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Project Management Fundamentals: Tools and Techniques for 2023

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

In the following article, I will explore some of the project management fundamentals, tools & techniques that I've reached out to use time and again as a successful project manager during project planning.



A collection of tools

There isn't going to be anything that knocks the socks off someone who has been doing project management for a while. Still, it is designed to spotlight other management techniques that might help a noob (as my kids say) or intermediate in their project management career.


Let's start with the key methodologies.


Project Management Life Cycle Methodologies & Standards

Everything here is interchangeable and complementary. For example, a project manager can run a PRINCE2 or PMBOK project using Agile Scrum project management development cycles. They aren't mutually exclusive. I've done it many times.

Agile Scrum: The Paradigm of Adaptability and Collaboration

What is Agile Scrum?


Agile Scrum project and change management is a vibrant, iterative methodology that fosters teamwork skills, communication and stakeholder engagement. It's designed for teams to adapt quickly to changes and work collaboratively towards a common goal.

Agile methodologies like Scrum are built on flexibility, adaptability, and collaboration principles. They thrive in environments where requirements may change or evolve throughout the project.

A woman writing on postit notes

Agile assumes that the project manager and team will learn more about what is needed as the project progresses, giving them the latitude to make changes and manage projects accordingly.


In Agile Scrum, work is broken down into short cycles by the project managers and team, known as "sprints," which typically last two to four weeks. A "Product Backlog" houses all the tasks, features, and requirements, which are then pulled into each sprint based on priority. The Scrum Master plays a pivotal role by facilitating Scrum ceremonies and ensuring that the team stays on schedule and accurate to the principles of Scrum.


The Agile approach is about taking smaller chunks of delivery, prioritised by value and delivering it in a cycle; then you pick up the next set of features, build, test and deliver those.


Here's a nice article from Paul Ross summarising Agile in more depth.


Over the years, people have started using the term 'Agile' to mean anything they want it to mean, and usually incorrectly. It's worth looking for a moment at the manifesto that kick-started the whole thing (check out http://agilemanifesto.org for more).

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work, we have come to value: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Working software over comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to change over following a plan That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

If you are interested, look at the fundamental principles here: https://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html.


Pros and Cons

  • Pros: High adaptability, rapid delivery, and excellent for evolving projects where scope and requirements are defined as you go, allowing flexibility as the project develops.

  • Cons: It can be chaotic for projects with fixed scopes or strict regulatory requirements as there becomes an overhead of constant meetings and scope review. Agile also doesn't focus on upfront planning, which can be dangerous and inefficient when determining the resources needed for the delivery.

Waterfall: A Linear Approach for Well-Defined Projects

What is Waterfall?


The Waterfall project management methodology is often viewed as outdated, especially compared to Agile. However, this linear, step-by-step approach to the project management life cycle has its merits and needs to be more deserving of its sometimes negative reputation. In Waterfall, projects move through stages like Requirements, Design, Implementation, Testing, and Deployment, each relying on the previous one's completion.


The term 'Wagile' is often used mockingly for organizations attempting to implement Agile in a Waterfall manner. While Agile advocates for rapid initiation, Waterfall focuses on thorough planning before project commencement. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, but Waterfall can be particularly beneficial in specific contexts.



A waterfall

Waterfall benefits projects with well-defined, static requirements, such as those in regulated sectors like healthcare and finance, where comprehensive documentation is mandatory. Its structured nature lends itself well to large and complex projects involving multiple teams, allowing for better management and predictability. Clients and stakeholders often appreciate this predictability, as it provides a comprehensive upfront plan with clearly defined deliverables and timelines.


The methodology is also conducive to specialisation; teams can zero in on specific project stages or phases where their expertise is crucial, often enhancing the quality of work. A dedicated phase for quality assurance allows more scope for rigorous testing, a key asset when each project stage builds upon the last.


Lastly, it's worth noting that Agile projects often require a comprehensive end-to-end testing phase, similar to Waterfall. While Agile incorporates ongoing testing, its QA phase can also extend other phases of the project timeline, just as it would in Waterfall. Therefore, Waterfall's structured approach offers significant advantages to a project manager for projects requiring a sequential flow that can't quickly be revised.


Pros and Cons

  • Pros: Defined structure, easier management, and ideal for projects with precise requirements.

  • Cons: Inflexible, slow to market, and changes can be expensive and disruptive.

PRINCE2: A Structured, Process-Oriented Model for Project Managers

What is PRINCE2?


PRINCE2, short for "Projects IN Controlled Environments," is a UK-originated, process-oriented methodology famous worldwide for its structured approach to project management. Unlike broader frameworks, PRINCE2 offers a more detailed set of processes and steps. Built on seven principles, themes, and processes, it clearly outlines roles and responsibilities, making it adaptable to managing projects of any size or sector.

The methodology breaks projects into manageable stages for accurate planning and control. It prioritizes business justification and continuous viability assessment, focusing on delivering value. This flexible planning approach allows project managers to only detail the phase they're currently in or about to enter, preventing unwieldy and confusing project plans.


