Many people are confused about what a methodology is, because the word is misused frequently. According to PMI’s PMBOK® Sixth Edition, methodology is “a system of practices, techniques, procedures, and rules used by those who work in a discipline.” But, what does that mean? Are the phases in a WBS a methodology? No, a WBS is simply a way of organizing work, whether by project phase, deliverable, or financial categories. What about the critical path method? Is that a methodology? Nope, it’s a method for calculating the longest path of activities in a schedule. What, then, is a methodology? And, just as important, how do you use it effectively?
Let’s break down what goes into a methodology according to the PMBOK definition:
- Practices: One example is a set of best practices for project schedules, such as having complete network logic, not using date constraints, and eliminating redundant task dependencies.
- Techniques: The critical path method counts as a technique—in this case, to calculate project duration and identify the critical path tasks. Tools (such as Microsoft Project, Primavera, VersionOne, Rally, and Jira) and templates (like a change request tracking spreadsheet or a requirements template) also fall into the techniques category.
- Procedures: The documented steps for requesting, managing, and tracking change requests are an example of procedures you might define as part of your project management methodology. Procedures also include guidance on when to use specific tools. For example, a procedure might indicate that specific procurement processes and tools must be used for projects that cost more than $500,000 and use third-party resources.
- Rules: An example of a rule is that a change request estimated to cost less than $1,000 and require less than two days effort can be approved by the project manager without going to the change control board.
We will argue that a methodology requires another thing: that people in the organization actually use the components of the methodology. If no one follows the practices, techniques, procedures, and rules, you have a wishful thought, not a methodology.
When you have a methodology in place, it’s important to assess whether people in the organization are using the methodology correctly. That’s not all. In the interest of continuous improvement, you also need to measure results to see whether the methodology adds value to the organization.
Just like with cookie recipes for great cookies, there are many ways to build an effective methodology. The following tips will help you develop an efficient and effective methodology for your organization:
- Identify processes and procedures: Processes describe functions at a higher level. For example, in the PMBOK®, Develop Project Management Plan is a process. Step-by-step guides for building resource management plan and your project schedule are procedures. As you build your methodology, you need to identify the processes and procedures people will use to manage projects.
- Document the components: Creating templates and defining processes and procedures isn’t enough. It’s just as important to document how, when, and why to use each template, process, or procedure, so people in the organization can apply them appropriately and efficiently.
- Keep it simple: Most organizations try to do too much too quickly. You don’t have to do everything at once. Instead, develop processes, procedures, and tools to address the most problematic area before moving to the next. That way, changes are smaller and easier to implement, and results are easier to measure. After you implement a new aspect of the methodology with a small team, determine whether it provides value. If it does, make it an official part of your organizational methodology.
- Use procedures and techniques correctly: Tools can be implemented in several ways. Think about all the different ways people use a tool like Microsoft Project. You need to make sure that people follow the defined procedures and techniques. For example, if your organization has customized Microsoft Project, project managers need to follow naming conventions or fill in custom fields correctly, in order for the customizations to work. Another example is to follow the best practices your organization has defined for project scheduling. It’s important to make sure that people follow the instructions. You might hold a review session to evaluate whether a project schedule has followed all the guidelines.
- Measure and report on the methodology’s value: A methodology isn’t supposed to be just another checkbox to mark. It’s meant to provide value to your organization. Don’t require everyone to use it and stop there. To see whether the methodology adds value, you need to evaluate the practices, processes, procedures, templates, tools, and rules. Work with stakeholders to identify the improvements you want to measure, such as percentage of schedules adhering to the scheduling best practices. In addition, you might want to measure time spent managing the schedule to see if the best practices are producing more accurate, more flexible schedules. Once you identify the measures, develop reports so it’s easy to evaluate the methodology.
Watch our webinar on-demand to learn more about Project Management Methodologies.
Also, check out our book Practical Project Management with Microsoft Project 2016.
Webinars (watch for free now!):
Share the Knowledge: Integrating Your Project Lifecycle Methodology with Microsoft Project
Shared Understanding Among Project Stakeholders: A New Methodology for Agile Project Management
Written by John Riopel
John Riopel, MCP, MCTS, PMP has over 25 years of experience as a Program/Project Manager in government service and commercial industries. His technical background in Microsoft Project spans the entire evolution of the Microsoft Project toolset, with a deep understanding of how to apply these technology constructs and concepts to real-world project management challenges.He is President and CEO of PM Providers, a full-service project management consulting firm dedicated to delivering business results with project management solutions.
View all posts by: John Riopel