How do you determine your project management approach?

Written by Alok Jain, Volunteer of the PMI Finland Chapter Annual Conference

A project is a temporary endeavor to achieve something unique. Projects, by its definition, are unique and so is the project management practices. A tactical project manager may change his/her project management style depending on the nature of the project at hand. You might be wondering, how can a project manager know which project management styles are suitable for different projects? This blog aims to answer this question.

The project management body of knowledge created by PMI identifies ten knowledge areas of project management. However, it can be that in some project we need to focus more on one of these areas and less on others. Each project is different from the another, therefore, there may not exist a ‘thumb rule’ in the project management. However, we can categorize the projects in different ways and identify the project management approach that may be suitable for each such categories.

One such method of categorizing the projects has been proposed by J. R. Turner and R. A. Cochrane in 1993. This framework divides projects into four different categories based on two characteristics of the projects. The two characteristics are: first, how well the project goals are defined and second, how well the methods to achieve the project goals are defined. Based on this, the project management approach can be formulated. This is shown in the diagram below.

Fig: Goals-and-methods matrix by Turner and Cochrane

From the diagram above, let’s consider Category 1 projects which are engineering projects, for example, construction of a building or a factory. In such projects we have the drawings and the graphics of the final outcome of the project, i.e. the project goal is very well defined. Also, in such projects, we have a schedule to follow, we know what needs to be done to accomplish this project. Therefore, the management approach here can be more oriented towards following the schedule. Contrasting it with Category 3 projects, the example could be an R&D project. In such projects, we usually don’t have a very concretely defined outcome. The research may be about exploring certain phenomena about which we don’t have enough knowledge. As such, we don’t have a clear picture of the outcome of the project. Also, the method to accomplish a particular research project may not be very well defined. In such projects, we need to promote innovation and allow experimentations. Here, the project management style may be more oriented towards fostering innovation and experimentations.

This framework provides a very simple and quick guide to understand a project and formulate the project management approach. Moreover, this framework can also be used when a project encounters an unexpected event. Such events can be considered as a mini project inside a project, and then we can apply this framework to identify our approach to deal with such events. When an unexpected event occurs in a project, we can ask questions like, what objectives we want to achieve from this event and how well we know the methods to achieve that objective from this event. Such understanding may be helpful in formulating our approach to deal with unexpected events.
Thank you for your time in reading this post, hope you find this value adding. Please share your secret weapon for project management in the comments below. Please follow PMI Finland Chapter’s events to meet inspiring project managers and network with them.

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