Top Project Management Approaches Explained [A Visual Guide]

Posted by Guthrie-Jensen Consultants

A project is a unique, temporary endeavor with a definite beginning and end that’s undertaken to fulfill a specific set of goals and objectives. As such, the Project Management Institute defines project management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”

There are a wide variety of projects and organizational structures, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to project management. For project management to be effective, it must be tailored to your organization’s project types, human resource capabilities, and company culture. And because it has always been practiced informally, several approaches have been developed through the years.

We’ve outlined the eight most common project management approaches today. Here’s a comprehensive list with visual guides to help you select a project management training framework that best suits your organization.

1. Phased Approach

Also referred to as the traditional or Waterfall approach, the phased approach breaks down the project into a distinct, sequential steps or phases.

phased approach - top project management approaches

Structured planning and control techniques help overcome resistance to change because lessons are learned in the early phases, and can be applied to the later stages of the project management.

Phased approach also provides a solid foundation of project-level data that can be used to evaluate the strategies at the enterprise level.

A phased approach is based on the principle that any project can be broken down into a series of stages. Typically, the four stages of the phased approach are an initiation, project-level installation, enterprise-level installation, and maintenance.

waterfall model - traditional approach

Many organizations vary the stages to include a control or closing stage. Depending on the organization and nature of the project, stages are renamed and tailored.

The phased approach works best for smaller organizations with well-defined projects. However, it can be challenging to use for more complex projects involving a larger organization.

2. Lean Project Management – A3 problem solving and 6 Sigma DMAIC

Lean project management is based on the principles of lean manufacturing that aims to provide high value for customers while minimizing waste and reducing time.

The lean process originated from Henry Ford’s assembly line and Taiichi Ohno’s philosophy and practices in Toyota’s production system.

lean project management

The focus of lean project management is in the identification and reduction of waste or activities that don’t contribute to the completion of a process. Lean waste categories may include defects, overproduction, non-value-added activities, transportation, inventory, motion waste, and extra processing. After waste is eliminated, only the processes that provide value to the customer will remain.

There are several methods in lean project management approach, but A3 problem solving and 6 Sigma DMAIC are the most common methods used by organizations.

The Six Sigma DMAIC combines lean manufacturing process and the Six Sigma Black Belt to streamline operations, increase value, and reduce waste. It’s a very efficient method for reducing the number of defective products produced.

a3 problem solving - top project management approaches

On the other hand, some organizations complement their lean project management with the A3 Problem Solving method, which aims to comprehensively assess and communicate the project information to the rest of the team and make decisions accordingly.

As the name suggests, the A3 report is supposed to fit on a single A3 page. Because it’s brief and direct, this method is suited for relatively short improvement tasks and projects.

3. Iterative and Incremental Project Management

Because other project management models are unfit for larger projects with constantly changing requirements, iterative and incremental project management approaches were developed. This approach is especially useful for software development companies.

Iterative and incremental project management methods include agile project management, dynamic systems development, and extreme project management.

Iterative and Incremental Project Management

While this approach involves many concepts and stages, the general idea is that project management is divided into small, repetitive phases that can be changed to address problems and implement new solutions.

This approach is the opposite of the waterfall or phased approach, where the previous phase needs to be completed before proceeding to the next one.

The iterative and incremental approach allows team members to continuously review problems and apply solutions in a constantly evolving situation.

4. Critical Chain Project Management

Critical Chain Project Management was developed by Dr. Eli Goldratt in 1997 to address problems in traditional project management such as completion delays, missed deadlines, increased project costs, and low quality of deliverable.

critical chain project management

Because Critical Chain Project Management is rooted in Dr. Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, project constraints and uncertainties need to be taken into consideration in the planning phase.

Instead of placing buffers in every task or phase, the buffers are pooled so that a project can be finished earlier or meet the due date.

5. Process-Based Management

In the process-based management approach, projects are not treated as separate endeavors, but as a part of the day-to-day operations of an organization. As such, the project is aligned with the goals and objectives of the company.

