In a 5-minute Google search on project management methodologies, you will quickly become familiar with terms such as Waterfall, Gantt Charts, PMBOK, Agile, and Scrum, to name a few. How does one choose from this myriad of traditional and modern solutions? As each methodology has pros and cons, it is crucial to evaluate what stage your business is at and the required level of innovation before applying a methodology. Force-fitting a methodology for the sake of it can distract from your core business.

So, how does one approach this decision? We suggest taking a step back and looking at where your business currently stands:

  • What problem are you trying to solve? Can you articulate it? Be honest with yourself.
  • What stage is your business or project team at in terms of providing a solution to this problem?

The uncertainty principle

While no generic methodology exists as a silver bullet that can be applied across organisations, methodologies do fit certain organisations better than others. Finding a starting point for choosing the most suitable methodology for your business is important. A useful way to do this is to investigate whether the problem and solutions you articulated above are largely “known” or “unknown”, respectively.

Known problem, known solution: Waterfall

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Used in established operations, the waterfall methodology is run in predetermined, sequential phases with precise deadlines and accountability.

Known problem, unknown solution: Agile

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Widely used in software development, with a clearly articulated client need, but a solution yet to be determined, this iterative methodology has clear, tried-and-tested principles.

Unknown problem, known solution: Kanban

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Born from the lean and just-in-time manufacturing stables, Kanban aims to maximise the production of a stable, already-developed solution. The volume or configuration of the product can change to accommodate new problems, but the methodology allows for quick assembly and delivery.

Unknown problem, unknown solution: Lean Startup / Continuous development

(click here to learn more about the Lean Startup)

The Lean Startup methodology operates within an early-stage exploration context where both the problem and solution are undefined. The methodology advocates for quick iterations of hypothesis development, testing and learning.

Multiple methodologies in one business?

This exercise is a great start. However, as we saw in one of our longest implementation projects to date, the applicability of methodologies shifts over time. Constant awareness of what is required at the specific project stage is necessary for success. In this specific project, 75% of the development was focused on new products for defined client needs, and thus, the Agile methodology was used. In the latter stages of implementation, however, the new solution was standardised, and the team focused on getting the job done. To accommodate this change, we switched to a more Waterfall-like approach, with defined milestones, deadlines and accountability, ultimately delivering the project on time, within budget, and to specification.

A final word of caution

While we always advocate for relevance and encourage our clients to make project management methodologies work in their context, these project management methodologies have robust principles and process guides for good reason. Applying parts of a methodology and ticking only a few boxes may do more harm than good. We are therefore careful to advise you on the implementation of a methodology systematically and thoughtfully. Operate within your culture, commit to a methodology one problem at a time, and evaluate as you progress.

Hayden Schmidt

Author Hayden Schmidt

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