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Top 8 Project Management Frameworks – which one is best for 2021?

EBS Integrator
Oct 18, 2021,

What’s Project Management Framework and which one is the best fit for your company in 2021? How do the top PM Frameworks differ or what strengths and weaknesses do they have? Today we’ll attempt to give you the answer to these essential questions.

Diving deep into any sort of endeavour requires meticulous planning. Otherwise, you risk losing productivity, time, money or even worse: failing almost at the start. Doubly so if you’re a small or medium enterprise just setting off, or finally getting into the swing of taking on more and more projects at a time.

Did you know that according to PMI, roughly 70% of companies that undervalue proper PM practices, fail at their initial stages or in the short period?

So, what are proper project management practices? That is the main question that we’ll endeavour to answer in today’s piece!

But before that, let’s focus on the simpler things, what is Project Management.

Project Manager meme

What is Project Management?

Lucky for you, we’ve created a full-fledged starter pack of all the things you need to know if you’re a starting project manager! In the dedicated article we have our very own project manager speaking about her experience starting off and what they’ve managed to learn.

However, if you’re on a tight time-budget, let’s reiterate the main points:

The PMI or Project Management Institute provides us with the following definition.

“The process aimed at using a set of skills, knowledge, tools, and techniques to plan, implement, manage, and successfully deliver a project, considering such aspects as timescale, people, and budget.”

Typically, a project manager is the main focal point between the various company/out of company shareholders, project stakeholders, team members, and other resources.

They are the glue that keeps it all together and most importantly moving in the right direction in the most efficient manner. A PM typically follows a *simple* step by step template of initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and closing phases of a project.

Project Manager Office meme

Though the order and general approach heavily depends on the project management framework they adhere to, hence the today’s article! Matter of fact most project managers employ a hybrid form of experiences and best practices. These are gathered from personal background and the dozens of tried methodologies that we’ll discuss further. Which brings us to..

What is a Project Management Framework/Methodology?

Much like system architecture frameworks, a framework is a combination of practices, techniques, tools, procedures and rules for those that employ the framework in question.

A Project Management Framework is a model by which PM’s apply different practices or approaches to structure and finally deliver a result. It’s important to understand that a project is typically: Something you do to solve a particular problem.

For example, building and testing a new motorcycle is a project, but building the following 10k of these motorcycles is not – it falls under a different class.

But back on topic, “project management framework” is a relatively loosely defined term. These frameworks or methodologies apply different principles. Some, like Agile, simply define a modus operandi – principles. Some, like Scrum, simply give us processes. Others however describe “full-stack” methodologies, from themes, principles and processes–(i.e Prince2).

The reason why PM methodologies or frameworks are so misunderstood is because many PMs simply can’t agree on the exact definition.

Some pull towards a strict definition – something resembling a strict step-by-step rulebook; others understand them merely as an amalgamation of different processes, principles, themes, systems etc. tailored specifically to a client or a certain project. And that is the approach we’ll take.

This will hopefully save us from the relative controversy relating to what exactly is a methodology, what is a system, and what is a framework.

Top 8 Project Management Frameworks

We’ll finally list the top 8 Project Management Methodologies, most prominent in the industry and give a general overview of their main strengths and weaknesses. Remember this is not a best to worst list, each framework has pros and cons, each can best suit your project under certain circumstances.

Waterfall – Sequential tasks

Beginning our list is possibly the oldest and wildly known project management framework. And that is Waterfall, based on the simple premise of sequential model of cascading tasks, in strict order with no or almost no flexibility in mind. This is the approach most people would typically “come up” from scratch with no prior knowledge of project management.

Waterfall Project Management Framework

Of course, it’s not as simple as we make it out to be. First described by Herbert D. Benington at the symposium on advanced programming methods back in 1956, it has been worked and perfected upon since then.

Projects based on the waterfall approach focus on extensive initial planning, strict sequence adherence to requirements, and based on typically long project life cycles.

Project requirements are extensively defined in full and the first stages, work tasks are planned in a logical step by step manner, and then phases of the project cascade down like water down a mountain.

Once the plan is approved there is no room to adjustments, this makes this approach very risky. Simply put, once the development starts, it will eventually flow into implementation, verification, testing, and then maintenance.

The main disadvantage is if the testing phases goes into effect, it’s very difficult to go back and change something, especially if there were some errors in the concept stage. Also, there is typically little to “show & tell” your client during the development phase. You develop and deploy the product and hope the client is happy with it.

However, there are advantages to this approach as well. If the technology is mature and well understood, the requirements are relatively simple, clear and well documented, and the project is short. Hence, Waterfall is possibly the best at providing the most predictable data in budget, timeline and scope.

