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6 Different Project Management Approaches: Which is Right For You?

In today’s ever-changing business landscape, strong project management skills are an essential component to success. 

But here’s the thing:

No matter how honed your project management skills may be, an ill-fitted project management strategy can spell disaster for your team. 

In this article, we’re breaking down six different project management approaches you might consider adapting for your next project, highlighting the pros, cons and suitability of each approach. 

Ready? Let’s get started! 

Traditional Project Management Approaches

Traditional project management is an umbrella term for project management approaches that follow a linear and predictable timeline. 

Traditional project management has been used throughout the entirety of human history, from the pyramids of egypt to the great wall of China. However, it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that well-documented approaches to traditional project management were established.

Traditional project management works best for projects that:

  • Need to be completed sequentially (rather than working on different aspects of the project simultaneously)
  • Are unlikely to change course

1) Waterfall

The waterfall method serves as the most well-known and widely-implemented traditional project management approach. 

The waterfall method divides a project into distinct phases, which must be completed sequentially. No phase must begin before the previous phase is complete (and no phase can be revisited after implementation). 

With little room for error, the waterfall approach requires the following criteria to be successful:

  • A clear set of requirements upfront 
  • A robust and time-tested execution plan (which won’t be changed midway through the project)
  • Strong adherence to proper procedure by all team members

Most waterfall-based projects will make use of a Gantt chart, which breaks the project into phases with a clear set of durations, expectations and criteria to be met for each phase. 

Pros

  • Rigorously structured & documented
  • Easy to budget for
  • Clear expectations & outcomes

Cons

  • Lack of flexibility 
  • Strict management required
  • No room for error

Common Sectors

  • Construction
  • Manufacturing

2) PRINCE2

PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is another linear project management approach, following in the footsteps of the waterfall approach. 

Having first been developed for IT projects by the British government in 1996, it stands as a hugely popular project management approach. Although still serving as the backbone of the UK Government’s project management strategy, it’s been used by private organisations all over the world.

The PRINCE2 approach is based on seven distinct high-level processes:

  1. Starting the project
  2. Directing the project
  3. Initiating the project
  4. Controlling stages
  5. Managing project delivery
  6. Managing stage boundaries
  7. Closing the project

Although the PRINCE2 framework is linear and process-defined, it offers greater flexibility than the waterfall approach. This makes it a great option for large-scale organisations who need a little more wiggle room in their approach to project management, whilst still managing risk effectively.  

Pros

  • Thorough & well-documented decision making process
  • Built on project management best practices
  • Applicable to a wide range of projects

Cons

  • Geared towards “hard skills” rather than “soft skills”
  • Requires rigorous documentation
  • Implementation can be cumbersome (due to the emphasis on documentation)

Common Sectors

  • Government
  • Operations management
  • Engineering

3) Critical Path Method (CPM)

The critical path method is another linear project management approach designed to identify the most time-consuming aspects of a project (to allow for a well-estimated and punctual delivery date). 

Having famously come to prominence in the 1940’s through its use in the Manhattan Project, the critical path method features six primary steps: 

  1. Specify the tasks required
  2. Estimate the duration of each task
  3. Identify task dependencies
  4. Plan and control critical activities
  5. Identify the critical path
  6. Set project milestones & deliverables

After determining which tasks are on the critical path (in other words, the tasks that’ll take the longest to complete), the project manager has an excellent understanding of where to allocate project resources. 

The critical path approach is a great methodology for time-sensitive projects, especially when being executed at scale. 

Pros

  • Ability to discern and prioritise the most critical aspects of a project
  • Highly effective for new or untested projects
  • Strong understanding of the slack time in any given project

Cons

  • The critical path is not always clear
  • Timescales can be difficult to estimate
  • Geared towards time management rather than overall project management

Common Sectors

  • Aerospace engineering
  • Construction
  • Product development

Agile Project Management Approaches

Agile project management is a catch-all term for project management styles that are more fast-paced and variable than their traditional counterparts. 

Agile project management was first developed in the 1990’s for software development projects. It involves breaking down large-scale projects into short “sprints” of work, with progress being presented to stakeholders at the end of each sprint. 

Agile project management works best for projects that:

  • Are highly adaptable
  • Require significant flexibility
  • Are in continuous development

1) Kanban

Kanban is a visually-driven approach to agile project management that focuses on incremental updates to a project. 

Kanban project management was first developed and implemented by Toyota in the 1940’s, who used it as the backbone of their manufacturing processes. The word kanban translates from Japanese to “card”.

Having proved a popular approach to agile project management, Kanban adheres to the following five principles: 

  1. Visualise the workflow
  2. Minimise work in progress
  3. Improve the workflow
  4. Make processes explicit
  5. Continuously improve

As the name suggests, Kanban projects are planned and managed on a set of Kanban boards, which allow the workflow to be visualised, adapted and monitored. 

Pros

  • Event-driven (rather than time-driven)
  • Easy to understand
  • Highly tactical

Cons

  • Easy to overcomplicate
  • Difficult to implement for long-term projects
  • Lack of scope for independent work

Common Sectors

  • Application maintenance
  • Game development
  • Media

2) Scrum

Scrum serves as one of the most widely-implemented approaches to agile project management; it focuses on learning from experience and adapting processes to fluctuating conditions. 

Scrum was first developed in the 1990’s as a feedback-driven and highly-adaptable approach to software development. It’s based around the following five-step process:

  1. Product backlog creation
  2. Sprint planning
  3. Sprint implementation
  4. Product increment & sprint review
  5. Retrospective & planning the next sprint

The scrum approach features daily stand up meetings, where team members discuss their progress on the project and adapt their processes to suit changing project conditions. 

Given its highly-adaptable nature, scrum is most-often used to develop complicated or continuously-improving products, such as SaaS tools. 

Pros

  • Highly collaborative
  • Maximum flexibility
  • Easy to rectify mistakes

Cons

  • Not deadline-orientated
  • Difficult to implement in large teams
  • Team members often require highly-specialised experience

Common Sectors

  • Software development
  • Financial services

3) Adaptive Project Framework (APF)

Adaptive Project Framework is a structured approach to agile project management that allows project managers to adapt and respond to ongoing change. 

Having been developed in the late noughties, it’s leveraged within projects that don’t have a clear end goal in mind, adopting the principle of “learning by doing” rather than “doing by the book”. 

As an increasingly prominent approach in the corporate world, it’s geared around the following five-phase process:

  • Version scope
  • Cycle plan
  • Cycle build
  • Client checkpoint
  • Post-version review

Given its highly-flexible and communicative nature, adaptive project framework is an excellent choice for service-based projects.  

Pros

  • Highly flexible
  • Client-focused
  • Ability to continuously improve processes

Cons

  • Lack of understanding towards project scope
  • Sets unrealistic client expectations
  • Limited sense of control over processes

Common Sectors

  • Information technology
  • Software development

Wrapping Up

With several distinct approaches to project management, it’s crucial that you select an approach that’s well-tailored to the nature and needs of the task at hand. 

Once you’ve chosen a suitable project framework, why not streamline the process with a work collaboration platform such as Verto 365?

About the author – Laura Watts

Laura is the Marketing Manager at TMI Systems Ltd., working predominantly on Verto 365 and closely on the Microsoft partnership enabling the platform to be used in its entirety from Microsoft Teams. Laura and her family moved from London in 2021 and now live and work in Gloucestershire.

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