Reading Time: 6 minutes

Those seeking to improve their exercise program or lose weight often ask what the best diet or exercise plans are. The frequent answer is the one you will stick with. The same is true of project methodologies, task management software, and calendar tools. And for that matter, a whole lot of other programs. Is there a best project management methodology that people will stick with?

As I continue to read articles and blogs on the trends in project management, one thing seems clear. Many businesses are moving in the direction of letting project managers choose the methodology that is best suited to their project needs. Project managers that might have historically chosen Waterfall are moving towards a more hybrid version of Agile and Waterfall.

The last time I checked, Microsoft Project (which has been a leading tool for years) required you to select an Agile or Waterfall approach when you start a project. I know there are some project tools that attempt to blend Agile and Waterfall. I’ve not found a great one yet. In my experience, it’s hard to have agility if you want a schedule that portrays how the project will be executed.

Suppose the trend to let project managers choose the methodology that works best for their individual projects. What happens to any project portfolio oversight – other than on a manual basis?

Can we really have a best project management methodology that doesn’t offer reliable portfolio insights? Can we have a one-size-fits-all methodology?

Five Characteristics of the Best Project Management Methodology that fit all project types #smartprojex #projectmanagement #redefined Share on X

Is Rolling Wave Planning the Best Project Management Methodology?

Some experts consider Rolling Wave Planning to be the best project management methodology. But where does it work well, and is it the best project management methodology? Greg Githens wrote about using Rolling Wave Planning on innovation projects years ago. From his perspective at that time (2001), it was best used on development projects, not deployment projects – which are too linear.

Rolling Wave Planning is a project approach that involves high level planning for the knowns, and detailed planning by phase. So, on a two-year project, you might have eight phases. There would be a week to a month-long block of time for detailed planning in between each phase. One goal in Rolling Wave Planning is to reduce uncertainty by planning a little and then acting on that plan, always with an eye on the long-term. I like that idea.

Yet when I began developing the Smart Projex methodology, I was looking for an approach that could be used on all kinds of projects. There are several big differences between Rolling Wave Planning and the Smart Projex methodology, as captured in this table.

Rolling Wave Planning

Smart Projex Methodology

Work in well-planned phases that are typically a couple of months long. Each phase ends with a break, where more detailed planning is accomplished.Work in well-planned sprints that are 1 – 3 weeks long and book-ended by defined checkpoint meetings. The next sprint begins immediately.
Detailed schedules (typically in Gantt charts) for each phase.No schedule, as such, but there is a focused effort to select the highest value activities  and finish them by the end of the sprint. Teams are encouraged to understand what DONE looks like before starting and have a clear handle on the quality desired and how it will be measured.
Phases are managed with the traditional focus on meeting the schedule, costs, and phase scope.Critical deadlines are defined early and teams focus on meeting those deadlines. Other work is completed in accordance with resource availability. Delivering customer value and getting early feedback is paramount.
Focus on risks, issues, lessons learned tracking and procurement contract management depends on the skills of the project manager.Risks, issues, costs, lessons learned tracking, and procurement contract management are built into the defined agenda for checkpoint meetings.

What might the best project management methodology look like? 

Could we have a project management methodology that works on all kinds of projects – from construction to IT development, to innovation and organizational change projects? I’ve been exploring this challenge for over a decade and I believe we can.

Can we refine project management so that we can effectively manage all kinds of projects? That might offer us portfolio data that provides reliable insights. What might that methodology look like? Would it work so well that people would stick with it? Here are five characteristics for discussion. Since I’ve written much about these ideas, I won’t write much here, but refer you to other posts, for more details.

Can we refine project management so that we can effectively manage all kinds of projects? Yes! We just need the right methodology #smartprojex #projectmanagement Share on X

1. Encourages a smart start.

Rolling wave proponents and most seasoned project managers would likely agree that getting clarity on the details often documented in a project charter is smart. There is great value in agreeing on what the overall goal is. But on projects with far less clarity at the outset, how much time should teams spend on defining charter details, as well as the rest of the planning steps? It depends on the the level of uncertainty.

I believe that the charter continues to be important. I encourage teams to put enough details in the charter so that teams know what the final goal is. The key is to include enough detail so that you can assess when scope creep is kicking in. You need to be able to distinguish scope creep and agility. I’ve written about charters in this blog on project charter essentials.

2. Provides an easy-to-use graphic work breakdown structure for high-level planning.

I view the work breakdown structure as a high-level planning tool that guides the team for the duration of the project. High-level scope is documented but the details of how you will get there are filled in over time. If you are unfamiliar with them, here is a simple approach to work breakdown structures.

Depending on the type of project, it may or may not change as time goes on. For example, consider a work breakdown structure for a project that is governed by a contract, such as a construction project. You’d better have the details included before the contract is signed. On the other hand, for an innovation project being done in-house, why not allow the team to flesh it out as time goes by? You can still document the high-level scope and put in place holders.

3. Offers a flexible and individualized approach for managing project details.

Different kinds of projects require different approaches for managing details, such as costs, risks, issues, and deadlines. Project leaders need to be able to plan and manage the important details to the degree that the level of certainty requires.

A system that is too complicated and requires too much effort will not get used. And yet, projects can have a lot of details that need managing. Are separate templates really the best strategy for managing details, such as risks, communications, resources, and decisions? Or could we build an approach that interfaces all of the details into a consolidated effort? It could allow leaders the choice of whether to track details, such as costs or procurement contract requirements.

How might we align cost, risk, issue, quality, and procurement contract management with the client’s needs? Some clients will be more cost sensitive than others. And quality will mean different things to different people.

4. Make change easy to manage.

We are living and working in a VUCA world. That means our world is characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Whatever project management methodology you choose needs to account for that.

Change is not a bad word. Some changes might improve your results. Some changes might make you more competitive. But unmanaged change is chaos, and that’s no fun. So, we need a methodology that helps teams understand when it’s okay to change a project. We need clarity on what constitutes a change to the project. And, we need a simple system for taking a proposed to change from beginning to end.

In a very highly planned project that is driven by a contract, changes are likely to be few and far between. But in an innovation project, you will be changing and adapting every day. So do you have a system that helps you understand when scope creep is starting to occur? If not, I have a blog on how to create a change management process.

5. Provides Reliable Analytics and Insightful Data

Everyone in a project world wants to know how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. But on some kinds of projects, teams can feel like they are lost. They just don’t know. They are doing something that has never been done before. At best, they have a clear understanding of what DONE means on an activity. But figuring out the various steps in advance and how long they will take, or how much has been accomplished is often an elusive task.

And when progress is not observable and when teams can’t estimate how long something will take, the traditional analytics are unreliable.

One tool that I have recommended that might give us reliable analytics is Complexity. I’ve written about the benefits of tracking Complexity, rather than duration. And combining Complexity data and cost data opens the door to some rather insightful data.

Could we redefine project management and reduce the losses that we hear about so often? Could we use a redefined project tool to manage all work, including product management and operational objectives? What kinds of meaningful insights could that kind of a tool offer us?

If you are interested in this conversation, sign up for our newsletter. Or schedule a quick call to discuss.