Waterfall Project Management Framework comic

Agile – Reactive philosophy

Ah, the favourite buzzword of many project managers in the industry – Going Agile. It’s important to note that Agile is not a method per se, it’s more of a philosophy that many later frameworks take their inspiration from or are based upon.

As the name implies, Agile focuses primarily on flexibility, adaptability, iterative design, and build processes. Agile projects are defined by tasks that are conceived, assigned, executed or changed as the situation demands, typically outside the scope of the pre-defined plan.

Much like a good chef keeps tasting his food as he prepares it, an agile project manager keeps cycling through the planning, execution, evaluation, and adjustability phases of the project.

The main core principle of Agile method is – client-centricity and “people first”. Heavily influenced by constant client input for its direction. Most suited to dynamic development environments, especially so in software development. A fitting example of Agile approach would be the MVP based app development.

However, because it’s classified as a reactive approach, it doesn’t really fit the bill as a full methodology. You can’t simply say – let’s use only agile project management for our project.

Simply put Agile is a Framework, a methodology and a philosophy.

Scrum – Sprinting for glory

Delving deeper into the Agile practices, we come up to arguably the most popular and relatively simple framework. The Scrum framework provides both principles and processes for delivering the final product.

The main aspect that Scrum focuses on – teamwork and efficient communication for speedier development. Its main approach is creating compact, self-managing “scrum teams” of up to 9 people which focus on delivering items from the product backlog (set of requirements or user stories) as defined by the Product Owner.

In a nutshell, Scrum requires a “Scrum Master” (i.e. project manager) which using the Scrum Practices, fosters the correct environment for their team.

  1. Product owner defines and documents a complex problem/requirement and introduces it into the product backlog
  2. The Scrum team then breaks apart the work into increments, also known as sprints. Sprints typically last from 2 to 4 weeks. A sprint ideally focuses on providing a functional deliverable.
  3. Daily Scrums are concluded to review the progress made towards the sprint goal, these are 15-minute meetings done in the same place at the same time daily.
  4. The Scrum team and its stakeholders review the results and adjust to the next sprint. This is also known as a “Sprint Retrospective”.
  5. Repeat

Scrum Project Management Framework Comic

Key advantage of Scrum is empowering your team to self-govern, yet apply just enough pressure for healthy tension and ultimately delivering the best quality product as fast as possible.

However, because Scrum was originally designed for software development, it doesn’t really fit well into other environments. Also, it’s important to note that once a Sprint begins, there is no room for adjustments on the go, think of sprints as mini waterfalls.

Lean – Doing more with less

This project management methodology is focused primarily on efficiency above all else. Lean is all about cutting waste, concentrating on optimization, and maximizing value. Doing more with less.

Lean Project Management Framework Comic

The main core behind Lean is elimination of anything superfluous or unnecessary such as meetings, extra tasks, multi-tasking, extra documentation etc. It’s laser focused on delivery direct value to the customer above anything else.

This framework was created by a Japanese engineer back in the 50-60s, named Taiichi Ohno. Focusing on something called the 3MsMuda, Mura and Muri.

Muda is all about removing waste, or in other words any process that does not directly provide value to the customer.

Mura means removing variation – standardized review/approval processes, limited overhead and reliance on templates.

Muri focuses on limiting overload – the most optimal way of working is not optimizing small compartments or singular teams/technologies but improving the overall grand flow. Some say that the best workload capacity is at around 70%.

Lean says that PM’s must respect the fact that people who do the job know what they are doing and how to do it best. Once they receive their requirements and assignments, just let them work in peace!

Lean Implementation

Lean 5 step implementation.

Kanban – Visibility above everything

Kanban as a project management framework combines Lean principles of waste removal with some Agile principles of releasing early, often and even takes the idea of Scrum self-governing teams. However, unlike Scrum, it less prescriptive with no defined roles and more flexibility.

Kanban takes the same small teams and focuses on optimizing their workflow, allowing the teams to pull in tasks as they are available.

Typically, Project Managers employing Kanban methods, use sticky notes on a Kanban board (Or an online solution such as Trello), defining planned backlog work (To-Do), tasks in progress (Doing), tasks for review and completed tasks (Done).

The core practices of Kanban: visualizing the workflow, limiting work in progress, measuring the lead time, making process policies explicit and continually evaluating improvement opportunities.

Kanban Project Management Framework Comic

Giving the teams a visual representation of what is coming up next, what is done, and what tasks are beginning to stall, makes it easy to re-prioritize or discover problems. Same as the Lean approach, giving a wider eagle eye view, Kanban helps maintain that 70% overall work output.

