Microsoft releases brand new versions of every one of their projects every three weeks, and it seems like Google updates their apps every other day. This type of productivity might leave project managers scratching their heads and wondering aloud how these teams do it. How do they work so efficiently?
The answer is simple: their project management techniques are on point.
Yet only 23% of organizations use standardized project management practices. And 7% of teams don't use standard project management practices at all!
While it's clear that project management techniques are essential, the way that organizations are using them is rapidly changing. According to the PMI's Pulse of the Profession, 89% of those surveyed this year said their organization implements hybrid project management practices.
Forward-thinking managers and leaders don't adhere to single techniques. More and more businesses are picking out parts of project management techniques that work best for them to create unique workflows.
In this guide, we're going to take a look at 7 project management techniques to get your team working smarter, including:
- Agile planning
- Waterfall planning
- Critical path technique
- Critical chain technique
- PERT planning
- Integrated project management
- Lean project management
Let's get planning!
When to Use Project Management Techniques
Using project management techniques successfully is all about choosing the right technique at the right time.
Some projects are complex and work best when one of the above techniques is used to plan them out in sections. Other projects benefit when a simpler process is followed to get the job done. To figure out which project management technique is right for you, ask yourself:
- Is my project complex or straightforward?
- Is our working environment flexible, dynamic, and able to change up our processes as the project progresses?
- Is our organization open to taking risks?
- Is our team able to keep up if the workflow changes and evolves?
- What are our clients like? Are they flexible?
Identifying how your team works and planning out a project’s requirements is vital. However, forcing team members to adapt to project management techniques when they're not needed can also lead to project failures.
Get the basics of your project management foundations wrong, and it could end up costing your agency—big time. A mega study of more than 10,000 projects by Pricewaterhouse Coopers found that only 2.5% of the companies completed 100% of their projects. The good news is, project management techniques save companies 28 times more money because their output is more reliable.
Instead of simply picking a project management technique and running with it, ask your team what has worked for them in the past:
- Are the requirements of the project fixed or dynamic?
- Are there resources available, and are they variable?
- Is the team in-house or based remotely?
- Is there an existing project management technique that fits? Or can we create a process that will work best for our team?
The message is clear: using the right project management technique pays off.
1. Agile Planning
Agile planning is one of the best-known project management techniques used around the globe.
At its core, agile has a value-centered approach to managing projects. It's been around since the ‘70s but grew in popularity when a bunch of software developers came together and produced the Agile Manifesto in 2001.
Agile manages a project by breaking it up into "sprints". For example, your agency might be building a new software app. You can break the project into multiple parts, and then add in "sprints" to ramp up the productivity before each deadline.
Your team might set sprints over two weeks and then use the time afterwards to reassess before moving onto the next one. The reason agile works so well for projects is that it's easy to change up if something isn't working. For example, if you hit a speed bump in the first sprint of a project, you can modify your processes to make sure the second one runs smoothly.
Agile is best suited for teams who have a level communication field (without hierarchy) and who meet frequently.
What are the highlights of using agile planning?
First off, agile is super flexible.
You have more freedom to experiment and make changes, which makes it particularly well-suited for developers and IT projects. For example, using Float, you can use milestones to build and track deadline dates in an agile sprint.
Once the milestones are set, your teams will be able to clearly see them on their project schedule:
Agile is also a low-risk project management technique. As you get regular feedback from team members working on the project, it works best for agencies who are flexible enough in their processes to recognize when something isn't working—and change it immediately.
2. Waterfall Planning
Waterfall planning is a traditional approach to project management.
It works like...well, a waterfall! Once a phase is complete, it triggers the next part of the project to start. For example, your agency might be building a website for a client. Using the waterfall technique, the project outline might look like this:
Each phase cannot begin until the step before it is in its final stages. The key to successfully planning projects using the waterfall technique is defining every deliverable at the start, and then assigning each with a deadline.
