We propose a framework for developing a blended project management methodology, to be selected on a project needs basis. Our framework combines a multitude of recent trends in project management and offers a way to identify the best blend of project management methods to use for a certain project in order to achieve best project outcome.
This framework exhibits how project attributes implies a preferred, and most likely hybrid approach to project management.
In our proposed study, conducted with Yael Grushka-Cockayne, a Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Professional Degree Programs at University of Virginia Darden School of Business and Vered Holzmann, Director of Research, Development & Innovation at The Academic College of Tel-Aviv, Yaffo, we move beyond a one-size-fits-all solution for selecting project management methods.
We decompose the most common project management practices into their fundamental elements, which we call approaches.
Our framework consists of fourteen parameters for evaluating a project. For each of these parameters, we identify three potential levels, which may characterize a project. Based on the results of the assessment, a set of approaches are proposed for the project manager.
Budget is the sum of funds authorized for project execution. It includes the direct and indirect costs, as well as the project management reserves. Project budget is developed within constraints, which can be more or less ‘soft’, “in the sense that it is meaningful to adjust the budget depending on what benefits can be secured at different levels of resource expenditure”. Therefore, project budget can be fixed, variable, or flexible.
Commitment is a feeling of duty that people, in teams and organizations, have to achieve the project goals and objectives, and which is translated into actions that support project success. 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 is defined within the project procurement management processes and it involves the terms and conditions for administrating the business relations placed on the project team. The contractual relationships can be fixed price, cost plus, or a hybrid type that integrates both.
Customer Type refers to the customer focus in the project planning and implementation, and to the targeted product or service used. The project customer can be a single internal, a single external, or the commercial market, where many single end users will buy the product.
Duration is defined by the PMBOK® as “the total number of work periods (not including holidays or other nonworking periods) required to complete a schedule activity or work breakdown structure component”. Classifying project duration as long, medium, or short, is based on a subjective evaluation, relative to the overall activities executed by the organization.
Goals are defined within the broader environment of the organization and refer to the desired achievements, outputs and outcomes. Based on the specific business case analysis, the project goals and objectives can be well defined, estimated, or unclear.
Pace refers to the question: how critical is the time frame? While understanding the temporal nature of projects with a definite start and end. 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 constrains 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 refer to the organizational or regulatory infrastructure within which the project is operated. A consistent approach to project strategy and implementation, including planning, executing and reporting, can be required for specific types of projects. 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, including human resources, equipment, commodities, and material, are required to carry out the project activities. Project resources can be versatile, meaning, one resource can be easily replaced by another; they can be standard, meaning, each resource has its specialty; or they can be identified as high expertise and unique, meaning, scarce resources – specialized, qualified, certified, professionals – should be carefully assigned to tasks.
Scope is defined by the PMBOK® as “the work performed to deliver a product, service, or result with the specified features and functions”. 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 independents segments, or parts, which can be delivered independently or as a unified product.
Team Availability refers to the degree to which the project team members are able to start a task when it is called for, whether it is on a planned schedule or at an unexpected time. The number and complexity of external project tasks that the team members are expected to execute usually impact the degree of team’s availability. The project team can be fully available, partially available, or very limited.
Team Distribution is expressed in actual spatial and temporal distance, and many times represents cultural difference. The increasing geographical distribution of work is mainly relevant for information technology projects although in recent years, it is also evident in other fields. Project teams can work in a single location, in multiple locations, or be distributed globally.
Team Size is usually studied with regard to productivity and yields the understanding that bigger is not always better. 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 relates to situations where the established facts are questioned and the impact of strategic planning on the project performance is raised. The degree of uncertainty in the project environment can range from ambiguous, through predictable, to highly predictable.
On the other side of the attributes-approaches framework, there are project methodologies where methodology is a set of guidelines or principles that can be tailored and applied to a specific situation.
For our suggested framework, we have selected the main processes and techniques in three well-established project management approaches: Waterfall, Agile, and TOC.
Critical Path Analysis (“CPA”) is a project management tool that uses network analysis to handle complex and time-sensitive operations. The CPA analysis calculates the longest path of planned activities to the end of the project, and the earliest and latest dates that each activity can start and finish without making the project longer. This process determines which activities are “critical” (i.e., on the longest path) and which have “total float” (i.e. can be delayed without making the project longer).
Presenting the whole picture end to end refers to the ability to plan ahead the entire project and present the roadmap for the entire project end to end, before committing to it.
Projects are typically broken down into stages (phases). Each phase outlines the work that needs to be done and who is involved in it. Generally, in order for a phase to be considered complete, specific deliverables need to have been completed and handed off.
Sequential Process means progressing one stage at a time (no overlap) refers to completing each project phase before starting to work on the next phase, without any overlap.
