The world of project management is vast. It covers many industries and requires a range of skills. But the common thread tying this diverse discipline together are the techniques that project managers use to get the job done.
Project management techniques make managing projects easier and more effective. They can be applied to any project, regardless of the field or industry. And used in tandem with project management software, they help save time and reduce costs.
There are many project management techniques to choose from. Here are five of the best that every project manager should know in order to control their projects and steer them to successful ends.
1. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
Projects big and small can feel overwhelming at first glance. There’s so much to do. The idea of just jumping in and learning how to swim is how projects drown in lost time and costs. As any experienced project manager knows, everything must first get planned before putting it into action.
A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a way to organize the work into smaller, more manageable pieces. According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), WBS is a “deliverable oriented hierarchical decomposition of the work to be executed by the team.”
What that means is the WBS is graphic representation of every task in the project. At the top is the final product with a line that goes down the page to a box (or boxes) that represent the larger tasks which lead to that completed project. Each of these boxes are then attached with lines that go under it to smaller tasks. Interested in getting one set up? Sign up for our work breakdown structure software, or use our free work breakdown structure template to help you get started.
Divide and Conquer
This is visually defining the scope of the project into smaller parts that can be worked on by the project team. As the levels go further down on the WBS, there is more definition and detail. This provides a sort of task map for the project.
The WBS is created by the whole team who identifies the major deliverables and then subdivides them into smaller and smaller sub-deliverables. This process continues until the team reaches a point where the task can be accomplished, who will get that assignment.
A WBS defines and organizes a project, but it can also be used to breakdown more than just tasks. Budgets can be calculated based on the breakdown schedule and even risks when a branch is not well defined.
2. Gantt Chart
A Gantt chart is another visual project management technique, but this one has even more applications for a project manager. Making a Gantt chart is a technique, but it can be combined with a Gantt chart tool to make that technique much easier to execute.
When you import a WBS into ProjectManager.com, it creates a visual timeline across the life cycle of your project, with start and end dates. You add the start and end dates, which creates an individual timeline for each task. Now you can see the time it will take to complete each task over the length of the project. This can help you better schedule.
If you’re using the online Gantt chart in the ProjectManager.com, you have the freedom to adjust scheduling as needed and even link dependent tasks, by just click and dragging. Task dependencies are used when there are task that can’t get started until another is complete. They can be linked on ProjectManager.com, so that there is no downtime or blocking of team members.
Gantt charts can help with more than planning and scheduling tasks over one or multiple projects. You can also plan and schedule entire projects, plan in sprints and milestones, scheduling teams’ work and compare planned versus actual timelines in your project.
Each task can now be assigned to individual team members and project managers can automate notifications on upcoming deadlines to keep the project on track. When the team updates their status that information is instantly reflected throughout ProjectManager.com, so everyone is always on the same page.
PERT is an acronym that stands for program evaluation and review technique. It’s a project management technique to help with time estimates. Scheduling is critical to getting a project completed on time, obviously, but also within the set budget. The longer you work, the more you pay.
But estimating time for a project isn’t easy. There are a lot of factors to take in, many of which are complex and hard to accurately calculate. PERT has been used by project managers to make time estimates that are more accurate.
It was first developed by the US Navy in the 1950s for a project to develop ballistic missiles, which involved an army of contractors. Because of PERT, the project was completed two years ahead of schedule.
So, how does PERT work? It manages probabilities by using many simple statistical methods. PERT breaks down tasks into detailed activities, by using the WBS discussed above, then adds these to a Gantt chart to identify those activities that are interdependent. From that data, you create an illustrative map of the network of activities and their interdependencies.
On the map, a node represents an event and the activities are represented by arrows drawn from one event to another based on its order. From this, the earliest time (TE) and the latest time (TL) for each activity is figured out, as well as the slack time for each activity.
PERT has three estimation times, and each activity is designated with one of these estimates:
- Optimistic time estimate (O), which is the fastest an activity can be done.
- Most likely time estimate (M) is the estimate that project managers will deliver to upper management if they’re only required to submit one.
- Pessimistic time estimate (P) is the maximum time required to complete an activity.
From all this information collected, there’s an equation to estimate the time the project will take, known as the expected time for completion, or E. E is calculated with the following equation: E = (O + 4M + P)/6
The variance possible in the estimated completion time is represented by V. Variance is calculated with the following equation: V=[(P – O)/ 6]^2.
The E and V for every activity is calculated. The Es are totaled, which is the overall time expected to complete the project. The Vs are added to each activity, which is the variance for the entire project. This helps project managers integrate the uncertainty involved in any project’s schedule into their methodology.
4. Critical Path Method (CPM)
Critical Path Method (CPM) is a cornerstone of project management techniques. It’s been around since the Manhattan Project in the early 1940s, which developed the nuclear bomb by mapping the most important tasks in the project and using that to estimate the project completion date.
CPM requires that you construct a project model that includes a list of all tasks or a WBS, the duration to complete of each of those tasks, what dependencies if any link the tasks and the endpoints, such as milestones and deliverables, for the project.
With this information, you can calculate the longest path from the planned tasks to their completion, including the earliest and latest time these tasks can start and finish without impacting the project schedule. Now you know what tasks are critical to the project and which have float or can be delayed without lengthening the project timeline.
Therefore, as a project management technique, CPM is a sequence of tasks that add up to the longest overall duration, whether there is float (whether free float, which is a dependent task or total float, with is the overall project) or not. With this information, you can figure out the shortest time needed to complete the project.
Enhances Prioritization & Decision-Making
CPM is really an algorithm used to help with decision-making. By taking in specific data (start time, duration, finish time), it determines which activities are most important or critical for the project’s success.
In terms of dealing with contingencies, which are always around the corner in any project, CPM has something called fast tracking. This is a process of running multiple tasks on the critical path in parallel. What this does is reduce the overall project time. This only works if the task is not dependent. But it does require further resources and can impact quality.
Another technique is crashing. This is used when a task must be prioritized because of an early deadline and must be allocated with additional resources to complete faster. Crashing helps if more resources are available that can help, or you can use resources from a task with float. But crashing is more for emergencies as it can impact the critical path.
Overall, CPM helps reduce delays by optimizing work along the critical path. It can also visualize dependencies, which allows for tasks to get prioritized. CPM improves organization by breaking down deliverables into sequences. It increases efficiencies and helps calculate float to distribute resources better.
Kanban is Japanese for billboard and was developed by an industrial engineer at Toyota as a scheduling system to improve manufacturing efficiencies. It is often used in lean manufacturing just-in-time manufacturing (JIT). Like its name in translation, Kanban looks like a series of cards on a board, which is used to visualize workflow.
Kanban can be used as a project management technique to help monitor and manage projects by putting the emphasis on continual delivery without placing too much of a burden on the team. Kanban helps the project team work more efficiently together.
The project board helps team members visualize what they must get done today, seeing their task in the wider context of the others. This limits the amount of work in progress (WIP) and balances the workflow to avoid overburdening the team. Because the cards on the board can be prioritized, workflow is improved. Once one task is done, the card is moved to the next column and the team member starts on the card that on top of their to-do column.
This project management technique fosters a continuous collaborative environment and allows the team to tinker and improve the workflow. Kanban is especially suited for agile projects, but it can be applied to any project and is embraced by more visual thinkers.
ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software that has features that enhance project management techniques and integrates them with a real-time dashboard to monitor and report on progress. Online Gantt charts can upload WBS and other MS Project or spreadsheets to give you greater control. While our Kanban boards visualize the workflow and help teams collaborate and work more efficiently together. Try it for free by taking this free 30-day trial.