What are the highlights of using waterfall planning?
Waterfall planning has next to no learning curve. It requires planning out projects using clear, concise stages, so it's easy for teams to implement.
Waterfall planning is also very concrete. Each phase can only start when the previous one has been ticked off. This makes it easy to keep everything on track, however, if a phase misses its deadline, it can completely throw off a project.
3. Critical Path Technique
Critical path technique maps out a project from beginning to end and pinpoints the vital tasks.
It's easy to think every part of a project is critical. However, critical path highlights pieces of a project that require more attention than others.
Before you start a project, each deliverable is broken down into objectives and given deadlines. This helps you map out what objectives can be worked on simultaneously, and which ones need to wait for previous parts of the project to be completed (much like the waterfall technique).
Then, you can pinpoint what the critical activities of the project are, and what can be set aside without impacting your deadline.
What are the highlights of using critical path?
As critical path maps out activities based on hierarchy, you're able to get a clearer picture of your project as a whole.
For example, if you're planning a project that needs X completed in development before moving the project onto the design and marketing departments, critical path helps you avoid any potential bottlenecks when meeting a deadline.
Critical path also helps you prioritize deliverables by flagging those that are more important than others. If push comes to shove and you're running tight on a deadline, critical path can help you allocate resources to the essential parts of a project first.
4. Critical Chain Technique
Critical chain is less about rigid processes and more about flexibly allocating resources for a project.
This technique prioritizes your people and optimizes their time. By focusing on your team members and how they spend their time, you can keep your projects on track without exceeding your resource capacity. This is what makes critical chain a great technique if your clients have tight budgets that they can't exceed.
For example, if you've got a client with a watertight budget, you can use critical chain to allocate resources based on time, making it impossible to go over budget. Once the budget is maxed out, you simply stop working on the project.
If you're a seasoned agency, you can use your experience to map out what tasks a project needs. You'll also know which team members you can assign to a project to optimize the budget based on their hourly rates.
What are the highlights of using critical chain?
Critical chain is all about maximizing your team's time to meet customer needs.
As it focuses on making the most out of the resources available, it can be a more natural way to stretch your customer’s budget further. To plan with the critical chain method, you need to forecast your resources based on each team member’s hourly rate.
If a project comes into your pipeline with a strict budget, you can use critical chain to manage the project in Float. As each team member's hourly rate is built into their profile, it's easy to see how much of a project's budget has been spent when you allocate tasks. If you go over budget, Float will warn you by flagging the project in red:
For resource-strapped project teams with budget-strapped clients: this technique is a powerful one.
5. PERT Planning
PERT is short for Program Evaluation & Review Technique. It was first used by the U.S. Navy in the Cold War to get a leg up on their enemies.
PERT calculates the realistic amount of time needed to complete a project, broken down by:
- What's the shortest possible time each task will take?
- What's the most likely amount of time it will take?
- What's the longest amount of time each task could take?
Then, the project is planned backward from its deliverable date. PERT is ideal for long-term, complex projects that may have variable objectives or resources available to it.
What are the highlights of using PERT?
The best part about PERT is its flexibility. As you've already allocated rough timeframes needed for each activity, it's easy to assign and change tasks after the project starts. That means once your project has kicked off, you’ll need a manageable way to change and update tasks scheduled hours with ease
How would this look using Float?
Using the task scheduler, you can allocate objectives (even if they're tentative) based on how long you expect them to take.
Once the project starts, if it's clear you've over (or under) allocated a resource to a task, you can split, cut, or extend the time of a team member's task and reallocate it elsewhere.
Similar to the critical path technique, PERT plans your project out based on interdependent activities. By having mapped out windowed timeframes for tasks, once your project has kicked off, PERT gives you the flexibility to adjust and reallocate resources as needed.
6. Integrated Project Management
Integrated project management (IPM) is one of the most widely used project management techniques by creatives.
