By Andrew Graf, Chief Product Strategist, TeamDynamix

You wouldn’t draft a 10-page essay using your smartphone. Finding the right tool for the job is extremely important, no matter what that job may be. Once a project has been accepted through an established project intake process – the next step is to assess which methodology will be used to execute that project. There are multiple approaches to managing IT initiatives, but two primary camps. Software development life cycle (SDLC) and iterative. Neither approach is right or wrong, rather, it is most important to choose the right one for your project and organization. If the project team is not experienced using project management tools and there is not an assigned PM, then opting for a more collaborative tool would be ideal versus using a formal waterfall approach.

For the point of this article, let’s take a look at an IT group where the team has some level of PM expertise and is able to directionally understand the principals in each methodology. In this scenario, it is best to implement traditional waterfall, or SDLC when there is a known endpoint and requirements are clear. The project team can plan steps from start to finish, begin execution, and touch base on milestones throughout the process. On the other hand, an iterative approach is focused on delivering value in a certain amount of time with touchpoints for ongoing feedback.

How Did Agile Come to Be?                   

Waterfall has been around for nearly 50 years and serves a clear purpose for projects with fixed requirements or timelines. Agile evolved to become one of the major methodologies used today out of the need for more flexibility, especially with respect to IT projects. Specifically, agile is defined as a project management methodology where requirements and solutions evolve through constant teamwork and communication. Even outside of IT, we are now seeing the ‘agile organization’ as an emerging leadership style – groups like marketing and HR are adopting agile as the backbone to all projects and initiatives.

When embarking on an IT specific initiative, sometimes requirements are not well defined, and a team or line of business group may not know what exactly they want until they see something. Agile will work well when some components of what’s needed are known and additional requirements can be added along the way. Agile allows teams to turn around a finished product in a short amount of time. With agile, a project team can secure real-time feedback, will achieve quicker victories, and there is a higher level of confidence in the end product.

Determining the Right Approach

Several factors should guide the selection of a project management methodology.

  • Skillset of Project Team
    Consider what skill sets are present on the project team. It is key to understand the capacity of the team – are they project management experts? Do they need to track every detail? How many different stakeholders and dependencies are involved? Answering these questions will help determine the best path forward. If a project requires agile and there is no one on the team who works in agile, it may be worthwhile to consider training.
  • Definitive Requirements and End Goal
    Waterfall is the best approach when the end goal is definitive and requirements are well defined and concrete. The project team is in agreement on what will be delivered and when. Criteria for implementing waterfall may include projects where there are time or budget constraints. An example is implementing a large ERP system, predominantly out of the box and with few customizations. On day one the team starts working and the end product is an operational manufacturing system. In this scenario, the end goal is very clear, and the work can be divided up amongst the team and driven against a firm timeline. The critical path method also falls under the waterfall methodology.
  • Flexible Timeframe and Requirements
    Agile should be implemented when requirements are not concrete, or when a customer wants to be very engaged and hands-on. Agile will also work well when something needs to get into production quickly or if a project is likely to evolve over time. Criteria for implementing agile may include projects where there is a need for high-quality deliverables and customer input, or if a primary objective of the project is innovation. One challenge to utilizing agile can be allocating team resources. An important consideration when implementing agile is availability of your project team – agile will work best when the team is sequestered and focused solely on one project. Agile projects tend to get off track if team members are splitting time between projects and note wholly focused on just one. This goes back to having a formal project intake process – which will allow for better resource planning and allocation of team members.
  • Mix and Match: A Hybrid Approach
    It is important to note that selecting a methodology is not an all or nothing proposition. Some projects will benefit from implementing a hybrid approach using elements of both waterfall and agile. Going back to the ERP implementation example, perhaps the ERP system does have numerous special customizations and is not a straightforward job. The project team will be most successful taking a hybrid approach to accommodate the out-of-the-box components and the customizations. This highlights the importance of understanding the team’s skillsets to best match personnel to projects.
  • Public Sector Challenges
    One major difference in assessing project management methodologies for public versus private sector organizations is available resources. Traditionally, waterfall has been a widely accepted and successful project management methodology used in public sector, with agile being less widely utilized. The main reason for this is due to ability to collocate and dedicate resources which is essential when using agile. New tools and technologies are making this easier, especially when there is a single platform that can accommodate all types of projects, including hybrid.

Ultimately, the key is to select a tool that is flexible – one that allows for an organization to leverage the RIGHT methodology for the project size and scope.

Typically, it is a straightforward exercise determining which project management methodology will be best for a specific project. It is best to holistically look at the desired project outcomes and available resources before implementing one approach over the other. The best organizations will have a mix of skill sets and the right toolsets to apply the right methodology for the job – it is important to build in that flexibility and not limit yourselves to focusing on one over the other. While this may be more of a challenge for public sector organizations, increasingly advanced technologies can help ease the burden and ensure a smoother project management process throughout.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs