Project Management Styles — What is Right for You?

agile project managementDid you know there are several project management styles that can help you be more effective depending on the industry you are in? A lot of what I write about is related to following the rigid rules of project management as they are presented in books you can read about the subject. But if you are working in the real world as a project manager, you know following a traditional project management progression may or may not help you effectively achieve your outcomes.

From my research and experience, there are several project management styles that have been developed to fit the needs of particular industries. The main difference between most of the styles is the flexibility your project requires and the project deadlines. While it may be confusing to the new project manager that there are several different styles of project management, really all styles have the ultimate goal of helping you deliver your intended outcomes in a timely manner. This sounds like a discussion on the best styles   Here is a quick list of the main styles, their benefits, and the industries they are most likely to be found in.

Critical PathThis is the traditional approach to project management. You use the steps that are found in most project management textbooks. You start from the beginning and create your WBS and assigning timelines to the completion of each work package. You find your targeted completion date using the PERT formula.

Critical Chain: This style uses the critical path style but then also takes into account finite resources. Most people use the acronym CCPM to identify it. Using CCPM, the project planning team creates a WBS in the same way as they would using critical path. But when assigning a timeline to the project is where the two styles diverge. CCPM works backwards from the due date with each task starting as late as possible. Two time values are assigned to each task — the “best guess” and the “safe” timeframes. The timelines are added just like the critical path style, and the chain with the longest duration is called the “critical chain”. The objective of CCPM is to eliminate bad multitasking.

PRINCE2: This style was developed by the UK Government, and is used mainly in a government setting. It is very complicated and best left to the experts. If you would like to learn more about it for fun, read about PRINCE2 on Wikipedia.

Waterfall: This is a style that is used frequently for software design, product development and other situations that require some level of adaptability. Instead of the five traditional phases of project management, it includes the following: 1. defining  requirement, 2. product design, 3. product development, 4. testing, and 5. delivery. Your project only moves to the next step once the previous step has been completed. I will talk in more detail about waterfall project management in a subsequent article.

Agile: This is by far one of my favorite styles because of its flexibility. It is primarily used in software and product development when extreme flexibility is required. You utilize the same process and structure as what is included in waterfall project management, but you are not constrained by the same task progression. You are not required, for example, to complete one step to move on the next. Each step is called a “sprint” because, well, that is often what it resembles. It is best used in situations that require continuous innovation and flexibility. I am going to talk about my experience in agile project management, including the benefits and pitfalls, in an article I will write later. It is a well developed style and there are a ton of resources available on the topic. Like many things, 100% commitment to the style is required from you and your organization to make it work.

I have covered the more popular styles of project management very briefly here. For most of my career I have worked within the critical chain framework, but I have studied the waterfall and agile frameworks extensively and used them with clients. As a project manager I prefer the critical chain framework, but the project management industry seems to be transitioning to the waterfall and agile styles. Change and improvement is inevitable — take the time to educate yourself on these two approaches to project management.

Related Topics:
Communication and Project Management
Managing Stakeholder Expectations
Creating a WBS

About the Author

I am the author of this site, and what I say goes. I love talking about the benefits of formalized and professional project management and getting stuff done.