Scrumban – Hybrid of Kanban and Scrum

Scrumban is (as the name suggests) a hybrid project management framework, made of Kanban and Scrum. It uses a more structured approach of Scrum (compared to the free-flowing Kanban), with daily meetings, sprint retrospectives and Scrum Masters, while avoiding the potentially restrictive sprints themselves.

Employing the Kanban’s whiteboard and overhead visibility it allows teams to pull in tasks as they are available, but unlike Scrum, the planning phase or reviews are only on a need-on-demand.

This means that teams working Scrumban, don’t have to worry about end of sprint review meetings, and have a wider window of time to either complete tasks or move onto the next phase, which is impossible in normal Scrum.

Scrumban Meme

Essentially Scrumban merely adds Kanban’s flexibility and easy-going approach to a more rigid and structured Scrum. This allows a higher degree of adaptive planning, team flexibility or collaborations. Scrumban also takes a page out of Lean and tries to eliminate some of Scrum’s (perhaps) unnecessary meetings/reviews.

PRiNCE2 – Projects in controlled environments

PRiNCE2 is a “full-stack” all encompassing, waterfall-based framework, developed by the UK government in 1996, created specifically for the IT industry. This methodology is process-based, divining projects into multiple stages, each with their own plan and step-by-step processes to follow. Think of a BPMN 2.0 approach to project management.

Possibly one of the most complex, rigid, and meticulous project management framework used in the private sector. It goes into great detail in all in-puts, out-puts, budget constraints and estimations, requirements, target audience etc. in every single stage of the developing process. Absolutely nothing is left to chance.

Prince2 Stages example

However, due to its nature and history, it’s almost unusable on anything but huge projects by massive world-class enterprises. On the flipside, it’s the best approach when proper cost assessments, risk mitigation, KPI’s, business plans, capex/opex calculations and much more factor in.

eXtreme Programming – Frequent and Short cycles

eXtremem Programming (XP) is a software development methodology very similar to Scrum and other Agile practices. What makes XP different from Agile is its pure emphasis on software development – it was created by software engineers for software engineers.

Created between 1996-1999 by Kent Beck, a software programmer who is also one of the 17 original signatories of the Agile Manifesto.

Its core values are:

  • Communication
  • Simplicity
  • Feedback
  • Courage
  • Respect

LucidChart’s take on eXtreme programming

eXtreme programming does have a very strict rule of conduct and set of practices, much like Scrum, it deviates from it by focusing on the technical side of project management, it emphasis code design (Clean code), mandatory user stories, test-driven development (TDD), pair programming and CI/CD practices.

Essentially XP is all about good software development practices taken to an extreme.

How to choose the best Project Management Framework?

Selecting the most suitable project management framework is very tricky. It depends on so many variables, many of which are outside of our control as project managers.

And truthfully, different client requirements, or even team compositions can find various frameworks as the best fit. However, here’s a small list to get you started:

  1. Find the main project factors and define them by complexity

First part of the assessment process should be gathering as much information about the available tools, resources, constraints, chance of change, risks, people, outside involvement. Then once you have as much raw data as possible, complete a complexity scale on each one.

  1. Ascertain your flexibility and rigidity

If you’re project or market environment welcomes dynamic evolution and constantly strives for innovation, factor that in. On the other hand, figure out how flexible your budget, time frame, or specifications are.

Some SMEs or larger enterprises may be constrained with various regulations or in-company rules, demanding a more rigid structure. Or if you’re a small design studio with an open office and laid-back co-workers, make sure you understand your own capabilities.

  1. Find the best value for the customer

Don’t forget about your end-user/client. After all, if you’re providing a development service, you must understand their needs, expectations and requirements.

For example, if your client doesn’t really know exactly what they want, or haven’t figured out everything about their request – a more flexible framework is worth considering.

In contrast, if your client wants a simple, easy to implement and plan, application with little bells and whistles, going with the simplest framework like waterfall, may provide the best fit.

  1. Establish organizational goals and values / align to your mission

Understand your company mission and make sure to factor that in. Project managers are not only machines that annoy your colleagues into working. They are in fact their friends, their emotional support, they are the Alpha and Omega of the project, and are primarily responsible for team morale. Which in turn can affect the overall perspective of your company by your staff, leading to loss of valuable human resources.

Conclusion & Farewell

And that wraps our introduction into the top best project management frameworks as of 2021. Of course, eventually we plan to go with a deeper analysis into each one of them. We’ll do this with examples and use-cases,  on-hand success stories, and some pitfalls that occur if the proper framework was mis-judged according to the company values or client/project specifications.

Remember that project management methodologies are just tools to help, not necessarily guarantee success. The important part is to focus on supplying quality work/product to our stakeholders and clients.

But tell us what do you think about Project Management Frameworks? Is Agile just a simple buzzword, or actual philosophy worth pursuing?

Stay classy business and tech nerds!