Answer this—when was the last time a creative project required producing a single asset? It's rare, right? Most projects like that will also require a website, logos, design assets, and a bunch of other stuff. And that's what makes IPM perfect for creative projects. It works on the basis that each project will be made up of various deliverables instead of a single asset.
Knowing that a project will have a lot of different puzzle pieces, IPM gives teams a detailed insight into what resources will be needed and where.
What are the highlights of using IPM?
Right off the bat, your team will know that a project requires X number of assets to be delivered. You'll likely need regular meetings to keep everyone in the loop, which also maintains accountability on your team. They'll know who is working on what, and what deadlines they're expected to meet.
Let's say your agency has taken on a project that requires a new website, social media graphics, and a 30-second video advertisement. Using Float, you can break each project down into core deliverables, and store each plan in the same dashboard.
Each team member will be able to see the progress of each asset and the project as a whole.
7. Lean Management
Lean project management is less of a strict technique and more of an overhaul of how to manage every project in a pipeline.
Created by Toyota's Taiichi Ohno, lean's main aim is minimizing waste in your company's resources (hence the name). It works using simple management philosophies like:
- Anything worth doing is worth doing fast and right
- Avoid rework by clarifying objectives and goals
- Eliminate bottlenecks in the work and in the process
There is one significant difference in using lean versus the other project management techniques on our list: its use of the last planner principle. This is more of a glorified to-do list, where project managers list out everything required on future projects, activities currently in progress, and items that have been delivered.
Digital Product Studio Designli.co Uses Lean to Minimize Waste
South Carolina Digital Product Studio, Designli.co, designs and develops mobile web apps and helps their clients navigate the complex process of building digital products.
Before their project managers began using a lean approach to their processes, the team would spend a lot of time documenting every single feature that a new piece of software would have before writing a line of code. Designli.co Partner, Keith Shields, says his team was trying to frame up the exact specs for a fixed-fee client project.
"To eliminate some of the waste that is inevitably caused by this due to changes in prioritization and new clarifications that crop up along the way of writing software, we do still begin with documentation in what we call a SolutionLab," he says.
"But instead of the nitty-gritty for each and every function, we opt to focus on high-level goals and motivations of the software, and the core user personas and stories, then leave the rest to an iteration-based development schedule."
Shields says adopting a lean project management approach has allowed his team to make more minute decisions later on, learn quickly, and deliver rapidly in smaller sprints.
"We've eliminated the waste of writing too lengthy documentation that inevitably gets ignored or changed along the way and therefore thrown out," Keith says.
Designli.co use project management tool Float to keep their projects on track. By using Float, Designli.co ensures their development team members are allocated to a sprint in a client project that is in a full-fledged development stage. Shields says once that's been completed, the agency can re-assign them to another sprint immediately afterwards.
What are the highlights of using lean?
Lean is the perfect technique for businesses who don't want a complicated process— they just need their projects to run smoothly.
A lot of projects fail because organizations don't engage with their team members and involve them in workflows. The key to successful project management is getting your whole team on board with meeting deadlines and excited about a project's workflow.
Using a tool like Float, you can keep your whole team engaged. Float keeps everyone updated using a real-time activity feed, and team members can access their schedule on their phone, tablet, or desktop.
No matter if your team is in the office or working remotely, it's easier to keep them engaged when they're kept in the loop.
The only way to ensure a project's success is through proper planning.
With the right project management technique, you can make this a reality. Planning and prioritizing activities, as well as hitting deadlines, is easier to do if you're following an established process.
However, not all project management techniques are made the same. Some techniques are suited for long-term, complex projects, and others are perfect for creative assignments with lots of different pieces and moving parts.
Whatever project your agency takes on, it’s imperative that you find the right project management technique before you start working on it. Your team will be more engaged, their output will be better, and you'll hit your deadlines—every time.
Looking for a simple and fast way to implement project management techniques? Float has been helping the world's top teams plan their projects and schedule their time since 2012.