Project management techniques

These days, the number of projects people work on is innumerable. So, how do you find a way to carry out a project from A to Z? Here are some project management techniques to get your idea off the ground!

Scrum

It is an agile project management framework that describes a set of meetings, tools, and roles that work in harmony to structure and manage their work.

Scrum is a framework that helps teams work together to create complex products in a changing environment. It encourages experiential learning, self-organization as you work, and reflection on your wins and failures for continuous improvement.

Pillars of Scrum that must be adhered to realize the full potential of this framework are:

  • transparency,
  • inspection,
  • adaptation.

Three responsibilities/roles are distinguished in Scrum teams:

  • Developers (including testers, designers, business analysts, and more),
  • Product Owner,
  • Scrum Master.

All these roles form the Scrum Team which generally consists of up to 10 people. According to the Scrum Guide — a smaller team equals better communication and greater efficiency. Each role has its group of responsibilities in the project which ensure that all project/product issues can be taken care of comprehensively.

Scrum events

The scrum events are:

  • Sprint,
  • Daily Scrum,
  • Sprint Planning,
  • Sprint Review,
  • Sprint Retrospective.

The Scrum Guide clearly defines a timeframe, the so-called timeboxes of each of the above events. It is suggested that the duration of these events depends on the length of the sprint, but they shouldn’t last longer than the specified boundaries:

  • Sprint — max 1 month,
  • Daily Scrum — max 15 minutes,
  • Sprint Planning — max 8 hours (for a 1 month sprint),
  • Sprint Review — max 4 hours (for a 1 month sprint),
  • Sprint Retrospective — max 3 hours (for a 1 month sprint).

Timeboxing events help get the team focused on currently discussed problems or tasks, avoiding distractions and allowing optimal decisions to be made at the time.

Each of the above events is an opportunity to inspect the current activities and status of the project and adapt them accordingly (as defined within Scrum). Transparency should be maintained throughout the project, being a shared responsibility between a team and a client.

A sprint is a period during which the Scrum Team works to complete a set amount of work and achieve the Sprint goal. Sprints can be described as the heart of Scrum, during which all the other events take place.

Daily Scrum — an event scheduled regularly at the same place and time, decided by developers. It is a meeting for the developers to discuss potential blockers and the tasks currently in progress that bring the team closer to delivering the sprint goal. The outcome is an action plan for the next 24 hours.

Sprint Planning — during the planning, two core outcomes are developed:

  • what we plan to achieve during the sprint — the goal and scope (sprint backlog),
  • how we plan to achieve this — the sprint plan.

Sprint Review is a meeting where the scrum team reviews and demonstrates what they have achieved during the sprint (only tasks completed, with the “label” DONE). In addition, they present the points that went well, the problems encountered and their solutions. The most important aspect of this meeting is the presence of the stakeholder and getting their feedback on the demonstrated results. This way, the entire current status of the project along with the progress of the work is inspected, based on which the team can adapt next steps, and the transparency is strengthened.

Sprint Retrospective — During this meeting, we review the last Sprint in terms of people, relationships, processes, and tools. We identify things that went well and pinpoint potential improvements in how the Scrum team works together. A plan is created to implement these improvements and the team itself can adjust its definition of ‘done’.

After the last event of a sprint, we make a circle: a new sprint starts, during which the above events take place again.

While working on a scrum project, we also create so-called artifacts:

  • Product Backlog,
  • Sprint Backlog,
  • Increment.

Kanban

Kanban is one of the project management techniques in which the workflow of a project is visualized and broken down into manageable components. Employees in a Kanban team are assigned tasks and focus solely on their work.

To work effectively in Kanban, it is necessary to know its principles and practices. These can be divided into two categories — service delivery and change management.

Service delivery

  • focus on our client,
  • focus on the work,
  • system thinking.

Change management

  • start with what you have — progressively make evolutionary changes (e.g. when improving the recruitment process, the starting point will be the current process that needs to be improved/changed),
  • make evolutionary changes — introduced by the team, mutually agreed,
  • distributed leadership — at each level of the organization’s hierarchy you should care about the project as a whole and be a leader (example to others, care about the client, the work, the context, etc.) — this should be practiced by all members of the team.

Practices to facilitate the correct use of Kanban

  • visualization — of work, process, problems in the process,
  • work in progress limits,
  • flow management,
  • transparency,
  • feedback,
  • improvement through experimentation.

Metrics used in a Kanban environment

  • work in progress — how much work we have in progress. The more work we have at any given time, the more so-called multitasking increases, which affects our productivity, frustration, motivation;
  • realization time (cycle time) — how long it takes for the individual tasks to be completed (from the inception of the idea to the production of the product/increment);
  • work item age — how long the tasks are being produced;
  • throughput — how many tasks we are able to complete in a unit of time.

Gantt

A Gantt chart is a graphical representation of the work schedule associated with a given project or task — it is a cascading summary of all tasks and operations along with the time required to complete them. The unit of time measurement depends on the scale of the project and can be freely adjusted.

