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Project Management Processes and Tools

Knowing how to tackle a new project can be stressful and confusing. Luckily several project management processes exist that can help facilitate us. A process takes a large project and breaks it down into smaller, manageable chunks. Working through phases (whether iteratively or sequentially) can help us logically make our way towards our desired outcome—a finished product. How we get there all depends on the approach we choose. 

Below are some of the most common project management processes used in design and development. 

THE PROCESSES:

1. Waterfall
The Waterfall process is a traditional style of project management in which the project’s scope and requirements are fully planned-out first. Then, the project moves slowly and sequentially through a series of specified phases until completion. Teams do not progress onto the next step until the previous one is complete. And they do not revisit previous phases as they move forward. The Waterfall process is considered easy to learn and use. However, it can be risky and rigid[1]. For example, if teams encounter an error or discover new information as they progress through the phases, they cannot simply or quickly pivot and adapt. In an article by the Digital Project Manager, writer Ben Aston states: “Because of the single cycle approach, in a Waterfall project, there’s little scope to reflect, revise and adapt once you’ve completed something”[2]  It is best to use the Waterfall process for smaller projects with requirements that are crystal clear and fixed. 

Image Source: http://www.umsl.edu/~hugheyd/is6840/waterfall.html

2. Agile
Agile, unlike Waterfall, is all about being quick and nimble. In Agile, one large project is broken up into several small tackle-able tasks. A team will then take one of those tasks and work on it for a short time (from days to a few weeks.) This process is known as a Design Sprint. After each sprint, the team regroups to discuss progress and learnings. That information can then feed into the next design sprint. As described by writer Ben Aston, “In much the same way that a good cook tastes the food as they cook it, adding missing ingredients as they go along, an Agile project management process requires project teams to cycle through a process of planning, executing, and evaluating as they go along.”[3]

“In much the same way that a good cook tastes the food as they cook it, adding missing ingredients as they go along, an Agile project management process requires project teams to cycle through a process of planning, executing, and evaluating as they go along.”

Ben Aston, Writer, The Digital Project Manager

Keep in mind that due to its flexibility, Agile team members and stakeholders alike are required to work closely together and stay involved throughout the entire process. Agile is a very hands-on process for everyone.[4] 

Image credit Thandi Guilherme. Sourced from: https://xd.adobe.com/ideas/perspectives/leadership-insights/designers-guide-lean-agile-ux/

3. Hybrid
The birth child of Waterfall and Agile, Hybrid is a combination of the two processes. From the Waterfall method, it adapts the first phase—in which the scope and requirements are clearly defined from the beginning. Afterward, the project moves into an Agile approach, where the remainder of the process is flexible and iterative.

4. Lean 
Lean, another iterative methodology, is all about developing an MVP (minimum viable product) that can be delivered to the user as quickly as possible. As explained in the book Lean UX “MVPs help us test our assumptions—will this tactic achieve the desired outcome?—while minimizing the work we put into unproven ideas. The sooner we can find which features are worth investing in, the sooner we can focus our limited resources on the best solutions to our business problems.”[5]

“MVPs help us test our assumptions—will this tactic achieve the desired outcome?—while minimizing the work we put into unproven ideas. The sooner we can find which features are worth investing in, the sooner we can focus our limited resources on the best solutions to our business problems.”

Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden, Lean UX 2nd Edition

With lean, the goal is to make sure there actually is a market need and value for what you are creating before too much time and money is invested into it. The Lean methodology allows teams to collect user feedback as part of the design process and product iterations.

Sourced from: https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/lean-ux-2nd/9781491953594/ch05.html

5. Design Thinking
Commonly practiced in user-experience and product design, design thinking’s focus is to create based on the understanding and empathy of the end-user. As explained by Nadine Rochester of Adobe, “Design thinking is a human-centric approach in which problems are defined and resolved by empathizing with users, understanding how problems affect them, generating ideas, creating prototypes, and testing them on the intended end-users. Within project management, it can facilitate greater creativity and innovation.”[6] Design thinking is an iterative approach in which teams can bounce back and forth between phases as new user discoveries and ideas arise. 

Image Source: https://careerfoundry.com/en/blog/ux-design/what-is-design-thinking-everything-you-need-to-know-to-get-started/

No methodology described above is particularly better than the other. On the contrary, each provides its advantages and disadvantages. Consider the unique needs of each project to determine which process will work best for your desired outcome. 


THE TOOLS:

In addition to choosing a project management process, consider using a project management system to help keep you organized. As a highly organized person, I have tested quite a few free and affordable project management platforms to help me track my school and professional work. After experimenting with options like Basecamp, Asana, and Trello, I have found Clickup to work the best for my needs. Clickup provides several different viewing modes for each project, like Gantt, Calendar, Timeline, and Board. I constantly find myself toggling between these based on my needs and preferences.

I also find it extremely easy to create new projects with sub-folders and lists to easily group my work into logical and manageable sections. It comes with many useful features like file uploads, checklists, and project start and due dates. And lastly, there are several great plugins you can add to further customize your needs. (Although there is a time tracking option in Clickup, I’ve decided to stick with Toggl because of its “Reports” feature.) The Clickup tool is also easy to use no matter which project management method I choose and has become a great asset to my pursuit of deep work. 


 [1] Cohen, E. (2019, July 14). The Definitive Guide to Project Management Methodologies. Workamajig. https://www.workamajig.com/blog/project-management-methodologies

[2] Aston, B. (2019, September 9). 9 Of The Most Popular Project Management Methodologies Made Simple. The Digital Project Manager. https://thedigitalprojectmanager.com/project-management-methodologies-made-simple/#waterfall

[3] Aston, B. (2019, September 9). 9 Of The Most Popular Project Management Methodologies Made Simple. The Digital Project Manager. https://thedigitalprojectmanager.com/project-management-methodologies-made-simple/#waterfall

[4] Cohen, E. (2019, July 14). The Definitive Guide to Project Management Methodologies. Workamajig. https://www.workamajig.com/blog/project-management-methodologies

[5] Gothelf, J., & Seiden, J. Lean UX, 2nd Edition. https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/lean-ux-2nd/9781491953594/ch05.html.

[6] Rochester, N. Design Thinking Finds Its Place In Project Management. CMO by Adobe. https://cmo.adobe.com/articles/2019/11/design-thinking-finds-its-place-in-project-management.html#gs.fsjgmc

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