There is no such thing as a one method fits all project management approach

Mike Spick is Product Manager for Association of Project Managers (APM) qualifications at MOL, a sector leader in the provision of the APM project management qualification. He looks at the different project management methods.


After a number of years getting qualified and successfully delivering a range of projects, I was recently given the chance to create and launch the APM Project Management qualification for MOL. This was an exciting opportunity for me, which allowed me to use what I had learnt, to develop a qualification that effectively supports project managers to choose the right method for their individual project.


Being a bit of a project nerd I’ve picked up a few different professional project management qualifications, the obvious PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) and AgilePM, but also ones like DMAIC from Lean Six Sigma. What I’ve found interesting over my time training and delivering projects, was that it became apparent that each of these ‘methods’ worked best for certain types of projects and would actually be almost self-defeating for other types of projects, for example, trying to use PRINCE2 for an IT App development project. Yes, a great project manager can adapt, tweak, manoeuvre, tailor the PRINCE2 approach to work, but that’s then relying on the skill and experience of the project manager not the project methodology. 


I strongly believe consistent successful project delivery is dependent on picking the most appropriate methodology and matching it to the particular project in question – and this has been key to the development of our APM Project Management qualification.
I recently noticed a LinkedIn post asking ‘is PRINCE2 still the best professional project qualification’. One of the responses from someone trying to help was ‘No I think its Agile now’. There is definitely a one method fits all myth out there, and in some cases, this can create a self-defeating commitment towards a person’s preferred method. There is an old but apt analogy here, ‘if all you have is a hammer you see everything as a nail’.


So, let’s look at the two methodologies in more detail. For those who may be unfamiliar, or just beginning their journey into the profession, PRINCE2 is a linear method for effective project management. This is a methodology created and commonly used by the UK Government and has long been viewed by project professionals and others in the world of projects as the gold standard methodology, potentially due to the numerous projects the government has delivered to time, cost or quality… and there is some truth to this view but is it an absolute truth for every type of project? 


Given its history and the method’s objective to keep the project controlled, PRINCE2 is at its most effective in highly planned, organised and controlled projects. For example, high budget, large scale, high risk or long-term projects; hence the UK Government’s historical use of this method for delivery of projects. 


The perceived conflict between the PRINCE2 and Agile methods comes during projects that are more user input dependent, highly adaptive or in quickly changing environments.  In these circumstances, an Agile method is often seen as the more suitable. 
We can often look for binary solutions to problems that in reality are rarely so clear cut. 


Some sectors will absolutely have a proliferation of either highly controlled or highly iterative projects; but every project, every time? No house building organisation ever needs to build a website or app? No app builder ever needs to deliver a facilities relocation project? 


Any practitioner that commits wholly to one method is missing out. 


There is also now a ‘hybrid’ approach, which combines the planned and controlled basis of PRINCE2 and the iterative benefits of Agile. This approach is being used in the building industry, for example, where there is a linear plan (you can’t build/add the roof first I’m afraid) but they are no longer planning where light switches and sockets go at the start, they build and then adapt the room based on its physicality and its intended use.


So is this ‘hybrid’ approach the best? Not necessarily. The key point is that the ‘best’ project approach is absolutely dependent on the type of project being undertaken – the best professional project managers will be able to identify this at the start of the project and implement the most applicable methodology, whether that’s linear and controlled, iterative and agile or a hybrid approach. 


This is exactly how the APM Project Management qualification is designed, it teaches you the key elements of each type of project approach so you can then select the most appropriate one each time you start a new project. That approach is one that we also actively encourage for our learners when they join MOL and is something that I will always evangelise to upcoming project managers at any opportunity. 


To find out more about an APM Project Management qualification with MOL click here .