How to determine project management method?

Today, we will talk about the subject of determination of appropriate methodology of project management.

It is common sense that we can not execute a project immediately without appropriate management methodology or practice once the project has been initiated, especially when similar project has not been done before. The methodologies of project management are to answer these kind of questions: the project work needs to be partially subcontracted or can be done completely by our team? The management method of project process is traditional water fall or agile mode? Or hybrid?

These are the questions which we need to answer in the early phase of our projects. If the right methodology is chosen, it would be like an accelerator has been added to the project, the project process would be much more effective and smooth.

1 What happen if we use the wrong method?

Why did I say “especially when similar project has not been done before”?

That’s because the organization should have relatively mature practical method if similar projects had been performed. In this scenario all we have to do is to refer to the knowledge which has been learned and documented in the organizational process assets. But as project managers, we would inevitably be assigned to a project which we have never performed before.

For example, you have been working for company’s internal projects of product development for so long, but now you have to manage a truely customer-oriented project. For another example, as project manager, you have to switch from a ToC project to a ToB project. What should you choose as an appropriate project method when you are facing a completely different project environment?

Here is a practical case, which I hope would inspire the readers in some degree.

In May of 2018, Jack was new to an entrepreneurial company. Even though the company had not developed an intact product line, it had applied a government project based on its strong business experience. The project was to develop an intelligent information system for local government. At the time, Jack was assigned to the project as project manager.

At the beginning of the project, Jake faced 3 issues:

1. The company was a new company, and that was the first government project, there was no organizational assets of similar past project can be considered as experience.

2. The products of the company were not perfect, they needed to be updated iteratively.

3. Jack had never participated in an intelligent (AI) project before, thus he did not know how to effectively manage project schedule and risks.

These three issue directly determine what kind of project management methods we should choose for the project.

Jack’s formal project experience was mainly water-fall method. In a word, water-fall method is to follow specific plans and steps to achieve specific objectives. At the mean time, Jack had also tried some practical tools of agile method, such as daily scrum meeting, kanban. But for the new project, what was the best method?

At first, Jack tried the water-fall method. He tried to break down the project scope. But once he tried to break down, due to his insufficient knowledge of AI project development, he did not know how to decompose the work of the intelligent development, let alone to satisfy thee break down principle of WBS. Therefore, Jack switched to agile method immediately.

As a result, Jack discovered that the colleagues of the company does not know the value or meaning of agile method, not to mention how to perform it. They questioned the value of daily meeting once Jack was holding one.

Neither of the management methods were not working, Jack began to think, what project management method is the most appropriate one for this situation.

2. Three essential questions

In order to solve this problem, firstly Jack asked himself three questions:

1. Is the project requirement very clear?

2. Is the project objectives clearly determined?

3. Does the project team understand and approve the project management method which about to be used?

After thinking of the upper questions, Jack discovered that the project objectives were clear, but the requirements were ambiguous, such as: the realization of certain function is supposed to be embedded or stand alone? In what level of the accuracy should be quantified? Neither the project team nor the clients could not clearly answer these questions. Meanwhile, the project team was rejecting the behavioral habit change.

Under this scenario, neither complete water-fall method nor complete agile method would be an appropriate method.

After communication with company leaders, Jack planed to use hybrid (water-fall + agile) method. Simply speaking, hybrid method is to demonstrate to the external stakeholders that they are using water-fall method since the objectives are clear and easy for acceptance of clients; but for internal developers, they would develop the software iteratively to rapidly test the requirement. Meanwhile, when using the agile tools, Jack tried to focus on using a few modified tools which project team would not severely object.

3 Shape of water-fall, core of agile

There is an agile practice called sprint. After several communications with stakeholder, Jack decided to use the sprint method. Sprint can effectively increase efficiency of updating the product requirements. It can make every requirements market-oriented and client-oriented in a fast pace. After getting feedback from clients, newly collected requirements would be summarized, sorted and put into the requirement pool for next sprint. In this way, Jack was able to demonstrate the product iteratively to the client, which had increased client’s sense of engagement significantly.

By using this hybrid management method of “shape of water-fall, core of agile”, Jack had made weekly work more planned and more rapid for market verification. But still, the objectives of the project is clear and achievable. The management of entire project was more methodical. Finally, the project deliverables were accepted by clients at May of 2019, and the project was highly acknowledged by the clients. Jack became the first one in his company of smoothly finishing this kind of project and meanwhile this hybrid management method had become the organizational process assets of the company.

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