Modern Project Management: What You Need To Know & How To Make It Work

tcan be difficult managing a team. If you do it badly, you can confuse your team, shatter morale, miss deadlines, and possibly worst of all: be responsible for leading a disappointing project.

But fear not! We’ve laid out all the modern project management techniques and concepts, along with ways to execute them (and additional reading for each one), so that you can lead your team more efficiently.

Here’s a crash-course in modern project management concepts

If you’re a traditionally trained project manager, none of this will come as a surprise to you. But if you don’t necessarily have a formal background in PM work, and have yet somehow found yourself in the role of project manager (even if that’s not your official title!), having a handle on these basics can help:

Waterfall Methodology

Waterfall has been mostly out of fashion (especially in the software engineering world) for a while now, but many of these other systems were developed as a response to it, so we’ll cover it first.

It was originally adapted to software development from the manufacturing world, and it’s sequential — not cyclical or iterative.

That means you plan the entire project out at the start of the project, and then go down the plan step by step, checking everything off.

Most of us instinctively plan in a Waterfall style (since we’re never taught anything different, unless we go out of our way to learn it), but a lot of its detractors argue that it’s inefficient, especially compared to other styles.

Scrum Methodology

Scrum has its origins in the late 80s/early 90s. Scrum uses incremental, iterative cycles, instead of planning the whole project out at the start.

Scrum also has pre-defined team roles (product owner, development team, and scrum master).

This method acknowledges that customers/clients often change their mind about what they want in ways that can’t be addressed in traditional methods (like Waterfall), and focuses on maximizing the team’s ability to ship products and respond to new requirements as they emerge.

Scrum emphasizes working in sprints of 30 days and also has a heavy focus on daily meetings (standups or daily scrums) while a sprint is ongoing. There are also structured reviews and retrospectives as a part of the process.

Agile Methodology

Agile draws on older methods and ideas going back as far as the 1970s, but became much more popular when 17 software developers came together to write and release the Agile Manifesto circa 2001.

Like a few of these terms, it’s often used as an umbrella term for a set of process, product, and project management techniques.

The idea behind Agile is essentially that you complete small portions of the project/product (vs. a full version of the project/product) in each cycle, and modify the overall project course based on customer/client feedback as you complete cycles.

Getting this feedback as you’re developing the product lets you create something that meets current customer needs, with minimal cost/waste/time spent. Part of the reason Agile has become so popular is because it’s fairly easy to modify for your specific team’s wants/needs.

Lean Project Management

Lean isn’t really a “true” project management method in the way many of these other concepts are, but it has had a lot of influence in product development, so it’s worth touching on.

 

Like several of these ideas, Lean started in the product development and manufacturing world, created by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota.

You’ve probably heard of the Lean Startup, which codifies a lot of the product development aspects of Lean into a set of business processes and adapts them for the startup world. The fundamental idea behind Lean is more value with less waste — getting rid of the waste in your business processes. Other Lean philosophies include:

  • Anything worth doing is worth doing fast and right
  • Avoiding rework by clarifying objectives and goals (and doing it right the first time, as already referenced)
  • Using iterative cycles, as several of the other project management methods do
  • Eliminate bottlenecks in the work and in the process
  • The last planner principle, which means that you plan in greater detail as you get closer to actually doing the work (instead of planning everything at the start of the project), and create those plans with the people who will actually do the work

How to figure out what works for your team

Some teams work with one specific project management style basically straight “out of the box,” without feeling the need for modification. Other teams take a system and modify it until it meets their needs (or take the big-picture pieces from 2–3 different project management concepts and then work them together into their own system).

Typically, the pieces being modified are:

  • Sprint length
  • Length & frequency of meetings
  • What’s being completed in that sprint / how much feedback you’re getting on it

For example, daily standups are often too much for a lot of teams, so they switch it to weekly. Another option is to do a meeting on Monday to discuss what’s on deck for the week and give your team a chance to ask any questions they have, then a recap on Friday to discuss what got done, what didn’t, and why.

