The wondrous world of ‘traditional’ & agile project management

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The wondrous world of ‘traditional’ & agile project management

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Project management really is a skill on it’s own. Managing projects means keeping grip and control while at the same time offering room for flexibility. In order to manage the project properly, you have to react proactively to what is happening and always keep in mind the end result. But can we make the life of a project manager easier? Yes, we can! Luckily there are some handy tools and methods available, let’s dive into this.

Aida and Christien putting post-its on the windows

Sometimes you just have to keep it traditional

Spaghetti aglio e olio. Nothing fancy, but it does the trick. The traditional waterfall method forms the basis for most of the project management techniques. We at Level Level also use this method regularly ourselves. The waterfall method has a linear phasing, which means each phase is completed after the other. From initiation to definition, design, preparation, realization and follow-up. The output of one discipline is the input for the next discipline in the next phase. And that’s why it’s called the ‘waterfall method’! Who would have thought? The different phases with fixed decision moments are the common thread in the project. The main focus for control and grip is on time, money and quality. Within our business we work with Prince2 a lot; a generic method in which we mainly focus on costs and lead time.

The waterfall method also has some disadvantages, especially in software development. These disadvantages mainly affect the flexibility of a project. At the beginning of the project we try to invent the entire information structure. The necessary documentation as input for the next phases can cause a lot of overhead. Especially when in reality it turns out that the design no longer suits the user requirements that have changed in the meantime.

Incremental methods & iterative development

In the nineties, besides the Spice Girls, incremental methods became popular: a cyclical process with step by step (incremental) deliveries. In incremental software development, you gradually add more and more functionalities. In this way the project, your product, can start delivering business value even sooner. Think of it as building your first house in The Sims (without the cheat codes, swindler). You start with an empty version of the platform. Then, step by step, functionalities are added. Within an ‘increment’ (time boxed part of the total project) it is possible to use the standard phasing from the waterfall method on a small scale. Since it concerns that specific increment, the advantages of the waterfall method may outweigh the disadvantages. 

In iterative development you first build a basic version (a Tiny House) of the product to be delivered. Based on feedback, this version will be extended in several iterations. You focus on building as little as possible with as much impact as possible for the user, and then build the next version with meaningful feedback. You work iteratively if it is still not clear what the right solution will be for the problem or if there is still research to be done on what is the best match with the needs of the user. And this is the basis of agile methods!

What agile is all about

Did you know there are over 40 different agile methods in total? You didn’t? Well you do now. The well-known Scrum Framework is one of them. Agile is both incremental and iterative. We always work towards actual functional output. And after each iteration, the output gets better and better.

Agile is all about flexibility, multidisciplinary teams, short cycles and visual work. In software development, it is almost impossible to completely determine the requirements in advance. In this case development in iterations is the way to go. Timeboxing is used to frame a project: the lead time and the budget are determined per release or sprint. Depending on the agile framework you’re working with, this frame looks slightly different every time.

Of course there are also things which always stay the same. For instance each iteration focuses on delivering as much value (impact for the user) as possible at the earliest possible stage. The project execution and the order of delivery is flexible. You work in a small multidisciplinary project team together with the important stakeholders. A strong involvement of the users is also always very valuable in agile working.

Illustration agile vs waterfall

Choices, choices!

Each method has its pros and cons. We also work with different types of projects and clients. Each time we decide which method fits best. Both the organization, the type and size of the project, the working method and the culture of the client influence our choice. Are we going to start working more traditionally or is agile/scrum the right approach for the project?

The most important thing for us is to find the right balance between theoretical methods and practice. This is where the real value of project management comes in. With only a methodology, there is not yet a good project alignment. On the other hand, a healthy dose of common sense, practical experience, transparent and consistent communication will go a long way. But how do you know which method fits your project best? And how do you determine which method(s) to use? Read my next article if you want to find out even more about that!

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