Project Management: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

“You did this, yourself?!” My best friend, Talia, exclaimed. We were in middle school, and it was her first time in my room. I didn’t realize that not all pre-teens organized their closets by style and color. I mean…how else were they able to quickly scan their clothes and pick out something weather-appropriate?

Looking back on this memory as an adult makes me laugh. Not only was I clearly destined for a career centered around being detail-oriented and meticulous, but as a mom now, it makes me realize that my own mother must have felt that she hit the jackpot with such an organized child. We think we know it all when we are kids.

The same can be said about generalized expectations when working with a project manager: You want an excellent communicator who is thought-provoking, results-driven, and will go above and beyond to keep you on schedule and within budget.

Now a bit older and wiser, I’m pretty sure my younger self would stare back at me wide-eyed when I say that the most important thing I’ve learned about successful project management is that it’s just as important to know when to bend (or even break) the rules to ensure a successful client/agency relationship as it is to have (or enforce) those parameters in the first place.

Two Areas of Project Management Practice: It’s Not a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

So, how do we begin to organize the project management closet? Let’s start with the foundation. Project Management methodologies typically fall within two areas of practice: Agile and Waterfall.

A waterfall is a traditional approach that uses sequential phases to plan, define, build, test, and launch project deliverables. Agile is an umbrella term that uncovers unique approaches, which use iterative work cycles called sprints. Each sprint is actually considered a ‘mini-phase’ to plan, define, build, test, and launch the project deliverables.

Schedule and budget considerations are always first and foremost on the teams’ minds. Sticking too rigidly, however, to the plans and processes set at the initial start of engagement could actually negatively impact success as it gives the project and relationship no room to expand.

While there are benefits and pitfalls with both methodologies, and there should always be a basis planned out for the teams to adhere to, they’re not a one-size-fits-all garment. Integrating the best parts of both practices better aligns your project (and relationship) to accomplish success for both the client and agency team.

How to Fashion the Right Project Management Methodology for Your Client

Let’s think about that outfit coming together. How can these two methodologies pair well? Here are three combinations I have found:

1 Utilizing sprints is helpful, but it shouldn’t deviate from an overall project schedule.

Once the organization’s case is determined, the project manager and stakeholders should work together to develop an overall vision of the schedule and priorities beyond the current and upcoming sprints. This will help give your team and client leverage on planning work that can be iterative, flexible, and likely completed in a shorter time frame. With this hybrid approach, it’s important to have two views on the project progress: What are we achieving in this sprint and how does this sprint play into the overall project schedule? After all, regardless of the methodology you go with, you’re always working toward the same, successful end goal.

2 Focus on collaboration to achieve the best outcome instead of steps in a process.

Collaboration on ideas and deliverables will account for a more efficient workflow as opposed to working through recommended deliverables and then presenting them for approval before the end of a project phase. This way, you don’t deviate too far down the wrong path before the team realizes another iteration or step/requirement is needed.

3 Some uncertainty is okay.

Risk is prevalent in any project, no matter which management methodology is used. Finding a project manager who embraces it likely challenges every fiber of their Type-A being — but hear me out! If the team is able to give up some of the certainty of fixed expectations for flexibility and freedom, they’re also able to (a) be more innovative and creative and (b) handle fast-changing requirements while still working against fixed deadlines and cost forecasting. The key is to continuously manage (and sometimes embrace) the risks.

Outfitting Your Team and Client for Success

The best project management comes from being equipped to conquer any situation. Constant communication with stakeholders, the ability to be proactive and anticipate needs/situations before they arise, and taking the time to really understand the organization’s case and the end goal of the project is where the project management magic lies. Our project management team strives to push the boundaries to get our clients to go beyond their comfort zone. Don’t worry though, we’ll remind you to bring a light jacket. You just never know if it may rain.

This article was written by Taryn Taltuvall.

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Beyond Definition

Beyond Definition is a strategy and creative agency serving mission-driven organizations. For 16 years, Beyond Definition has offered design, branding, digital, marketing, and print expertise to clients in the association, foundation, and nonprofit sectors.

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