However, its structured nature might not be ideal for projects needing high flexibility or for smaller project teams where formal roles could seem excessive. But for large-scale ventures requiring meticulous planning and robust risk management, PRINCE2 remains a solid choice.


The 7 Principles of Prince2 project management


1) Continued Business Justification

A project must have a clear business need, customer quality expectations, and benefits that are continually assessed and justified.


2) Learn from Experience

Project teams should continually seek and draw lessons from previous experiences.


3) Defined Roles and Responsibilities

Every team member within the project management team needs to understand their roles and responsibilities to manage projects.


4) Manage by Stages

The project scope should be broken down into manageable stages and phases to enable efficient control of resources and risk.


5) Manage by Exception

Establish a clear chain of authority for making decisions when issues go beyond specific pre-defined tolerances.


6) Focus on Products

The project should be output-oriented, creating a product that meets the quality, scope, and purpose.


7) Tailor to Suit the Project Environment

PRINCE2 should be adapted and tailored to meet the project's specific needs.


The 7 Themes of Prince 2 project management


1) Business Case

Documents the justification for the project based on estimated costs against benefits.


2) Organization

Defines the roles and responsibilities within the team and the scope and organization of the project management team.


3) Quality

Describes what quality means regarding project performance and how it will be achieved.


4) Plans

Lays out the roadmap for achieving the project objectives.


5) Risk

Manages potential threats and opportunities that could impact the project.


6) Change

Addresses how the project plan changes will be identified, assessed, and controlled.


7) Progress

Monitors and compares actual project team achievements against those planned.


The 7 Processes of Prince 2 project management


1) Starting Up a Project (SU)

The initial process involves defining the project at a high level.


2) Directing a Project (DP)

This phase concerns the decisions regarding project initiation, stage boundaries, and closure.


3) Initiating a Project (IP)

Involves creating a Project Initiation Document that encapsulates the business case and other vital elements.


4) Controlling a Stage (CS)

Managing the various stages, including assigning, monitoring, and controlling work.


5) Managing Product Delivery (MP)

Ensures that the project team creates and delivers the project’s products.


6) Managing a Stage Boundary (SB)

Involves planning and approvals for the project moving from one stage to the next.


7) Closing a Project (CP)

Formal decommissioning of the project, handing over products to the client, and evaluating project status and performance.


Pros and Cons

  • Pros: Scalable, standardised, and excellent for large projects.

  • Cons: It can be overly bureaucratic and may not be ideal for smaller or less formal projects.

PMBOK


What is PMBOK?

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is a guide and framework for best practices in project management and is best known and used in the United States.

It is developed and maintained by the Project Management Institute (PMI), a globally recognised non-profit professional organisation for project management. The PMBOK Guide is widely considered to be the definitive resource for project management methodologies, tools, and training courses and techniques. It serves as the foundation for PMI's Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam.


Unlike some methodologies like PRINCE2 or Agile, PMBOK isn't a project management "methodology" in itself. Instead, it's a comprehensive and organized collection of processes, best practices, terminologies, and guidelines accepted as standards within the project management industry. It aims to provide a common language and framework for project management that can be adapted and applied across organizations in various industries, domains, and project sizes.


The PMBOK Guide outlines a framework for change management and project management fundamentals based on five process groups and ten knowledge areas. The five process groups are Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing. These stages guide the lifecycle of change and project management for a project from conception to completion.


The ten knowledge areas in PMBOK are:

  1. Project Integration Management

  2. Project Scope Management

  3. Project Schedule Management

  4. Project Cost Management

  5. Project Quality Management

  6. Project Resource Management

  7. Project Communications Management

  8. Project Risk Management

  9. Project Procurement Management

  10. Project Stakeholder Management

Each knowledge area consists of specific processes belonging to one of the five process groups. The processes within each knowledge area are typically defined in terms of their inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs (commonly referred to as ITTOs).


PMBOK is a comprehensive resource project managers can consult to improve communication practices. It offers flexibility, allowing project managers to select and develop the tools, communication techniques, practices, and processes most relevant to their project rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all methodology.


Pros and Cons

  • Pros: Extensively detailed, universally recognised, and versatile.

  • Cons: Can be complex and overwhelming, often best suited for large-scale projects with experienced project managers at the helm.

Selecting and executing an appropriate strategy and methodology is vital for the success of any project.


Each methodology has its own advantages and limitations, so it's crucial to weigh these factors carefully against your project's scope, budget, time, cost, risk and quality objectives.


With a solid understanding of Agile Scrum, Waterfall, PRINCE2, and PMBOK, you'll be better prepared to guide your projects to a successful outcome.


 

Project Management Fundamentals : Tools

When I refer to project management tools here under the banner of project management fundamentals, I'm not talking about project management software applications but tools that can be used regardless of the software you choose.

