In the world of project portfolio management (PPM), the Agile framework seems to reign supreme. But before there was Agile, Scrum, or any other modern project management approach, there were traditional practices that helped organizations structure and schedule their project life cycles. These methods, often lumped into the umbrella term “traditional project management,” still have plenty of relevance and utility today. Whether they’re the most efficient choice for your PPM team depends on your goals and needs. 


What is Traditional Project Management, Exactly?

While there’s no official definition of “traditional” project management, the term most commonly refers to pre-Agile methods and approaches to PPM. It might also be used interchangeably with the most common approach to traditional project management, the Waterfall methodology.

Generally speaking, traditional project management focuses on a step-by-step approach to planning a project’s life cycle. It may or may not utilize a certain framework (though it often does not) to manage tasks and goals. While traditional methods may be falling out of practice, tried-and-true options like Waterfall and the critical path method definitely still have a lot to offer to project organizations and leaders.


4 Popular Traditional Project Management Methods

Exploring some of the key characteristics of the project planning routines of the past helps us better understand how to organize our own workflows, no matter what that looks like. Traditional project management might include one or more of the following practices or methodologies.

1. Waterfall

Best for: Large projects and organizations that require a structured approach to planning and execution.

Formally introduced in the 1950s and predominantly used by project organizations worldwide ever since, the Waterfall methodology is the historical approach to the management of project delivery.

As the name suggests, Waterfall PPM methods are linear in nature. Waterfall breaks down a project into a fixed series of discrete phases and sequentially performed tasks. Each phase must finish before the next one can begin. Waterfall projects usually follow the five phases below:

      1. Requirement Collection. This involves mapping and analyzing the potential application requirements and deliverables, then consolidating the findings into a specification document for future reference.
      1. Design. This phase focuses on determining how you’re going to meet the requirements and coming up with project specifics and a roadmap for delivery.
      1. Implementation. This phase is all about executing the design plans and roadmap.
      1. Testing. During testing, beta testers and quality assurance managers detect, report, and fix any issues or bugs.
      1. Operations and Maintenance. This includes delivery, deployment, and any support and maintenance activities that may subsequently be required.


2. Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)

Best for: Quick turnarounds and a high volume of small projects.

Another traditional approach to project delivery is critical chain project management, sometimes known as the critical path method (CPM). In this methodology, project managers focus on determining a project’s critical chain, which is the longest possible sequence of tasks that takes both resource and activity dependencies into account. With this chain identified, project managers can ideally level and balance out critical resources and proactively avoid too much strain.

Overall, CCPM gives project managers greater control over the project and its schedule. Besides, CCPM methods mutualize the safety margins for each task into a project-level buffer, resulting in a reduction in the average duration of projects.

However, CCPM requires a lot of commitment from project managers, and it might be challenging for project teams to understand and adapt to its constraint-based philosophy. Since the calculations involved in mapping the critical chain can be fairly complex, most contemporary PMOs seek the support of PPM tools supporting CCPM management.


3. Program Evaluation and Review Techniques (PERT)

Best for: Simplifying the planning and scheduling of complex, larger projects.

The PERT approach is similar to CCPM in that it aims to analyze all of the tasks involved in completing a project with a special focus on timelines. A project manager utilizing PERT might list all tasks needed to deliver the project, then identify the minimum time needed to complete each. From there, they can determine the time needed to finish the entire project and allocate resources or tasks accordingly.


4. Gantt Charts

Best for: Visually representing a project’s life cycle and monitoring progress.

While Gantt charts may not be a methodology, they are a tool commonly used in traditional project management. For decades, Gantt charts have helped project managers and project-oriented organizations outline start and finish dates, key project elements, and required timelines for different tasks. They can also help project management teams monitor progress and make adjustments accordingly.


Modern vs. Traditional Project Management: The Evolution

If there are several traditional project management methods and practices that have supported organizations for years, why is it that our modern PPM landscape looks so different?

For one thing, technological advancements have empowered PPM offices to adopt new strategies and resources to make their jobs easier and less prone to error. Likewise, changes to projects or recipient expectations tend to be a lot faster-paced today than they were in the past.

Traditional project management techniques may not be as useful for quickly adapting to changes that pop up. They’re also not as flexible and may not support complex projects that have lots of unpredictable factors.

In response to these challenges, today’s “gold standard” for PPM, Agile project management, utilizes a cyclical planning process that breaks a project’s scope into two- to eight-week iterations.

Diving the project into smaller pieces and opening up the workflow so that changes can be made to any area at any time works wonderfully for many projects. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for traditional project management.


Which is Better: Traditional Project Management or Agile?

There really is no clear-cut answer to this question. Whether traditional or Agile project management is best for your organization will depend on:

  • Your current workflow
  • Your industry
  • Your project’s scope and complexity
  • What your project aims to achieve or create (product, service, etc.)

Plenty of organizations still rely on traditional frameworks for some or all of their projects. Overall, if you’re looking to create a straightforward plan that’s predictable and clearly outlines how to use resources efficiently, traditional project management might be the best fit.

Regardless of your methodology, Sciforma’s PPM solution can support your organization through planning, delivery, and execution.

What is Traditional Project Management

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