At MCDA CCG Inc., we see project management requests from government and private sector clients. In most cases, our clients are interested in an “agile” approach to project management. In comparison, other clients are more familiar with a traditional “waterfall” approach. We see benefits in both project management methodologies, depending on the project’s parameters.
WHAT IS PROJECT MANAGEMENT?
Project Management involves planning, organizing, and managing project activities required to complete an individual project with predetermined parameters. Project management is found in many industries, from manufacturing to information technology. It can be a powerful tool to drive value within your organization.
As we like to put it, project management is like a real-life jigsaw puzzle, bringing elements and people within an organization (the puzzle pieces) together to form something bigger than themselves. And just like a jigsaw puzzle, where it’s important to be both methodical, especially at the outset, and flexible when trying to fit in new pieces, project management requires a strategic, forward-looking approach.
Generally, this approach falls under one of two methodologies: Waterfall project management, a legacy approach that emphasizes a sequential, linear process, and Agile project management, which integrates planning with execution and emphasizes adaptability when on-the-ground conditions change.
WHAT IS WATERFALL PROJECT MANAGEMENT?
Waterfall is a traditional approach to project management that breaks the project down into several distinct phases. Generally, these phases break down into a recognizable project sequence: Project Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Controlling, and Project Closeout.
During the Project Initiation phase, the project manager (PM) defines the project by developing a charter; identifying stakeholders; determining scope; establishing roles and responsibilities; and finally, kicking off the project. The PM must consider three critical elements throughout this phase: scope, time, and cost. These are critical because a change in one necessitates a change in another unless you are willing to sacrifice quality. So, if you want something done faster, it might either be more costly or less comprehensive or both. If you want it done thoroughly, that could require more time and more cost.
Throughout the Planning phase, the PM works with stakeholders to plan out all the work, including confirming scope, schedule, and budget. The team is built, work is scheduled out, risks are identified, and ways to address those risks are planned. Even project communications are planned from the start. That plan is then carried out during the Execution phase.
In the Monitoring and Controlling phase, the PM evaluates whether the project is on target with time, cost, and scope. Is the project moving according to plan? As part of this answer, the PM will ensure that communications have gone out as planned, stakeholders are participating and engaged, the final product is within expected levels of quality, and so on.
Finally, during the Project Closeout phase, the executive team – in concert with the PM – finalizes all documentation; determines lessons learned and best practices; releases the team and any other resources assigned to the project; and hands off the final product.
Waterfall project management tends to involve a lot of upfront activity and involvement by all business units. Once the sequence is set in motion, the phases flow, one after the other, like water over a dam. If the sequence gets interrupted because of an unexpected variable (particularly one of scope, time, or cost), the process often needs to start over again, and subsequent activities are impacted.
But if the project goes as planned, waterfall project management makes for a smooth transition from one phase to the next, requiring minimal intervention, especially at the executive level.
WHAT IS AGILE PROJECT MANAGEMENT?
While organizations utilizing Waterfall institutionalize a process and tool-focused checklist to get through their project cycle, those using Agile organize their project management around ongoing incremental product or service tweaks. These developments are initiated in a collaborative and continuous response to actual user or customer needs rather than completed by a certain point in the project cycle. Agile originated in the software industry with the creation of the Manifesto of Agile Software Development, and it does work particularly well for software developers looking to improve their applications continuously. Yet, it has also seen innovative implementation in professional and government services, financial services, and healthcare.
Agile takes into account several core factors, including:
- Business value and success outcomes
- Project deliverables/scope
- Project timeline
- Cost calculations
- Quality control metrics
- Project participants or stakeholders
- Communication workflows
- Project risk management
- Stakeholder management
Unlike Waterfall, however, Agile does not front-load planning and decision-making. Instead, it begins with a broad vision. Then the methodology requires alternating between action and evaluation, chunking out projects into smaller steps. Work is done via an iterative approach that allows the team to assess and adjust, ultimately reaching the envisioned target.
Because it is so iterative and evaluative, Agile requires more regular involvement and collaboration by a broader range of stakeholders than Waterfall does. But it’s also more responsive and adaptive to changing conditions, which can be highly beneficial in certain settings.
WATERFALL VS. AGILE: WHICH IS BETTER?
The answer to the big question of “which is better” is “It depends.” Waterfall is a time-honored methodology that works very well in specific settings. Agile has risen to the fore because it works very well in other settings.
Waterfall is great when:
- You are familiar with the type of project.
- The scope is known in advance.
- You do not expect many changes.
Agile is fantastic when:
- You don’t fully know the path forward.
- The scope is not well defined.
- You expect a lot of changes.
Every organization’s project management methodology is slightly different because every work culture is different. Whatever project management methodology (PMM) you choose should operate as your organization’s shared understanding of the project management cycle. This methodology will lay out the guiding principles behind the management of each of your projects and form a substantial part of the organizational structure.
By implementing a defined PMM, such as Waterfall or Agile, organizations reduce the likelihood of uncertainties and inconsistencies. Project implementation is more consistent, avoiding the likelihood of departments coming up with inharmonious, individual ways to pitch, plan, and implement a project.
MCDA CCG applies the necessary skills, tools, and proven best practice strategies to help ensure your organization’s projects are completed on time and within budget. Subscribe to our blog or Instagram for the latest project management tips, implementation tricks, and general business trends.