Whether you’re supervising your team or regulating your own workflow, you engage in some sort of project management: checking on progress, establishing milestones, assembling notes and documents in a central location. However, project management is also a science, and treating it as such is key to boosting your team’s productivity.
There are three main project management methodologies (PMMs) available to guide your project management efforts. Which one you choose depends on the type of projects you do, the industry you’re in, and what problems you want to fix in your current workflow. Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to the PMMs you should know.
This classic PMM began in 1970, when Dr. Winston Royce developed it to streamline software development. Waterfall project management is so named because each phase of the project flows into the next. The next phase cannot begin until the previous phase is complete. This approach was important to software development because certain requirements have to be met for each stage of the project to proceed. For example, you can’t code a program if the design hasn’t been completed. In software development, going back to correct something is expensive and time-consuming, which is why the Waterfall method aims to prevent such backtracking.
Waterfall can also be used for non-software projects, such as product launches or fundraising campaigns. In general, if your work depends on a “cat out of the bag” deliverable, Waterfall is a great way to ensure that all benchmarks are met and milestones completed before you deploy your product. This management style also calls for a rigid structure and clear documentation, which is helpful if you’ve got a lot of moving parts or need to track project progress for reporting or compliance.
Number 1 Tip for a Waterfall Project Manager
Plan out all foreseeable hurdles and allocate resources before you get to each phase of the project, and build in leeway whenever possible. Imagine a Waterfall project as a construction project: the building must be planned first, then the foundation laid, then the frame built, and so on. While you should be able to estimate the number of bricks you need, order a few extra.
Terms to Know:
Dependency: a relationship between two tasks in which one must be completed for the next to proceed.
Gantt chart: a visual representation of all tasks in a project, their interdependencies, and dates during which they’ll be completed
Best Project Management System or Apps for Waterfall:
Avaza: Similar to Asana but with a bit more of a Waterfall approach, this app offers time tracking, nested subtasks, Gantt charts, and other tools that lend themselves toward highly structured project management.
Basecamp: This app is ideal for client work because each project can be entered into its own “camp.” Primarily a task management app, Basecamp offers the ability to drill down into to-dos and attach files, comments, and due dates to each one. For a project that needs to meet strict deadlines and be well-documented, Basecamp is an ideal choice.
Trello: Like Wrike, Trello logs all activity, which makes it great for Waterfall. It involves the division of projects into distinct stages, then into “cards,” then into checklists. This structure will help you thoroughly plan out your Waterfall projects.
Wrike: Although this robust project management app includes some Agile terminology, it’s well suited for deeply planned, structured projects. Its detailed logging and reporting functionality supports Waterfall’s documentation requirement.
Like Waterfall, Agile emerged from the software development world as a response to Waterfall’s main drawback: its inflexibility. While Waterfall is sequential and rigid, Agile, as its name suggests, is iterative and fluid. Backtracking to fix something is not only permitted, but encouraged: For projects that rely heavily upon stakeholder input (as a lot of client projects do), Agile is an ideal PMM.
Agile also works well as a general team management methodology. If you’re regularly producing internal work that aligns with a big-picture strategy, you’ll need to check in with your team on a daily basis (this is called a “scrum”) and have a procedure for rolling in your feedback. That said, Agile-run teams will experience an ebb and flow as projects vary their demand on resources — and that means that the workload might become unmanageable at times. Thankfully, Agile is flexible enough to accommodate freelancers joining the team on an iterative basis.
Terms to Know:
Backlog: the set of tasks that need to be done to complete a project; also, any new tasks added from stakeholder input
Kanban: a framework in the Agile philosophy that provides a visual layout of each task’s status and/or overall project phases
Scrum: another framework that entails a project check-in for all team members
Sprint: a burst of work meant to accomplish a task that supports the project
Best Project Management System or Apps:
Asana: As an intuitive project management app, Asana lends itself well to the flexible, iterative Agile approach.
Monday.com: This app has a lot of the Agile tools already built in, such as a capacity for daily scrums, sprint logging, and Kanban project views.
Slack: The darling of IT team everywhere, Slack is a messaging app that can easily be customized to serve as an Agile hub.
Trello: Although Trello is an ideal choice for Waterfall project management, it’s still a Kanban-based system and thus can be used with Agile as well.
Number 1 Tip for an Agile Project Manager*
Establish a central depository for messages, notes, project documents, and anything else the team might need. Don’t make them hunt for information or resources. The key to successful Agile management is to allow input to be easily processed and tasks to be quickly completed. Use a flexible tool that can adapt to constantly shifting goals and needs.
Critical Path Method
What if some parts of your project need to follow a sequence but other parts need to be flexible? The Critical Path Method (CPM) works backward from project deliverables to determine the resources needed from the project. Then, you map out those resources and remove anything that would lengthen the project’s timeline. While Waterfall tends to lead to higher costs and project bloat, and Agile contributes to scope creep (expansion of the project beyond the initial concept), CPM effectively narrows the project to its shortest process.
CPM helps if you struggle to determine when you can deliver projects, or if you need to cut costs and boost your efficiency. A CPM project manager needs to be able to map out task sequences in terms of the time needed. The difference between this approach and Waterfall is that the latter starts from the beginning and moves forward, which can lead to project delays if something goes awry. CPM lives up to its name and forces the project to complete on time, even if some elements drop off.
Terms to Know:
Constraint: a resource that’s crucial to the completion of the project
Float: a task that can be postponed without affecting other tasks; also, the level at which a task can be delayed and the project still completed.
Best Project Management System or Apps for CPM:
ClickUp: Although it has tools for Agile management, ClickUp is such a robust time- and task-management app that it’s well-suited to help you shorten your project paths.
Monday.com: We’re including Monday.com here as well, simply because you can track each team member’s workload to better assess when and how the project can be delivered. The app’s highly visual layouts also helps you better assess project bloat or unnecessary tasks.
TeamWeek: Ostensibily a Waterfall/Gantt app, TeamWeek permits advanced resource tracking, which is the core of CPM management.
Number 1 Tip for a CPM Project Manager
To shorten projects to their critical path, you must have a powerful understanding of time and resource management. Know your tasks’ float status and the implications of cutting a task, and be prepared to assign or delegate tasks according to your team members’ respective strengths.
Ready to get some tasks off your plate? Reach out to Lyra Creative Studios for your freelancer needs.