Generally, it’s good to test for about 1–3 months to see if something is sticking.

It’s especially helpful to create (with your team’s input, of course!) a list of problems that you’re attempting to solve by trying out a new project management method. That list will give you a metric as to whether your test was a success or not.

Even after you’ve found something that works really well for your team, it’s still a good idea to do quarterly check-ins and make sure your system is still working as intended. Signs that your project management system needs to be shaken up include:

  • Tasks or projects are consistently falling through the cracks
  • Meetings aren’t as productive as they used to be
  • People are unsure of what they’re supposed to be working on, in what order, when, or why

At Clubhouse, our project management methods have evolved over time as our needs have changed. At one point, we didn’t do daily standups — after employee number six, they were added.

We also have a bi-weekly priorities meeting where we check in on high-level goals (our Epics) that we set in the Milestones for the quarter. Those meetings were also added after we had a team of 6–7 employees and some of the team went remote.

When it comes to responsibilities, our team members are in charge of their own Epics. They don’t have to do all the work, but it is their job to herd their own cats to whatever degree they need herding.

All that said, we’re still fairly light-touch, because we’re such a small team and we all communicate so regularly. An overwrought system wouldn’t work well for us — it’d just weigh us down.

Our goal is to keep responsibility in our individual team member’s hands, instead of being held in the hands of one specific member or manager.

We’re a small, cross-functional team, with constantly overlapping work — a change in any one department can have effects that ripple across to other departments. Because of that, conversations need to happen out in the open instead of just using one person as the go-between, and our project management methods are designed to reflect that.

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Project management software

The Install Screen for the Web Project Managem...
The Install Screen for the Web Project Management Software dotProject (Photo credit: Zahlm)

Project management software is a term covering many types of software, including estimation and planning, scheduling, cost control and budget management, resource allocation, collaboration software, communication, decision-making, quality management and documentation or administration systems, which are used to deal with the complexity of large projects.

Tasks or activities of project management software

Scheduling

One of the most common project management software tool types is scheduling tools. Scheduling tools are used to sequence project activities and assign dates and resources to them. The detail and sophistication of a schedule produced by a scheduling tool can vary considerably with the features provided and the scheduling methods supported. Scheduling tools may include support for:

  • Multiple dependency relationship types between activities
  • Resource assignment and leveling
  • The Critical Path and Critical Chain methods
  • Activity duration estimation and probability-based simulation
  • Activity cost accounting

Providing information

Project planning software can be expected to provide information to various people or stakeholders, and can be used to measure and justify the level of effort required to complete the project(s). Typical requirements might include:

  • Overview information on how long tasks will take to complete.
  • Early warning of any risks to the project.
  • Information on workload, for planning holidays.
  • Evidence.
  • Historical information on how projects have progressed, and in particular, how actual and planned performance are related.
  • Optimum utilization of available resource.
  • Cost Maintenance.

Approaches to project management software

Desktop

Project management software has been implemented as a program that runs on the desktop of each user. Project management tools that are implemented as desktop software are typically single-user applications used by the project manager or another subject matter expert, such as a scheduler or risk manager.

Web-based

Project management software has been implemented as a Web application to be accessed using a web browser.

Personal

A personal project management application is one used at home, typically to manage lifestyle or home projects. There is considerable overlap with single user systems, although personal project management software typically involves simpler interfaces. See also non-specialised tools below.

Single user

A single-user system is programmed with the assumption that only one person will ever need to edit the project plan at once. This may be used in small companies, or ones where only a few people are involved in top-down project planning. Desktop applications generally fall into this category.

Collaborative

A collaborative system is designed to support multiple users modifying different sections of the plan at once; for example, updating the areas they personally are responsible for such that those estimates get integrated into the overall plan. Web-based tools, including extranets, generally fall into this category, but have the limitation that they can only be used when the user has live Internet access. To address this limitation, some software tools using client–server architecture provide a rich client that runs on users’ desktop computer and replicate project and task information to other project team members through a central server when users connect periodically to the network. Some tools allow team members to check out their schedules (and others’ as read only) to work on them while not on the network. When reconnecting to the database, all changes are synchronized with the other schedules.

