Project Management Methodologies Designed for Small Teams

Project Management methodologies can be seen as blueprints, even step-by-step process instructions for guiding team members to successful project conclusion. There are many different project methodologies, and many of them overlap in several aspects. In managing the various circumstances of projects that can be quite different, it can be difficult to determine which method to pursue.

Methodologies are created to guide teams in a development environment, but that isn’t always the case in small businesses with limited teams that are pressed for time. There’s an overwhelming set of choices. But choosing any one as the most beneficial to a small team can be challenging.

1. Agile
This methodology was developed for projects that require both speed and flexibility. The process is broken down into “sprints”- short cycles for delivering certain features, functions or designated milestones. Agile sprints may be better suited to projects when there isn’t a need for tight controls or real-time communication between team members. But it does require a team that’s motivated and can approach a variety of tasks. Agile is iterative; team members must be capable of rapid adaptation with each new sprint.

2. Waterfall
This is a basic, sequential methodology from which Agile and similar concepts evolved. It is still commonly used in many industries, particularly software projects. Project goals are broken into defined stages, typically requirements, analysis, design, implementation, testing, and maintenance. These things take place in a fixed order to ensure steady progress and quality. Waterfall methods involve more control, but also are less flexible if significant design changes may be called for.

3. Critical Path Method
CPM is an orderly, systematic method that breaks down project development into specific but related actions. It requires using a work break-down schedule (WBS) to maintain a timeline of completing deliverable elements. Crucial and non-critical activities are defined as those taking the longest or shortest time to completion, respectively. This allows teams to devote sufficient time to expected challenges rather than focusing on simpler tasks.

4. Critical Chain Project Management
CCPM differs from CPM by structuring schedules around the use of resources rather than the completion of specific tasks. This method is useful when possible issues with materials or logistics are the most pressing concern. By proper resource planning, contingencies are incorporated to ensure that enough material is on hand at the right time, and that safety or quality requirements of fabrication are not compromised.

5. Six Sigma
This was developed by Motorola to minimize waste and improve efficiency – and thus return on specific projects. Six Sigma is a data-driven approach focused on three key process controls:

* Define, Measure, Analyize, Improve, Control (DMAIC)
* Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify (DMADV)
* Design for Six Sigma (DFSS)

DFSS can include reiteration of the prior two in meeting objectives, or variations like Design, Test, Optimize, Verify (DTOV). Six Sigma has received a lot of recognition as a certification ( in the past, but it’s intrinsic value is still a subject of debate among project management experts.

6. Scrum
This comes from the rugby term, and is applied to a variation on the Agile framework. Scrum is also iterative in nature, but relies on scrum “sessions” of 30-day sprints and frequent evaluation of priorities. The team leader is often called a “Scrum Master” rather than a Project Manager. But it is suitable for small teams who focus independently on a specific goal, and then report back the Scrum Master for status reports, and to be assigned new priorities or objectives.

Business Standards
To help organizations find the right path, the Project Management Institute (PMI) developed an Organizational PM ( model.

The latest model, OPM3, is recognized globally as a PM standard. This includes standardizing procedures, consolidating successful results, and improving connections between best practices and strategic planning. OPM3 promotes a business-wide strategy that includes individual projects, effective programs, and a PM portfolio. The OPM3 model was updated in 2013 and is now a set of guidelines recognized by ANSI, or the American National Standards Institute (

Best Options
There is no one choice in Project Management Methodologies that works best for all companies at any size. But there are some basic concerns that should be explored in order to help determine which methodology may be the most effective.

* Organizational strategy and values
* Key operational drivers
* Risks and limitations
* Input from stakeholders
* Complexity, scope, and estimated cost

As the various PM methodologies have their respective advantages and disadvantages, small companies facing new projects might want to try multiple PM approaches based on the nature of the project, requirements, timelines, and their available resources. There is no good reason for adhering strictly to any one methodology if your small team is better served by a combination of ideas. This allows businesses to define their own best practices and adapt as project demands change.

Align and Collaborate
The key to developing a business-specific approach is to establish principles for assessing how any particular project will align with organizational goals. Determining which factors are critical allows small project teams to decide what extremes for any given factor will impact success, failure, and ultimately, the value to the organization. Any methodology that doesn’t present a clear path to effective and efficient execution is the wrong methodology.

Large corporations with many teams at work on various projects may focus on one or two specific methodologies for the sake of continuity, control, and cohesion. Small business have the advantage of not being tied to any specific ideation. However, when faced with challenges, small project teams may have trouble communicating ideas and developing strategies.

Small businesses lacking qualified product managers may find it effective to appoint two or more leaders with differing skillsets, such as engineering and IT. Someone higher in the command chain resolves any impasse. To this end, everyone needs to communicate effectively – to receive all the information they need to be motivated and effective, including each individual team member.

Typically, every minute spent on careful planning saves three minutes of effort.