How to decide, which methodology is the best for this project?

In the video ‘What is a project methodology and why do we have them?’ I explain what project management methodologies are, the two main types of methodology, and I go over some of the positives and negatives inherent in each approach.

I highlight some of the differences between Waterfall and Agile methodologies in the Waterfall vs Agile Infographic (it’s free to download on my website) which starts us understanding that there are quite big differences between methodologies, helping project managers to understand some of the factors that might sway our decision in one methodology’s direction, or another.

But there are way more methodologies than the two examples in the video (where I focused more on the overall approach – waterfall (predictive) vs Agile (adaptive)). See some of them here:

  • Prince2
  • Scrum
  • Six Sigma
  • Agile
  • Kanban
  • Extreme Programming
  • Rational Unified Process
  • Critical Path Method
  • LEAN
  • Dynamic Systems Development
  • SDLC
  • Critical Chain Management

Wow! That’s a lot!

“What factors drive our decision-making on which methodology would be right for our project?”

Isobel Boyes
The Real Life PM

Organisational maturity…

A key factor may be the maturity of the organisation in respect of its approach to and experience of, project management. There may be no methodologies used or they are used in name only and not really followed. I also believe that whether the organisation has a PMO (Project Management Office / Portfolio Management Office or Programme Management Office) could also be a factor that can influence project management maturity in an organisation – a well run PMO may have been able to garner agreement from the senior leadership team that a particular methodology will be best for the majority of projects, and have set themselves up to support that methodology, and thus the methodology is strongly and effectively supported. The maturity of the organisation and its project management practices will definitely be a factor to consider as there may be additional work to do to set up for and implement a brand new (to the organisation/PMO) methodology – and that could be viewed as increasing the risk of the project in question.

Complexity / impact factors

The consideration of complexity coupled with risk of harm to a specific stakeholder group, are two of the factors referenced in the ‘Waterfall vs Agile Infographic’. If we take the example of a Programme I worked on in 2022, which was the implementation of a highly complex electronic patient records (EPR) system across 10 very large hospitals. It also included all the GP surgeries and other community-based nursing and support services across the region, and which system also captured any tests (eg take a patient’s blood pressure – it goes into the system, put labouring woman on a trace – it goes into the system), medications prescribed (they go into the system)…. Huge in terms of system complexity, stakeholder groups, size and the overall complexity of the organisation.

But most importantly, were the system to go live before everyone was confident that the risk of harm to even a single patient was virtually zero, that go live would simply not be able to happen. An error in one part of the system not talking correctly to another part, could mean a patient being severely harmed, or killed.

So we can see here, that a methodology which releases that software in increments without all the development and functionality needed, just wouldn’t work because everything has to have been completed otherwise it just wouldn’t be safe.

Risk appetite

What is the risk appetite of the organisation? Are they an edgy tech startup with billions of available funds or are they a local council governed strictly by set budgets and governmental scrutiny? How much of a risk would be acceptable to different organisations?

And it’s not just the risk to various stakeholders (although of course as we’ve said, it’s a critical factor) but there are other things to consider like damage to reputation that could occur – think of how much many government projects have gone massively over budget and overrun the planned delivery date, sometimes by years! All such negatives really damage the reputation of the organisation delivering them.

Then there are penalties that could be imposed by a regulatory body that regulates your industry’s activities resulting in fines or restricting activities, sending your project way over time and budget.

There could be impacts to businesses that gain valuable accreditations or standards relevant to their market sector, without which, they aren’t trusted by consumers. These could be revoked should a project not go as well as planned.

So when assessing which methodology, the risks and benefits of each would need to be a consideration, set against the stated risk appetite.

How long do we have to do the project?

If the organisation is driven most by the set date by which they want the work finished, this could become the overriding factor determining which methodology they use. Where it’s possible to release product incrementally (eg like you would in Agile). without detriment, this type of approach might be more suitable and help the organisation to feel that they are making progress (compared to waterfall which often has months and months of work before a big bang go live at the end).

Matching methodology to main focus area

Since different methodologies were developed to focus on different aspects (for example LEAN focuses on reducing waste and saving time (I’ve seen evidence of these methodologies most in local authorities and the NHS), the best methodology will be one that best matches the requirements so it can effectively support the stated project outcomes, goals and deliverables.

Making methodology evaluation effective

You can’t really assess which methodology will be effective until you know not only the main focus (frequent releases of product / saving waste / quality) but you also need to have discussed, understood and documented the planned outcomes of the project and how well each methodology under consideration will support/not support them.

Here’s an interesting PMI research paper on taking a hybrid approach to methodology selection for you to check out.

Hybrid, what’s that?

If single methodologies weren’t enough, you can also have more than one methodology in use at the same time – this is called hybrid. Check out the article below on how you might assess what mix of methodologies might work best:

What Is Hybrid Project Management? | TeamGantt

Without a doubt, it’s PMOs that seem to lead the way on going hybrid. This would make sense as the PMO may have responsibility for defining which methodologies the organisation will use and they will instigate ways of blending those methodologies together where it’s deemed to be beneficial. Possibly the structure, assessment, review and oversight of projects being run within a PMO as part of it’s remit, makes it possible for them to do this. Possible methodology combos are:

  • Agile-Waterfall
  • Scrum-Waterfall
  • Lean-Agile
  • Lean-Waterfall

Considerations on whether to use a hybrid approach and how to go about selecting the right one, might include:

  • What is the organisation/it’s PMO’s maturity level in project management?
  • What is it’s historical methodology, how well implemented is good project management using that methodology?
  • Has the organisation ever tried other methodologies and if so how did it go?
  • What elements from each methodology would you wish to apply and in what phase/phases of the project?
  • Does the organisation have the infrastructure/tooling in place to support it eg if including Agile, would they need to purchase and train teams on the use of, say, Jira? What would be the best tool / tools to use solely or together to enable multiple types of project hierarchies to be accommodated?
  • How well would the senior leadership team understand and be able to support hybrid projects and if the roles of Project Sponsor/SRO were well understood in say, waterfall, would time need to be set aside for them to learn how to conduct those roles in a hybrid scenario?
  • Would it be possible to effectively report on the hybrid approach chosen and what would be the key performance indicators to show it was progressing as planned?
  • Will there be a need to manage costs and usage of project resources and if so, will it be possible to do this effectively?
  • What is the balance between needing elements like frequent, iterative product releases versus need to manage risk to stakeholders/reputation and other factors?

If you’ve already embarked on your journey into project management, what methodology/ies have you worked with? How did you find them? Leave a comment or catch up with us in the Real Life PM community Newsletter & Blog chat forum where we chat about topics that come up in the Blog or Newsletters, or check out our dedicated Methodologies forum.

Why not check out my YouTube channel where there are videos with information on how to get into project management, skill development and more.

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