The choice of project management methods, which determines how a project is planned and executed, is of strategic importance to a firm. Ill-chosen management methodologies are often cited among top reasons projects fail. Project management methodologies are often chosen at an organization level, not considering the specifics of a project at hand. Moreover, firms typically choose a single methodology as a complete end-to-end solution and rarely consider a combination of elements from multiple methods, although in practice, hybrids might be utilized.
We propose moving beyond a one-size-fits-all solution for selecting project management methods.
We propose unpacking of the three main project management practices into their fundamental elements — modular approaches — adding flexibility and expanding the way in which they might be used.
We identify 14 parameters for evaluating a project, which adds to the discussion associated with characterizing projects, and offer mapping between the parameters’ settings and the choice of methods’ modules, which provides a practical and structured way for firms to pick and choose the project management method hybrids that best fits their needs.
Each of the 14 project attributes represents a different aspect of the project. A three-level scale is used to rate a project on each attribute.
14 Attributes for Evaluating a Project
- Budget: Project budget is developed within constraints, which can be more or less “soft.” Therefore, project budget can be fixed, variable or flexible.
- Commitment: Project overall commitment represents a high, medium or low sense of duty by the project’s team members to focus on contributing to the overall project goals.
- Contract Type: The contractual relationships can be fixed-price, cost plus or a hybrid type that integrates both.
- Customer Type: The project customer can be a single internal, a single external or the commercial market, in which many single end users will buy the product.
- Duration: Classifying project duration as long, medium or short is based on a subjective evaluation, relative to the overall activities executed by the organization.
- Goals: Based on the specific business case analysis, the project goals and objectives can be well-defined, estimated or unclear.
- Pace: Project pace can be time critical when the project duration impacts the achievement of competitive advantage and the need to get to market as soon as possible. In such cases, missing the deadline would result in project failure. The pace can be fast when constraints on deadlines impose quicker than initially planned turnaround, and it can be regular when the project aims to achieve long-term goals and time is not critical to success.
- Procedures and Regulations: In different organizations and programs, we can find different levels of standardized procedures and regulations, ranging from none specific, through standard, to highly structured and specific regulations, for instance, in the case of drug development.
- Resources: Project resources can be versatile (i.e., one resource can be easily replaced by another); they can be standard (i.e., each resource has its specialty); or they can be identified as high expertise and unique (i.e., scarce resources — specialized, qualified, certified professionals — should be carefully assigned to tasks).
- Scope: A rigid project scope implies an inflexible and none divisible set of features and functions. Multiple delivery units implies that the scope is composed of several independent parts that are integrated into a unified deliverable. A modular scope implies that the final product or service is composed of independent segments, or parts, which can be delivered independently or as a unified product.
- Team Availability: The number and complexity of external project tasks that the team members are expected to execute usually impacts the degree of the team’s availability. The project team can be fully available, partially available or very limited.
- Team Distribution: The increasing geographical distribution of work is mainly relevant for information technology projects, although in recent years, it is also evident in other fields.[v] Project teams can work in a single location, in multiple locations or be distributed globally.
- Team Size: The number of team members determines the project team size, classified as small, medium or large, and is based on a subjective evaluation, relative to the overall activities executed by the organization.
- Uncertainty: The degree of uncertainty in the project environment can range from ambiguous, through predictable, to highly predictable.
Three Project Methodologies and Their Approaches
We identified the main processes and techniques in three well-established project management approaches: waterfall, agile and theory of constraints.
- Related to the waterfall model — in which progress is linear to the point that changes to a phase after it’s complete are rare, if even possible — we identified 10 separate approaches. The 10 approaches relate to how waterfall projects get planned, scheduled, monitored, communicated with the project team, and their organizational structure.
- The agile approach was proposed as a way to address the needs of highly ambiguous projects, requiring much iteration and dealing with change. With the agile mindset, we chose common approaches (nine of them) that are common to most agile practices today.
- In 1997, Goldratt introduced an adaptation of his theory of constraints (TOC) for project management. Goldratt’s focus when proposing the adaptation of the TOC was the resources associated with a project — in particular, although not limited to, human resources. The TOC and its principles were especially tailored to address challenges that arise when faced with scarce resources in a project, or resources that are shared across projects. As for TOC, we identify five approaches, associated today with common TOC implementations.
Our proposal is to characterize a specific project on each one of the 14 attributes by selecting the most appropriate value on each dimension. This analysis yields a portrait of a project that requires a specific hybrid of approaches for successful project implementation.
Our next steps in this research program are to work with project managers to operationalize our framework in multiple project settings.
The preceding is excerpted from “A New Hybrid Approach for Selecting a Project Management Methodology,” which was originally published by the Project Management Institute as part of the 2015 PMI Global Congress Proceedings and co-authored by Darden Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne, Vered Holzmann of the Recanati Business School at Tel Aviv University, Hamutal Weisz of PMzOne Ltd and Daniel Zitter of PMzOne Ltd.