Emphasis on documentation means that the project’s documentation is substantiated by the essential two functions of documentation: one, to make sure that the project requirements are fulfilled and two, to establish traceability with regard to what has been done, who has done it and when it was done. Therefore, documentation must make up the foundation for quality, traceability and history both for the individual document and for the entire project documentation.
Detailed requirements specification refers to a set of documents that describe what a project is supposed to accomplish and how the project is supposed to be created and implemented. Project requirements provide a tool for evaluating the quality of a project, since a final review would examine whether each requirement has been met.
Progress control by earned value management (EVM in short) refers to a project management technique for measuring project status, progress, and forecast its likely future performance. EVM measures work progress as “earned value” and answers two principle questions: How much of the budget “should have been” spent at this point in the project? How much “value” has the work on the project “earned” so far?
Hierarchical organizational structure follows the layout of a pyramid where every team member in a project (except the project manager) is subordinate to someone else within the project. The layout consists of multiple entities that descend into the base of team level employees, who sit at the bottom of the pyramid. An organizational structure indicates the method that an organization employs to delineate lines of communication, policies, authority and responsibilities. It determines the extent and nature of how leadership is disseminated throughout the organization as well as the method by which information flows.
Formal communication refers to interchange of information officially. The flow of communication is controlled and is a deliberate effort. This makes it possible for the information to reach the desired place without any hindrance and in a proper way.
High level planning refers to a more abstracted description of a project, describing its overall goals and systemic features, and is typically more concerned with the system as a whole, or larger components of it.
Sprint Retrospective is a meeting facilitated by the Scrum Master at which the team discusses the just-concluded sprint and determines what could be changed that might make the next sprint more productive.
Daily stand up meetings are very short meetings held every day, in which all team members attend and report three things: what they did yesterday? what they’ll do today? and if there are any impediments in their way. The purpose of this meeting is to gain good understanding of what work has been done and what work remains, and to commit to each other.
Working system from day one refers to delivering useful products to the customer as early as possible in the project lifecycle, therefore achieving customer satisfaction and flexibility to change.
Co-management: Customer and supplier cooperation is a technique of close management of a project with full cooperation and decision making of both the customer and the project team. This technique helps with alignment between the parties, and ensures better communication and decision-making processes for the project.
Multidisciplinary teams are heterogeneous groups composed of members with varied but complimentary experience, qualifications, and skills that contribute to the achievement of the project’s specific objectives.
Self-organizing teams mean that once the team is formed, and given a problem to solve, and a set of constraints to operate within, the team gets to decide how the work is done, as well as to monitor and manage progress. Team members of a self-organized team choose how best to accomplish their work, rather than being directed by others outside the team.
Progress control by burndown chart refers to a graphical representation of work left to do versus time. This technique is useful for predicting when all the work will be completed.
Rapid and flexible response to change refers to the iterative and incremental development, for which requirements and solutions evolve through the project lifecycle, supporting and encouraging rapid and flexible response to change.
Informal communication refers to interchange of information unofficially based on informal relations and, therefore, is free from all the organizational formalities.
Buffer management is a technique for calculating additional time to be set aside, to absorb unforeseen problems in the project. The buffer is a safety instrument that is constantly monitored. It protects the project from disruptions that might happen when the activities on the Critical Chain are performed.
Throughput analysis is a concept looking at investment decisions in terms of their impact on the entire system, rather than on the specific area in which an investment is contemplated.
Focus on critical resources is based on the assumption that resources are limited, and some might also be a bottleneck therefore, the project schedule is planned based on these critical resources’ availability and dependencies.
Don’t start things without finishing others refers to individuals working sequentially on tasks rather than working multi-tasking on several tasks at the same time.
Progress control by buffer consumption rate is a technique to control the progress of the project by monitoring the work done in relation to how much time has been set aside (the buffer) to absorb unforeseen problems. Buffer consumption rate is the rate at which the project buffer is being consumed. The rate is calculated as the ratio of the percent of penetration into the project buffer and percent of completion of the critical chain. The buffer burn ratio tells us when a project is in danger of not being completed on time. By identifying which tasks are creating the highest buffer burn ratio, the project manager knows which tasks to focus on right now.
Our suggestion is to characterize every project on each one of the fourteen 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.
- To identify project attributes and scales of measurement for characterizing a project.
- To identify new trends in project management delivery methods applied in cases of successful projects.
- To generate a multi-dimensional framework to characterize a project.
- To propose a way to proactively select the most appropriate blend of methods for a successful management of a specific type of project, characterized on multiple dimensions.
- To formalize the relationship between project attributes, project management methods and project success.
Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Professional Degree Programs at University of Virginia Darden School of Business
Director of Research, Development & Innovation at The Academic College of Tel-Aviv, Yaffo
Hamutal Weisz & Daniel Zitter
Project management specialists, PMzone Ltd.