Integrated

An integrated system combines project management or project planning, with many other aspects of company life. For example, projects can have bug tracking issues assigned to each project, the list of project customers becomes a customer relationship management module, and each person on the project plan has their own task lists, calendars, and messaging functionality associated with their projects.

Similarly, specialised tools like SourceForge integrate project management software with source control (CVS) software and bug-tracking software, so that each piece of information can be integrated into the same system.

Non-specialized tools

While specialized software is common, software that is not project management-specific is often used in the management of projects. In particular, office productivity tools are used by most project managers.

Project Management Definitions

Definitions of Project Management on the Web:

* Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of the particular project. A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to achieve a particular aim. Project management knowledge and practices are best described in terms of their component processes. These processes can be placed into five Process Groups: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling and Closing. …

* The leadership role which plans, budgets, co-ordinates, monitors and controls the operational contributions of property professionals, and others, in a project involving the development of land in accordance with a client’s objectives in terms of quality, cost and time.

* A controlled process of initiating, planning, executing, and closing down a project.

* Both a process and set of tools and techniques concerned with defining the project’s goal, planning all the work to reach the goal, leading the project and support teams, monitoring progress, and seeing to it that the project is completed in a satisfactory way.

* The application of modern management techniques and systems to the execution of a project from start to finish, to achieve predetermined objectives of scope, quality, time and cost, to the equal satisfaction of those involved.

* Project management is concerned with the overall planning and co-ordination of a project from inception to completion aimed at meeting the client’s requirements and ensuring completion on time, within cost and to required quality standards. Project management is typically carried out either by a private consultant or an employee of the project client.

* Manages the production of projects with schedules and tasks associated with the project. It often involves detailed expertise in many of the following areas: planning, cost management, contract negotiations/procurement, technical writing (proposals, etc.), research, technical development, information/computer management, business development, corporate/administrative management, time management, and others. …

* The methods and disciplines used to define goals, plan and monitor tasks and resources, identify and resolve issues, and control costs and budgets for a specific project.

* May be used in a project manufacturing environment for production scheduling or in a variety of one off projects throughout all types of organisation.

* The action of managing a project. It can involves many activities, from scheduling to communication. Project Management in TOC is outcomes based as opposed to activity based, and TPACC software is an ideal tool used to measure the progress toward the financial outcome.

* Approach used to manage work with the constraints of time, cost and performance targets.

* This is managing the resources needed to ensure that a project is finished on time and within budget and to the satisfaction of the end user. Project managers use tools such as PERT and Gantt charts for scheduling all the tasks that need to be completed. They are conscious of managing time, scope and resources for a project. To reduce time to complete a project the manager might decide to employ more workers which would increase costs. …

* The planning, control and co-ordination of all aspects of a project, and the motivation of all those involved in it, in order to achieve the project objectives.

* Project management is the discipline of defining and achieving targets while optimizing the use of resources (time, money, people, space, etc). Thus, it could be classified into several models: time, cost, scope, and intangibles.

Identify Project Need and Begin Project Studies

– Select Project Manager

– Prepare Preliminary Project Work Plan

– Identify the Initial Project Scope

– Select Project Development Team

– Review Related or Adjacent Studies

– Initiate Technology Studies

– Obtain Appropriate Mapping of Communication

– Obtain Existing Data from Case Studies

– Identify Project Alternatives

– Obtain Advance Planning Studies for Structures

– Review Project Alternatives

– Prepare Draft Project Study Report (PSR)

– Circulate Draft PSR for Review

– Prepare Appropriate Fact Sheet for Exceptions to Design Standards

– Approve Fact Sheet for Exceptions to Advisory Design Standards

– Approve Fact Sheet for Exceptions to Mandatory Design Standards

– Review of PSR by Project Development Team

– Complete PSR