Before a project is kicked-off, the team determines whether the project plan lives up to the company mission-vision. If it doesn’t, then the plan is restructured to add value to the company’s general goals and objectives.

process-based management

In this approach, business processes are the building blocks that transform inputs into outputs. Inputs such as information, materials, or resources are required to start the project. Tasks are the specific work processes that are completed to produce outputs. An output may refer to the final deliverable product or the intermediate products generated by a specific task within the process.

prince2 project management approaches

PRINCE2 (Projects IN a Controlled Environment) is an example of a process-based approach to project management whereby all projects need to have a business justification.

6. Benefits Realization Management

Benefits Realization Management (BRM) is a project management approach that focuses on deriving benefits from project outputs to maximize ROI and reap both intangible and financial benefits for the organization.

Its life cycle consists of three main processes namely identify (benefits identification), execute (benefits analysis and planning), and sustain (benefits realization and benefits transition).

benefits realization management

In the benefits identification stage, the main goal is to determine whether the project or program can produce the intended business results.

In the execution stage, the benefits risks are minimized and the opportunity to gain additional benefits is maximized through benefits realization plan and monitoring strategies.

During the last stage, the goal is to sustain the realized benefits and ensure that the advantages gained continue to provide value to the organization.

benefits realization project management

The life cycle of benefits realization project management is further broken down into five best practices, at the top of which is the fundamental stage where benefits are identified and qualified.

Benefits are then valued and appraised so that a proper plan can be formulated. When the plan is successfully implemented, the benefits are realized. The last crucial step is to review the outputs and sustain the benefits gained.

benefits management model

These practices are based on seven important principles that need to be taken into consideration every step of the way, as shown in the model above.

These principles are critical to achieving an organization’s strategic business goals, and products and projects are utilized to meet these goals and realize benefits.

7. Earned Value Management

Earned Value Management (EVM) was popularized as a project management approach in 1966 when the U.S. Air Force mandated earned value (USAF EVMS) in concomitance with the other planning and controlling requirements on Air Force programs.

To date, it is commonly used by government agencies in the United States, Canada, Europe, England, Australia, China, and Japan.

EVM is a management tool that allows project managers to assess the time performance and cost performance of a project. It also analyzes whether a project creates value and determines whether it’s within budget and schedule by combining the three measurements of the project management triangle (scope, time, and costs).EVM answers the fundamental question, “what did we get for the value we spent?”

earned value management

There are four basic data sources that EVM is built upon: Planned Value (PV); Earned Value (EV); and Actual Cost (AC).

  • Planned Value (PV) – the set budgeted value of the work completed so far on a particular date
  • Earned Value (EV) — the actual value of the work completed so far on a particular date
  • Actual Cost (AC) — the total expenses for the work so far at a particular date

Earned value can then be compared to the actual costs and planned value to determine performance and predict future performance.

From the three data sources, project managers can conduct a variance analysis. According to the PMI’s PMBOK® Guide, variance analysis is “a quantifiable deviation, departure, or divergence away from a known baseline or expected value.”

The health of any project can be determined through the variance analysis formulas as follows:

  • Schedule Variance (SV) – will demonstrate whether the project is ahead of or behind schedule.

Formula: SV = EV – PV

A negative value means that a project is behind schedule, while a positive value means that it’s ahead of schedule and that it achieved more than what was originally planned.
If the project is on time, the value will show 0.

  • Cost Variance (CV) – will demonstrate whether the project is still within budget.

Formula: CV = EV – AC

A negative value means that the project is over the budget, while a positive value means that the project is under the budget and that it achieved more than it spent.

However, the cost variance value will show 0 if the project is within budget.

variance analysis formulas - project management

There are a wide variety of project management approaches, techniques, and tools that have been developed through the years to answer the growing need for organizations to plan, execute, implement, and evaluate their projects’ successes.

Project management training will help managers choose the best project management approach for their team or even develop their own from existing models or frameworks.

Project Management Training
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