Do you want to know the fastest way to start a fight at a project management convention? It is easy. All you have to do is jump on the stage and ask the audience: "Which project approach is the best?"
I guarantee that everyone in the convention will give you a different answer. Even those that agree on the top-level approach will argue for different variations. For example, with iterative, some will say Agile and others will say Extreme.
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The problem is, this causes people to become entrenched in their own beliefs.
They believe that their approach is the best way. This belief is then reinforced by other members of the project team. With everyone working within the same approach on all their projects, they believe it is the best way. Everyone on the project team believes the same and reinforces each other.
In my experience, all projects are unique. So an approach that works for one project may not be the best approach for the another project. It is far better to be able to change the approach to suit the project.
Sticking to only one approach will slow down project delivery. For example, if your project was to build a house, an iterative approach to using cement is not a good idea. Likewise, if your project was to design a webpage, an iterative approach would work well.
To me, it’s like Game of Thrones, with each approach being like one of the Great Houses. And within each of the houses, there is infighting where each one tries to come out on top.
With Game of Thrones’ penultimate season finale on everyone’s minds, here is how I would say each project management approach lines up with the Great Houses:
House Targaryen - The Phased Approach
This is sometimes referred to as "Traditional" or "Waterfall" approach. This approach consists of some phases that follow one after the other.
Like the House of Targaryen, this approach is sometimes considered old and in exile. It is often blamed for poor project delivery. In reality, it is never the approach that is the problem. It is often how the project uses the approach.
Yet this approach has a habit of making a comeback. It is often the approach that those that are new to project management try first.
House Lannister - Iterative and Incremental Project Management
The one that thinks it rules the world and is superior to the others. This approach is about doing a bit and seeing if it works before building a bit more.
Whatever you do, never say that you delivered a project successfully using one of the other approaches in the presence of this house. To do so will ensure you feel their complete wrath.
House Tyrell - Product-Based Planning
This approach is identifying all the deliverables which the approach calls products. The most famous example is Prince2, which often gets slated for being too heavy and unwieldy.
Like the House Tyrell, it is often seen in league with the Targaryen (Phased Approach). Like the Phased Approach, it is often one of the first approaches people come across.
House of Stark - Lean Project Management
This approach has a strong foundation in Japanese manufacturing. It is well established with 6 Sigma and Deming Cycle as long-established variations. Like the House of Stark, even when no longer popular, it makes a big comeback.
Kanban's approach of having tasks listed in columns is recently proving popular.
House Tully - Earned Value Management
This house is currently under the control of the House Lannister. This approach is about measuring project performance and progress.
The approach of EVM has been around for many years but recently it has become more prominent with Agile EVM. Like the house under control, EVM is a strong part of Agile.
House Greyjoy - Critical Chain Project Management
This house, which has divided into separate factions, has their focus on the people. CCPM as an approach focuses on resources (people, equipment, and physical space).
It is about having resources working and not waiting for tasks. Tasks move around to make sure the resources are being used.
House Baratheon - Project Production Management
This old house that once ruled is now absorbed into other houses. This approach was popular during the industrial revolution. Variations are PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) and CPM (Critical Path Method).
This approach is not extinct. But like the house has elements in the other approaches.
House Arryn - Process-Based Management
The motto of this house is "As High as Honor" with a falcon as a symbol.
The focus of the approach is the vision and the mission. Like the falcon, having a good vision is key to survival. This approach views businesses as a collection of processes. The achievement of the goal is through the management of these processes.
House Gardener - Benefits Realization Management
A lot of the other houses are descendants of this house. Benefits Realization, while still alive and well, is included in lots of the other approaches. A project exists to deliver a benefit. So, all project approaches have some form of Benefits Realization.
Which House is Best?
Here is the problem for companies who want to get projects done: They have to pick which house/approach they prefer. Ask any Game of Thrones fan and they will all have their favorite. They will tell you why theirs is the best and why the others are bad.
It is the same with project approaches. Often the only choice is to pick the most popular one. Or the one that shouts the loudest (has the best marketing). The reality is, companies do not care what approach is used, all they want is their project done.
As an industry, project management does not do itself any favors. And, fighting over which approach is best is not the only problem. There is a war on project management standards.
The last time I checked there were 15 different project management standards. This makes it very difficult for project professionals. You will never deliver any projects if you spend your time learning all the approaches.
My advice is to learn a couple approaches in detail and have a passing interest in the others. Focus on getting the projects delivered.
I would love to be able to predict that there will be an all out war and only a few project management approaches will survive. But, I am afraid all of them will be around forever all trying to be the best way to deliver projects.
What I can guarantee is that what we will see is even more approaches coming along.
In recent times we are seeing digital project management becoming a thing. Ask 10 people what digital project management is and they will give you 10 different answers.
I am not going to try and explain what digital project management is. I can assure you it is not going to be the last new best way to deliver projects.
What Should You Do?
The world is always changing and so are projects. We can say, based on previous experience, that the current ruler will be overthrown. The new ruler will promise to be faster and a better way to deliver projects.
But the reality is that it does not matter. Every project is different. Every company is unique. So what works for one will not work for the other.
The ultimate goal is to get stuff done. Shareholders and customers don't care how you do it. As Nike says, "Just Do It." The way you do that is by doing what works best for you.
If Prince2 works for your projects, use that. If Scrum is what works, then use that. There are no rules. Yes, the purist in each camp will fight for their king, arguing theirs is the best and the others are wrong! The truth is they are all as good or as bad as each other.
No one will mind if you take bits of lots of different approaches and create your own. The important thing is that it works and gets stuff done.
This is what we need project management software and tools to get to. With every project being unique there needs to be a flexible approach for each project.
The software needs to be more than simply flexible to the needs of the organization that uses it. There is also a need for the software to be flexible enough for each project to employ a different approach.
The clever part that the software needs is to offer the ability to merge projects. This needs to be at a high level and be able to pull together projects that are using different approaches.
My advice is to always get the project done as fast, as cheap, and at the best standard as possible. The approach should support you in getting it done faster, cheaper, better. If it does not then it is not the right approach for you.
If you need to borrow bits from all the different approaches, then do so. Don't let anyone tell you you are doing it wrong. You are doing what is right for you if it is getting stuff done. Make sure you keep reviewing and improving your approach along the way.
"Go get stuff done" is the true spirit of project management, regardless of which house you prefer.
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