One of the keys to effective project management is in maintaining systems and routines. A project is integrative by nature, which means that it’s made up of various connected parts: pull one, and another moves. Getting the best possible result means actively managing interactions between your team, clients, and stakeholders. When you’re against the clock and fighting to remain under budget, the project management process will be what holds everything together.

In this article we’ll examine an important question: what is a project management process? We’ll also take a look at some project management methods that are commonly used and how the project management differs between them.

What Is a Project Management Process?

The project management process is where everything is broken down into stages to ensure successful project delivery. Project management process flow charts are useful for visualising and understanding this concept.

The reason we adopt project management processes is because they bind everything together, from helping keep your team happy and motivated, to delivering focused and tangible results to clients. Ultimately, these processes deliver success.

There are plenty of project management methodologies and different advantages and disadvantages to each one. One aspect that dramatically changes what the project management process looks like is whether it uses a push system or pull system for delivering work.

  • Push system: Management pushes tasks onto team – this is best suited for projects where long-term design, planning and budgeting is critical.
  • Pull system: Team pulls through new work when they have enough capacity – this is best suited for projects with repeated tasks and continuous workflows.

Pull systems generally result in more productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction, however push systems can be the better option when long-term budgeting, strategic design and product cohesion are paramount. Traditional project management methodologies are push systems, Agile methodologies are pull systems.

Push Systems: Traditional Project Management

Traditional project management uses a top-down approach – the scope and budget are agreed upon, a plan is made and then followed.

The project management process is divided into five key phases, all of which overlap during the project lifecycle:

  1. Initiating – Brainstorm ideas, then create goals and build up your concept. Assess the feasibility of the project to determine if it is worth the investment.
  2. Planning – Define the scope, major deliverables and milestones of the entire project. Identify task dependencies, and then estimate durations and costs of the overall project.
  3. Executing – Implement everything you’ve planned, including the distribution of tasks and responsibilities, and allocation of resources. This is often the most time consuming phase of the project.
  4. Controlling – Monitor activity and always compare real progress to the plan. Stick to the schedule and track the budget, ensuring that execution follows initial predictions. You may need to adapt the plan to keep everything on schedule.
  5. Closing – Close out all contracts, ensure the final goals are met and that you have client approval. Officially terminate all processes and perform an evaluation of success.

Push systems are often necessary at the enterprise scale – for example, designing and building a large yet stable systems architecture. Push system benefits include stability and more predictable budgeting, however they can lack flexibility and responsiveness to new requirements.

Pull Systems: Agile Project Management and Kanban

Agile Project Management emerged as a response to this traditional project management process. In a push project management systems, customer needs are predicted, then the product is planned and built. In Agile methodology, the customer needs come first, and the product is built to meet them – the process iterates as the product develops. This changes the project management process.

The Kanban Method has exploded in popularity, mainly because of its simplicity. Kanban is used to improve workflow efficiency. There are two aspects to its project management process – the process states in a workflow, and the cyclical Kanban cadences across the whole project.

 

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Process States

The first step is to map out the different process states in a workflow. These can be as simple as To Do, Doing and Done or as complex as your project requires. Some Kanban teams also use Classes of Service and Swimlanes to further segment their process.

Kanban board with swimlanes

Kanban Cadences

Kanban meetings or cadences are used to examine the project management process. These are a series of meetings that follow a regular rhythm, covering everything from daily task decisions to the whole strategic direction of an organisation.

Kanban cadences

Observe, Analyse, Improve

Past performance determines future performance. What gets measured gets managed. Whether in traditional project management or Kanban, it is essential to monitor progress and productivity to keep things on track.

Real-time monitoring is critical to project success. With traditional project management, this allows you to see when you are deviating from the plan. In Kanban project management, it is essential to making insightful, data-driven project decisions.

With accurate feedback, each iteration of the process can improve and build on the last. Project status tracking provides real-time updates on project status and team productivity and issues can be spotted before they become bottlenecks. Finally, having complete data about past team performance enables accurate forecasting of future delivery times.

A Process for Every Project

We know that not every project has the scale or value to require all phases of a management process. However, for projects involving varying deadlines or a strict budget, the 5 phases of traditional project management are critical. For incremental improvement without making radical changes to structure, we recommend Kanban for teams where productivity, efficiency and flexibility are crucial.

No matter what project management method you would prefer, monitoring results and using those results to drive improvement is one of the fundamentals of effective project management.

What project management process have you used for your projects? Have you had more success with pull systems or push systems? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

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