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How Popular Project Methodologies Stack Up

June 08, 2020 in Projects 101

When launching your next project, deciding on a methodology is a key part of the planning process. Maybe you’re managing a project in a niche you’ve never tackled before. Maybe you’ve heard buzz about some of the newest methodologies, like agile, and you want to know if it’s the right fit for your team or just a fad – like fidget spinners – that will be forgotten in a year.

When it comes to project management for agencies, it’s all about deciding what you want to prioritize: speed, flexibility or stability. Let’s break down some of the most common types of project management:

Waterfall

Dating back to the 1950’s, the waterfall methodology is a staple of project management methodologies, if somewhat dated. Projects like this are designed to flow in a linear path, through phases from conception to deployment, with each phase influencing the next.

It’s an extremely straightforward methodology that lends itself well to engineering or manufacturing situations. Because it’s designed in such a structured way, it means that mistakes or roadblocks are often fixed early in the process, when it’s often less expensive and disruptive to fix them.

Unfortunately, the structure of the waterfall method is also one of its biggest weaknesses. It assumes you have all your resources fixed from the get-go and doesn’t leave room for unexpected conflicts of deviations from the plan. When it comes to project management for agencies, it’s not always realistic to expect this stable of an environment.

If you’re managing a predictable project, however, and want a simple, straightforward methodology to go along with it, the waterfall method might be just what you need.

Agile

On the flip side, agile projects almost assume that chaos in the workplace is the norm. Instead of using a fixed, linear method of progression, it requires the team to work on bite-sized tasks quickly, evaluate whether it’s working and adapt on the fly. Thanks to the influx of startups and lean teams, this methodology is growing in popularity.

Agile methodology* tends to be a favourite when it comes to project management for agencies who are handling multiple projects with small teams. If your team is flexible, skilled at communicating, good with time management and always up for problem solving on the fly, agile might be the methodology for you.

One downside to agile, as you may imagine, is that it can give the feeling of constant uncertainty. While certain people thrive on that, others won’t. If your team can’t communicate effectively, an agile project methodology is likely to become time consuming and chaotic.

Kanban

Kanban, which is based on the Chinese word for “board,” marries aspects of both waterfall and agile. When you think of a project management stock photo, with a person standing at a board filled with a rainbow of post-it notes, that’s very Kanban. Basically, the “board” in this methodology (be it physical or digital) is divided into columns based on the stages of your project workflow. These can be high-level (eg: to-do, in progress, complete) or more complex, as project management for agencies sometimes requires. Each entry is usually written on a post-it-note.

It works almost like a visual assembly line, operating in a straightforward way reminiscent of waterfall. Thanks to the flexibility of the tasks (just swap a few post-it-notes), it also has an element of agile and can be adapted for more fluid agency or startup environments.

That being said, Kanban has a very immediate feel to it. It forces teams to focus on tasks that are immediately in progress or just on the horizon. It doesn’t always lend itself well to long-term planning or complex sub tasks.

At the end of the day, choosing a methodology when it comes to project management for agencies comes down to what you value in your process. If you want stability, you might want to incorporate elements of waterfall into your process. If you value a methodology that handles a dynamic environment well, agile might be the best bet for your team. If you’re looking to tackle your project with speed, your team might benefit from Kanban.

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