What’s the best project management methodology? I am asked that a lot, and you know what?
It doesn’t matter what you use.
The point of having a supportive yet prescriptive set of processes, policies and templates to help you manage a project is to ensure that you do exactly that – manage it. A methodology gives you shortcuts and best practices to help you, but it won’t do it for you. Adherence to a methodology won’t ensure project success. There’s something far more important that will help you get to where you want to be – adequate, committed project leadership.
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proworkflowMany methodologies are put together by companies so that their project managers have a bespoke set of processes, specific to their business and dovetailing into their other business processes. The problem is, in many cases, that the methodology by nature has to be pretty generic. Businesses can’t legislate for every sort of project, in every team, in every business situation, so the methodology is only going to be right 80% of the time anyway.
Whichever methodology you use – a bespoke one for your organisation or an ‘off-the-shelf’ one like PRINCE2, you’ll have to apply it pragmatically. That’s where leadership comes in.
Leading your project
Having a methodology is great, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for saving time by using standard processes and supporting new project managers by ensuring all the steps are followed. Methodologies do support project success by providing a framework for project managers, stakeholders and the rest of the team to follow.
But they aren’t enough alone, and putting all your trust in a methodology is naïve.
A project leader knows when to follow the methodology and when to ignore it. The trouble is, you have to know the methodology inside out before you can ignore the bits that don’t apply. When you choose to ignore something in the process, it should be because you understand the consequences of doing so, not simply because it looks too difficult or you don’t think it’s relevant. Sometimes a project leader will work inclusively with his or her project team (you can take the Catalyst test here to find out if you are an inclusive leader!), sometimes it’s a decision you can take alone.
That’s why I always advocate leaving every section in a template document. Don’t delete the sub-headings or sections that aren’t relevant to your project. Instead, write “not required” in the space underneath it. This shows that you haven’t forgotten about the section or ignored it or not understood it. You have actively considered it and decided that for this project, in these circumstances, it is not required.
Leading and improving
Project leaders do more than just lead their projects, tailoring the methodology as they go by actively considering and then ignoring the bits that don’t apply this time. They also provide feedback to the owner of the methodology (normally the PMO) about what could be improved. Being able to build relationships is one of the key traits of a leader, according to Jeff Hodgkinson, Gary Hamilton and Gareth Byatt in a paper for PMI, and the PMO (or other owner of the methodology) is a critical relationship if you haven’t got that one sorted already.
Organisations evolve, but unfortunately many project management approaches and process manuals don’t. OK, they might be updated to reflect a new accounting year or some other external process changes that impact on managing a project, but I’ve seen many methodologies that have stayed the same for some time.