roots in the period of reconstruction and renewal that followed the Second Great War in 1946.

Its purpose shaped by an urgent need to optimise productivity and yield from the scarce resources available at the time. 

Over the next 30 years, Lean Project Management emerged as a business philosophy rather than simply a tool set or methodology with Taicchi Ohno widely considered to be the father of Toyota Production Systems (TPS) and Lean Project Management

Lean Project Management aims to reduce waste in an organisation by considering all the processes and optimising for continuous improvement. 
Efficiency and Effectiveness being the twin goals of this approach. 

The thinking governing this strategic approach is built on the belief that continuous process improvement leads, inevitably, to the highest value product and/or service achievable.

This philosophy is built on the foundation of 5 key Lean management principles 

  • Value
  • Value Streams
  • Flow
  • Pull
  • Perfection

For a more comprehensive overview of Lean, read our Lean Project Management article.

Prince2 Project Management

PRojects INControlled Environments or PRINCE2 is a precise project management methodology based on consistent processes, controlled stages, resource allocation, frequent reviews, and strict alignment with senior management business objectives.

Critics of the PRINCE2 project management methodology argue that it mirrors the industrial age style of project management, in that it separates the decision makers from the workers.

The board or senior management team oversees the project whilst the project team do the work, as determined by the board.

They further argue that changes to a project environment take a significant amount of time and effort for teams to adapt/respond to as the process is cumbersome and extensive amounts of documentation must be produced before permission is granted to deviate from the plan.

Supporters of PRINCE2 argue that some of the largest projects in the UK have consistently been delivered through the application of PRINCE2 and believe it is a tried and tested methodology that offers mitigation of certain risks, allows corporate planning, and facilitates performance appraisals through its extensive documentation and process management requirements.

PRiSM

PRojects integrating Sustainable Methods or PRiSM is a project management methodology that values socially responsible development governed by 6 principles of Sustainable Change Delivery.

Informally known as ‘eco-friendly’ or Green Project Management, PRiSM is derived from the UN Global Compact’s Ten Principles, Earth Charter, and ISO26000 Guidance on Corporate Social Responsibility.

The 6 Principles of Sustainable Change Delivery are;

  • Commitment and Accountability
  • Ethics and Decision Making
  • Integrated and Transparent
  • Principle and Values Based
  • Social and Ecological Equity
  • Economic Prosperity

Visit https://greenprojectmanagement.org/prism-methodology to find out more about PRiSM

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a project management methodology first introduced by William B Smith Jnr at Motorola back in 1986.

Defined as ‘a set of management techniques intended to improve business processes by greatly reducing the probability that an error or defect will occur’, Six Sigma made such an impact on business leaders that Jack Welch made Six Sigma a central component of business strategy at General Electric in 1995.

In essence, Six Sigma is designed to be a quality-assurance project management methodology that is driven by data.

Six Sigma employs quality management processes that are data driven and empirical, implemented and managed by Six Sigma specialist project managers known as Green Belts and Black Belts, supervised by Master Black Belt designated project leaders. There are 2 major Six Sigma paths;

  • DMAIC which focuses on business process improvements
    1. Define the problem and the Project Goals
    2. Measure, in detail, the various aspects of the current process
    3. Analyse data to, amongst other things, find the root defects in a process
    4. Improve the process
    5. Control how the process is done in the future
  • DMADV which focuses on product and service development, as well as new process creation
    1. Define the project goals
    2. Measure critical components of the process and product capabilities
    3. Analyse the data and develop various designs for the process, eventually picking the best one
    4. Design and test details of the process
    5. Verify the design by running simulations and a pilot program, and then handing the process over to the client.

PMI / PMBOK

PMBOK® is not technically a Project Management Methodology, it is instead the PMI (Project Management Institute) global standard that provides guidelines, rules, and characteristics for project, program, and portfolio management. 

PMBOK® is an acronym for Project Management Book of Knowledge and serves as the PMI’s collective wisdom and best practice repository with recommended methodologies for project management as prescribed by the PMI. 

The PMBOK® focuses on the following 5 phases of Project Management 

  • Project Conception and Initiation
    • Project Charter
    • Project Initiation
  • Project Definition and Planning
    • Project Scope and Budget
    • Work breakdown schedule
    • Gantt Chart
    • Communication Plan
    • Risk Management
  • Project Launch and Execution
    • Project status and tracking
    • Project KPIs
    • Quality
    • Forecasts
  •  Project Performance and Control
    • Objectives
    • Quality deliverables
    • Effort and Cost tracking
    • Performance
  • Project Close
    • Project Post Mortem
    • Project Punchlist
    • Project Reporting

 For more information on the Project Management Institute, visit our PMI page. For a comprehensive guide to PMBOK® visit the following great resources 

Project Management Methodologies Summary

 The Agile Centre partners and associates have significant experience in leading some of the largest and most complex Agile transformations in the UK and Europe. 

Their first-hand experience at the coal face with Agile Leadership, Consulting, Scrum Coaching, and implementation of the Scrum Framework means we’re always going to be evangelists for Scrum and Agile frameworks. 

That said, our collective experience in other Project Management methodologies before embarking on a career in Scrum and Agile environments serves as a great balance to advocating a one-size fits all approach. 

We really do believe in different horses for different courses. Albeit a belief that those horses should be as Agile as possible, regardless of the courses they run. 

Below are a couple of great reads that will give you some insights into their experiences at the coal face, their own personal Agile transformations, and some recommendations into what framework or project management methodologies work best in which applications. 

You could also touch base with us at team@agilecentre.com or (+44) 020 391 65811 if you’d like to speak to an Agile consultant, Agile coach, or Agile Scrum Training specialist.