Most project management SaaS solutions handle all of these things, but you can equally do them in Microsoft Office or Google Docs just as effectively.


Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are a visual scheduling and management tool that presents the project timeline in a graphical format. By displaying tasks and their respective start and end dates, project managers can see the entire project schedule, scope, and sequence. Dependency mapping within the chart can reveal critical paths and potential bottlenecks.



A gantt chart example


Love them or loath them (and I've encountered a lot of people who hate them with the same passion my dog hates a bath), the value of Gantt charts lies in their ability to provide a clear and comprehensive overview of the project's progress, helping project managers both to anticipate issues and realign resources as necessary.


I've yet to find a visual tool that works as effectively for project managers. It becomes about pitching it at the right level of detail for the intended audience.


Kanban Boards

Kanban boards are becoming increasingly crucial to project management fundamentals and are used to organise and track tasks through different project management life cycle stages. Utilising columns and cards, they visually represent the project status and progression of tasks, promoting transparency within the project management team. They're highly adaptable and can be used in various project management methodologies. For project coordinators and project managers, Kanban boards enhance team collaboration, allowing for real-time updates and flexibility, making them a valuable tool for managing workflows and maintaining efficiency.



A kanban example


AIRAD (Actions, Issues, Risks And Decisions Log)

The AIRAD (or often RAID) log is a centralised tracking tool for various project components, including actions, issues, risks, and decisions. It fosters accountability and ensures that critical elements are not overlooked.


For a project manager, quickly identifying and addressing risks and issues is paramount. The AIRAD log facilitates this by providing a consolidated view, aiding the project manager in risk mitigation, and contributing to the overall smooth execution of the project. It's a valuable tool for project management fundamentals and tracking at any level. The more complex the project, the more I separate these things, but for small to medium projects, having them combined in one place can work well.


At its most uncomplicated, you can create a spreadsheet in Excel and track the actions, performance issues, risks and decisions there. See my templates section for "AIRAD" to create a template.


Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is vital in project management, particularly software delivery. This organisational tool allows the project manager to break down a project into manageable tasks and sub-tasks, aiding in allocating resources, time management, and tracking progress.


A WBS presents a hierarchical structure that offers transparent communication and a comprehensive view of the project, enhancing communication and collaboration among project team members and stakeholders.



A work breakdown structure example


For a software delivery project, a WBS might be divided into categories like requirement analysis, system design, coding, testing, and deployment. These categories can be further broken down into specific tasks with detailed responsibilities and deadlines.

For instance, the coding phase of a successful project may include tasks like developing individual modules, peer reviews, and integrating different components. By organising the project in this manner, a WBS helps ensure that each phase of a successful project is carefully planned and executed, contributing to the timely and successful delivery of the software product.


RACI Matrix Models

So, the RACI Matrix is common inside and outside of projects. The acronym RACI stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. I mention it because it is a valuable tool for any project manager, regardless of your methodology of choice, to ensure roles and responsibilities are understood. In any project, it is critical to track and document these things; there is no better, succinct way than using the RACI Matrix.


A RACI matrix is a project management tool that clarifies roles and responsibilities during a project or set of tasks. The matrix is presented in a tabular form with tasks or deliverables listed in rows and project team or members listed in columns. Here's what each letter in the acronym RACI stands for:


Responsible

This person or role is responsible for performing the task or completing the deliverable. They are the "doers" of the work.


Accountable

This person or role is ultimately accountable for the correct and thorough completion of the task. There should be only one person designated as "Accountable" for each task, and they have the authority to sign off or approve the task.


Consulted

These stakeholders are the people or roles that need to provide input or advice before the task can be completed. They have to develop a two-way communication relationship with the task.


Informed

These stakeholders are the people or roles who need to be informed after the task is completed or about critical decisions related to the task. They have a one-way communication relationship with the task.


Example:

Let's consider a simplified example for a website development project.



A RACI matrix example

In this RACI matrix example:

  • The Project Manager is Accountable for creating the Project Plan, and the Web Developer and Graphic Designer are Consulted. The Client is Informed after it's done.

  • For the Design Mock-up, the Graphic Designer is Accountable, the Web Developer is Responsible for carrying it out, and the Project Manager is Consulted. Again, the Client is Informed.

  • During the Coding phase, the Web Developer is Accountable and Responsible, the Project Manager is Consulted, and the Client is Informed.

By clearly laying out these roles, the RACI matrix helps avoid confusion and overlap between stakeholders, ensuring that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities for each task or deliverable.



 

The above gives you a basic overview of project management fundamentals. Every single one of these areas warrants deeper dives, especially if you are setting off on a project management career to become a successful project manager.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Alan, and have been working within the IT sector for over 30 years.

For the last 15 years, I've focused on IT Governance, Information Security, Projects and Service Management across various styles of organisations and markets.

I hold a degree in Information Systems, ITIL Expert certificate, PRINCE2 Practitioner and CISMP (Information Security Management).

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