Gantt charts make it possible to determine — at a glance — the current progress of a project and take possible action to bring the project back on schedule.

Modern charts can also show relationships between tasks. A simple Gantt chart provides transparency of deadlines, milestones, and work progress. Every member of the team knows what they need to work on, as well as when and how their work affects the whole project.

The key elements of Gantt charts are:

  • time and date,
  • tasks,
  • task owners.

Critical path refers to the phenomenon in which any single task can cause a delay in the associated sequence of tasks and thus postpone the overall project completion date. It is observable in any Gantt chart.

It is used to identify the longest group of tasks required to complete for a project to be successful.

Gantt charts are used for planning and scheduling work in any size of the project, even the most advanced. By providing a continuous view of project progress, they are a good complement to other techniques, allowing for ongoing analysis and enabling a quick response time when something goes wrong.

SAFe

The Scaled Agile Framework is a set of ‘organizational and workflow patterns’ for implementing enterprise-wide agile practices. The framework provides a structured set of guidelines for roles and responsibilities, scheduling approaches, and work/value management to follow.

SAFe promotes alignment, collaboration and implementation in large Agile teams.

It was developed around three core knowledge areas:

  • agile software development,
  • lean product development,
  • systems thinking.

As businesses grow, SAFe provides a structured approach to Agile scaling. There are four configurations in SAFe to accommodate different levels of scale: Essential SAFe, Large Solution SAFe, Portfolio SAFe, and Full SAFe.

The SAFe Core Values describe the culture that leadership needs to support and how people should behave within that culture to use the framework effectively.

SAFe values

  • alignment,
  • built-in quality,
  • transparency,
  • program execution,
  • leadership.

SAFe principles

  • take an economic view,
  • apply systems thinking,
  • assume variability; preserve options,
  • build incrementally with fast, integrated learning cycles,
  • base milestones on objective evaluation of working systems,
  • visualize and limit Work in Process (WIP), reduce batch sizes, and manage queue lengths,
  • apply cadence, synchronize with cross-domain planning,
  • unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers,
  • decentralize decision-making.

How does SAFe work?

Scaled Agile, Inc. provides a SAFe implementation map that details the steps necessary to get started and prepare your organization for widespread adoption across the portfolio.

The 12 steps to implementing SAFe include:

  • reaching the tipping point,
  • train lean-agile change agents,
  • train executives, managers, and leaders,
  • create a lean-agile center of excellence,
  • identify value streams and ARTs (Agile Release Trains),
  • create the implementation plan,
  • prepare for ART launch,
  • train teams and launch the ART,
  • coach the ART execution,
  • launch more ARTs and value streams,
  • extend to the portfolio,
  • sustain and improve.

PERT

PERT (Programme Evaluation and Review Technique) is a way to estimate the total duration of a project with many ‘moving’ elements. A PERT chart helps visualize the project schedule or timeline in the form of a flowchart. This technique is particularly useful in the very early stages of a project, and is a kind of alternative to Gantt (which works better during the entire duration of a project, not just the early stages) — it can show if and how all the elements/components of a project fit together.

The best way to start with this method is to draw a three-column table.

When using PERT, we should consider three components for estimating the duration of individual tasks:

  • optimistic estimation,
  • realistic estimation,
  • pessimistic estimation.

The final estimate is calculated using the formula:

where:

Eo — optimistic estimation,

Er — realistic estimation,

Ep — pessimistic estimation.

Based on the table above, it is high time to draw the flowchart mentioned earlier.

This initial diagram is the most basic implementation of PERT analysis. The visualization can also be used to find the critical path.

Waterfall

Waterfall is a structured, so-called cascade approach to project management, consisting of the following immediate phases:

  1. Planning and Analysis.
  2. Design.
  3. Implementation.
  4. Testing.
  5. Implementation and maintenance.

During the first stage, all the documentation is created according to the customer’s requirements, on the basis of which the delivery date is estimated at a later stage, along with the costs and the entire value delivery plan. The resulting document describes the scope but not what tools the team will use when implementing the requirements.

The next stage is the design. It is at this point that we determine the operating logic of the manufactured product/system. Exceptionally binding decisions are still not made at this stage. At the end of this stage, it should be possible to estimate the required team and the time needed for implementation.

Implementation — is usually the longest stage in the life cycle of a waterfall project. This is where the design is created, tools are selected and production work is located.

After the implementation phase, it is time for testing and quality control. The testers’ task is to catch all the bugs and report them to the team. In extreme cases, if there are too many bugs, the project may return to the design stage.

The last stage is the implementation and maintenance. It is during this stage that the product is handed over to the customer and put into use for the end users. During ongoing maintenance, continuous support is provided — so that the product/system works and brings value to the end users. However, this involves interaction with the previous stages.

Summing up

As you can see, there are plenty of project management techniques which can be used in order to elevate your process to a next level. Each of these techniques can be applied, depending on the product you are building and the circumstances. If you are eager to know more about the ways your project can be turned into a pure success — we are here to help!

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iteo is an international digital product studio founded in Poland, that helps businesses benefit from technology better. Visit us on www.iteo.com