Project Management Methodology – 3 Tiers to Fit Project Size & Scope

A project management methodology is the glue that binds all the organization’s project management processes and techniques into a coherent tool where everyone understands their role and obligations. Without a methodology you can’t exercise control over the portfolio of projects to ensure all of them produce business value and doesn’t waste financial and human resources. The project management methodology also gives upper management tools to ensure that the organization is doing the right projects in the order of their priority. But project management methodologies often have a bad reputation because of the way organizations implement them.

Dick Billows, PMP

Dick Billows, PMP
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project management methodology

There are many choices to be made in implementing a project management methodology. Too often organizations get carried away with implementing advanced project management techniques and methodologies. As an example, the implementers think it’s necessary to apply every detail in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)® from the Project Management Institute (PMI)® to every project.  But when the project management methodology is too complicated, has too much paperwork and too many meetings, people don’t follow it.  The methodology has to make it easier for project managers, team members and sponsors to do a good job.  That’s why organizations need a project management methodology that is scalable to fit the size and complexity of each project.   AdPM Project Methodology

When organizations try to apply a complex methodology to all their projects, they overload smaller projects with pointless paperwork. This paperwork jungle bogs down project managers and their teams. The extra paperwork, procedures and meetings take so much time that the project managers don’t do the paperwork.  Or they submit the same forms from an earlier project with just a couple of words changed.  This results in poor project outcomes. The organization can’t prioritize its projects and without priorities, it can’t allocate resources wisely.  And it can’t keep track of all the projects and their current status. In other words, there is no organizational project process.

Another result of this overly complex approach is that the organization can’t control the initiation of new projects. People don’t want to do all the paperwork to get a small project approved. So there are a lot of underground projects that are called something else, like “initiatives.” Additionally, there are other people who simply start new projects and ignore the organizational approval process. The result is that there is no control over project initiation and a lot of resources are wasted.

The scalable project management methodology is the way you can solve all these problems. It recognizes that small projects need just a small amount of the project management process.  As the projects increase in size, you will add tools and techniques to increase control. A scalable project methodology actually saves project managers time so they will comply with the process. That will produce better data you can use to allocate resources to the right projects. How Project Methodology Evolves

Project Management Methodology for Three Sizes of ProjectsProject Management Methodology

A scalable project management methodology can be tailored to meet the needs of each project; small, medium and large. That is the formula for solid control and success across the organization’s entire portfolio of projects. Let’s look at the three levels of our scalable project management methodology.

Project Management Methodology: Tier #1 Projects

The first level of our scalable project management methodology covers about 60% of the projects in most organizations. There are  usually less that 10 team members and they, plus the project manager, all work in the same department or functional area and report to the same boss. He or she is the project sponsor.  On these small projects the scope statement and requirements shouldn’t be complicated. These elements make up the Broadbrush Plan. The project manager documents the business value the sponsor wants (the project scope) and the major constraints, like time and cost.  Most importantly, the Broadbrush Plan lets the project manager break down the project scope into assignments for the team members. These assignments include clear performance expectations. They allow the project manager and the team members to make accurate estimates of work and duration for the schedule.  They use the Broadbrush Plan and the estimates to develop a dynamic schedule based on the resources available. Basic Project Methodology Video

Getting weekly status reports from the team lets the project manager spot problems early when they can be fixed. They’ll be able to keep the project schedule updated in 10 minutes a week using project scheduling software.  The Tier #1 methodology meets the organization’s requirements for setting priorities and allocating resources. It does have limitations, however. As the scope of the projects and the size of the teams increase, the project manager must move up to the next tier in the project management methodology.

Project Management Methodology: Tier #2

Projects are a little larger in the second tier of our project management methodology. The team size usually ranges from 10 – 15 people and the project manager needs to borrow resources from different functional areas. Instead of a single sponsor, there are multiple sponsors/stakeholders to satisfy and manage. The project manager must use more sophisticated techniques to define the scope and  gather the requirements. He/she needs to focus on each business-relevant outcome and a network of achievements that lead to it.  That will let the project manager control scope creep. Lean Project Management

In addition to borrowing people from multiple departments the project manager may be hiring contractors.  So the  authority issues and priorities are trickier. These projects involve more dollars and hours than Tier #1 so the project manager will use more elaborate estimating processes for work, duration and cost. The scheduling is more complex so they add optimization techniques to ensure they’re using their resources efficiently to finish as early as possible. The project manager also needs to develop high levels of team member commitment to the project’s time frames and deliverables.  Gaining that commitment is more difficult when the team members are borrowed from other areas and the project manager isn’t their “real” boss.  So they need to more actively manage the team culture.

Finally, Tier #2 projects have greater risk and higher stakes so the project manager needs to do risk management. They will probably limit their analysis to qualitative risk assessment which is an inexpensive technique.  They’ll focus their risk management on planning the risk responses and mitigation strategies to avoid the negative consequences.

Project Management Methodology Option: Tier #3 Project Management Methodology

When the PM manages large strategic initiatives or major projects for clients they need to add Tier #3-level techniques to their project management methodology. The project manager will align the project with the organization’s strategy and go through an extensive scope and requirements process. They will do a detailed cost/benefit analysis and feasibility studies.  Then the project manager will break down the scope into measurable/verifiable outcomes that they”ll use as the basis for estimating and team assignments. He or she must make sure everyone knows exactly what business result the project is targeting and what is explicitly excluded from the project. They must define success quantitatively and measure it at each stage in the project’s lifecycle. Additionally, their risk analysis includes quantitative risk assessment which is more elaborate and includes statistical assessment of the risk’s impacts.

The project team must have an organization structure.  The project manager needs assignment and reward authorities for contractors and team members who are borrowed from other departments.  To create a high-performance team culture, everyone needs a shared objective and commitment. This requires the use of psychological motivation and commitment techniques far beyond a slogan and t-shirts.

Summary: Project Management Methodology: Options Without all the Paperwork 

There are significant benefits to using a 3-tiered project management methodology for managing projects as they increase in size and complexity. You can expand and contract it to fit the size of your projects – small, medium and large.  It is wise to start with a simple methodology that actually saves the project manager’s time.  That’s how you get compliance and improve your organization’s project performance.

We offer books and courses that teach the tools and techniques for each level of our 3-tiered project management methodology.  We also provide consulting services to help you implement a consistent, scalable project management methodology in your organization. Contact us at 303-596-0000.

2 Responses to Project Management Methodology – 3 Tiers to Fit Project Size & Scope

  1. Dick Billows, PMP July 2, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    What we do with our clients is to use the number of hours of work on the project as the basis for using one of the different methodologies. We look at the full inventory of projects and slice it up so that under 100 hours is the puppy methodology, 100-250 hours is the porpoise methodology and over 250 person hours is the pachyderm. But that is just an example and you need to look at the distribution of project size.


  2. Louis July 1, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    The scalable project methodologies concept is a good idea. Is there a rule of thumb for determining the size of a project to categorize it as small, medium or large? The number of months duration? The number of people working on it? The budget?

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