In 2023, projects and portfolios are managed by enterprise PMOs in 80% of organisations to align strategy with goals and realise project success. (Gartner)
PMOs are critical in achieving enterprise-level goals by optimising processes, empowering project teams and lending transparency to important projects. With the proliferation of PPM tools, capabilities and consulting services, it can be confusing for project leaders to know which approaches to take to achieve project success.
What defines project success?
Project success can be defined at any point of reflection during the project where the highest level of benefit is achieved for the organisation. Every project will bring with it its own success criteria, and it is critical to define that benchmark from the outset to lay a clear vision of achievement. With the bigger picture of success in mind, smaller milestones–though important to the overall success of a project– may be allowed to fail while still succeeding at a higher level of return from the project at different phases.
There are a few opinions about the PPM approaches leading to success through the achievement of oganisational goals. Here are the most common.
Common PPM approaches
In the waterfall approach, no new phase of a project can begin until the phase before it has been completed. This linear approach, created in 1970 for software development projects, is still widely used and is a practical, albeit conservative, approach to project completion. After all, it makes sense to first finish one phase before moving on to the next.
The waterfall approach has six stages of completion*, and once a phase is finished you can’t go back or bounce between phases
The approach is popular because it allows for thorough planning and detailed documentation. In the waterfall approach, every step of a project is thoroughly documented and clearly defined, making it simple for future PM’s to access the proven steps taken and easily repeat them for ensured success.
But while its linear structure works fine for simple projects with minimal fluctuation, it lacks agility on projects with unforeseen variables and changing goalposts. The modern PMO leader needs flexibility and speed to navigate the changing tides of the digital PPM sea.
A more modern approach to PPM is known as the Agile methodology where speed and flexibility reign supreme and shorter planning cycles make it easy to accommodate changes at any time during a project. For projects where the end-goal may not be clearly defined, the agile method still enables the project to move forward in sprints, allowing project goals to organically come to light as the project evolves. Agile projects perpetuate user feedback throughout the entire project, so lessons learned can be used to improve future iterations.
Agile success can be achieved by first planning the basic trajectory of the project, leaving room for flucuating circumstances, then desiging, developing and testing the stages before deployment. According to the 2022 State of Agile Report, The two most important measurements of success from an agile project are: delivering on time and achieving business directives.
Given the varied requirements of multiple projects across an organisation, it’s safe to say that both Agile and Waterfall have their pros and cons when applied to PPM, but modern PMO leaders are now embracing the best of both worlds, taking a hybrid approach to project management.
Hybrid: The new approach to project success
As the name suggests, a Hybrid approach combines the formality of Waterfall with the nimble nature of Agile, resulting in a thorough project that remains lean in its workings.
The hybrid manifesto defines the method this way:
“Hybrid Project Management combines the formal and Agile methods to create a new project management method. Hybrid employs the thoroughness of Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) with speed and lean benefits of Agile for a new project management method which is both detailed and fast.”
The hybrid method incorporates the initial analysis of the project’s life cycle, laying out the phases and sub-phases needed to get it to the finish line, while also building in time and space for flexibility at each juncture of the journey. The phases or ‘sprints’ can run either linearly (like Waterfall) or concurrently (like Agile) and are interrelated in that the result of one sprint will directly influence and/or modify the set up of the next sprint, creating a fluid and well-balanced process.
Only PMO leaders can know which methodologies will work best for their teams and how they manage their projects, depending on project size and maturity levels. Additionally, the PPM tool you use should provide greater visibility into your portfolio while elevating the people and processes involved. In this way, the PPM solution can allow you to select projects that align with your company’s objectives, support the long- and short-term budgeting processes and help your teams manage complexity. The right PPM tool will also ensure that projects match priorities and provide a feedback loop once projects are started.
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