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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Martin, MPH

Traditional versus Agile Project Management

Introduction

Efficient project management plays a vital role in the smooth operation of any thriving business. It ensures that projects are completed within the allocated budget, on time, and to the satisfaction of all parties involved. Two primary approaches to project management are traditional and agile. In this Management Tip of the Week (MTOW), we will explore the differences between these two methods and discuss which may be best for your project.


Traditional Project Management

The traditional project management method involves a step-by-step approach that emphasizes organization and regulation - synonymous with the Project Lifecycle. As discussed in my previous MTOW, The Four Professional Puzzle Pieces of Project Management, it follows a set of well-defined stages, including initiation, planning, execution, and close-out. The project manager delineates a project plan, identifies all the tasks that need to be completed, and assigns them to team members. The team then works through the plan, completing each task before moving on to the next. This approach is ideal for projects with well-defined goals, a clear scope, and a fixed budget.


Traditional project management is primarily used in industries such as construction, engineering, and manufacturing. However, it is not limited to these industries. Here at HCES, we primarily utilize traditional project management for most of our engagements. The focus is on managing resources, stakeholders, schedules, and risks to ensure successful project delivery.

Agile Project Management

In agile project management, teamwork, customer collaboration, and flexibility are key factors that drive success. The process entails dividing a task into smaller, achievable sprints and addressing them in brief intervals. The team works closely together, constantly communicating and adapting to changes as they arise. The project manager serves as a mediator, eliminating hindrances that could impede the team's progress. This approach is ideal for projects that are complex, have changing requirements, and require a high level of collaboration.

grey gear spins describing sprints for agile methodology
Agile Methdology visual

This project management methodology is primarily used in the tech industry, including software, apps, video games, and other related fields where adaptability and quick responses are essential. One of the main benefits of agile is its ability to easily change the scope, allowing teams to pivot and adjust as new information comes to light. Additionally, agile projects operate on a feedback loop, where deliverables and products evolve over time based on client feedback. Doing so guarantees that the result satisfies the requirements and desires of those using it.


What's the Difference?

One significant difference between traditional and agile project management is the amount of planning involved. Traditional project management requires substantial planning upfront, with little room for changes once the plan is in place. Agile project management, on the other hand, requires less planning upfront, focusing on adapting to changes as they arise.


Another key difference is the level of flexibility. Traditional project management is rigid, with little room for changes once the plan is in place. Agile project management, on the other hand, is flexible, focusing on adapting to changes as they arise.


Example of Traditional Project Management

A classic illustration of traditional project management is building construction. The project is divided into phases: planning, design, construction, and completion. Each phase has specific tasks and deadlines that must be accomplished before moving on to the next. Introducing changes to the project's scope or requirements can be problematic once certain phases are completed, leading to potential delays and additional costs. For instance, once construction has begun, altering the building's structural design can be challenging. This is because the structure has already been designed, and making any changes would require considerable time and resources.


Additionally, changing the design could impact other aspects of the project, such as electrical and plumbing systems, which would also need to be reworked. As such, it's essential to clearly understand the project's scope and requirements before beginning the construction phase. This helps ensure the project remains on schedule and within budget while minimizing the risk of errors and delays. Due to its nature, using traditional methodology for construction can result in a high-quality build that meets the client's timeline and expectations.


Example of Agile Project Management

Video game and cell phone companies use agile project management to stay nimble and responsive to changing market demands. For example, video game companies may use agile methodologies to quickly iterate on game design, incorporating user feedback and testing new features as they go. Cell phone companies, on the other hand, may use agile project management to rapidly develop and release new devices/operating systems, adapting to shifting consumer preferences and technological advancements. By adopting agile techniques in project management, these companies can remain at the forefront and provide groundbreaking products that cater to their client's demands.


How to Determine Which Approach to Use

When deciding whether to use agile or traditional project management, it's essential to consider the project's scope, timeline, and complexity. Agile is often used for projects with changing requirements and a need for flexibility, while traditional project management may be better suited for projects with a clear scope and timeline. Moreover, projects that must satisfy precise, lawful, or regulatory prerequisites may not be suitable for agile methodology. In situations like these, there are clear expectations and deadlines that must be met, often with consequences for not meeting them. It's also important to consider the team's experience and comfort level with each approach. Ultimately, the decision on which methodology to use should be based on the project's and stakeholders' specific needs and goals.


Conclusion

In conclusion, both traditional and agile project management have strengths and weaknesses. Traditional project management is ideal for projects with well-defined goals, a clear scope, and a fixed budget. Agile project management is suitable for projects that are complex, have changing requirements, and require a high level of collaboration. Ultimately, the method you decide to utilize will be determined by the distinctive needs of your company, stakeholders, and the task at hand.

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