When agile and when classic project management

When agile and when classic project management

By Published On: 2. October 2023


Welcome, dear readers! Nowadays, there are two types of project management styles used by managers and owners in almost every company or startup: Traditional and Agile project management. But how do you know when to use which one? Well, that's exactly what we're going to talk about today! The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of when it's better to use agile or classic project management. We'll look at how to apply these two approaches in different situations and when each can play to its strengths. There's no universal answer to this question because a lot depends on what you're trying to accomplish and how your team works. With all this in mind, it's important to know the benefits of both methods and use them properly. Have fun reading!

What is agile project management?

Agile project management is an iterative approach to managing software development projects that focuses on continuous releases and incorporating customer feedback. It is not intended to be a rigid process development strategy. In fact, it rather promotes a flexible, collaborative and goal-oriented way of working.

Agile project management in detail

With agile methods, you don't run a project in the traditional linear fashion. Instead, you divide the project into small segments or cycles known as "sprints." In each sprint, your team focuses on a few goals and tries to achieve them within a specific time frame. After each sprint, you do a review that evaluates performance and looks for ways to improve. This cyclical approach allows your team to adapt to change and continuously improve.

Another important aspect of agile project management is collaboration. This means that all team members are involved in decision making and hold regular meetings to discuss progress and overcome any obstacles. This way, everyone can actively work towards the project goal and an environment is created where innovation and creativity can flourish.

Agile methods and tools

There are various agile methods that you can apply in practice. These include Scrum, Kanban, and Lean, to name a few. These methods each have their own differences and benefits, but all share the common goal of helping teams become more efficient and responsive to change.

Scrum, for example, is a very popular methodology that encourages the use of so-called "Scrum Boards" to visualize project progress. You use these boards to outline upcoming tasks, track the status of work, and hide your team's workflow. Kanban, on the other hand, focuses more on flow management and reducing waste through limited work in progress (WIP).

In addition to these methods, there are also various tools that can help you implement agile practices. These include JIRA, Trello, and Asana, for example. These tools provide planning, monitoring, and collaboration features that allow your team to work together more effectively and manage their work.

Agile project management has become a popular choice for many organizations operating in an ever-changing landscape. While it is not suitable for every project or organization, it offers many benefits for teams seeking a flexible, collaborative and adaptable way of working. It provides the ability to respond quickly to change, continuously improve quality, and foster closer collaboration with customers. This allows teams to deliver innovative and high-quality products and services.

The basics of classic project management

Unlike the agile approach, which relies on flexibility and adaptability, in traditional project management you focus on stability, control, and planning ahead. You highly prioritize a strict structured process, schedule and cost control.

Fundamental difference to agile project management

Despite the efficiency of agile methods, there are cases where classic project management is more effective. You prefer this type of project management when the tasks, goals and requirements are clearly defined and stable in advance. For example, classical project management is often used in the construction industry, research and development laboratories, and government agencies. A key difference with agile project management is that you organize the project into specific, disciplined phases that are executed sequentially to ensure that each phase is fully completed before the next begins.

Advantages and application examples of classic project management

The clarity and rigor of classical project management often make it the preferred method for projects where risks are known and requirements are clearly defined in advance. An example is the construction of bridges or buildings, where planning and cost control are critical. The ability to accurately track costs and progress as the project progresses is a distinct advantage of using the classical method. Another positive aspect is the fact that each member of the team knows exactly what is expected of them. There are clear roles and tasks assigned, which leads to better task sharing and everyone knowing exactly what you expect of them.

Although agile project management is often preferred in today's dynamic world, traditional project management still has its place in many industries. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between them should be based primarily on the nature of the project, its goals and requirements, and of course your preferences. Although they are different, agile and traditional project management methods often complement each other and can be combined into a single project, depending on your needs. It is important for project management to be flexible and adaptable to ever-changing conditions and requirements, and therefore the ability to switch between different methods can be a great advantage.

Agile vs. classic project management: A comparison

Before you dive into the depths of comparing Agile and traditional project management methods, it is important to understand that neither of these methods is fundamentally better. They are different tools in your toolbox and situational requirements determine which tool you should use. Now dive into the detailed comparison of these two project management methods.

Flexibility vs. predictability

The main differences between agile and classical methods are reflected in the principles of flexibility versus predictability.

Agile project management shines in areas where requirements can be constantly changing or are not clearly defined in the initial phase of the project. For example, software projects could benefit from this approach because they often need to evolve to respond quickly to changing technologies. Agile methods rely on iterative, incremental development cycles called "sprints." After each sprint, the work product delivered is evaluated and adjusted to be much better in the next sprint. This approach is based on a close dialogic exchange with the customer to continuously make adjustments according to feedback and market needs.

Classical project management, on the other hand, is relatively rigid and requires thoughtful predictability. It focuses on precise planning and control of projects. There are individual phases that are arranged in sequence and are often referred to as the waterfall method. In the first phase, requirements and project scope are defined, and as further phases progress, these requirements are broken down into specific tasks and milestones that are clearly assigned and monitored. The classic model is ideal for projects where the requirements are clearly known and stable - for example, building a house.

Roles and responsibilities

In terms of roles and responsibilities, there are significant differences between agile and classic project management methods.

In agile project management, the roles are quite flat and elastic. There is no designated project manager, but roles like the Scrum Master or Product Owner who have specific tasks but share team responsibilities. The team itself runs through the project and makes decisions together.

In classic project management methods, on the other hand, there are clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The project manager has ultimate responsibility for the project's success and oversees the process from start to finish. He or she is the main decision maker and controls the project activities and the team.

In summary, both project management methods have their strengths and areas of application, which you must balance skillfully depending on the type and scope of the project. And ultimately, it depends on your understanding of project management, the requirements of the project and the organizational culture, which approach fits best.

When does agile project management make sense?

Agile project management has established itself as a reliable and efficient method for managing projects, especially in areas where it is difficult to know all the requirements and solutions from the beginning. But when should you use this method? For this, let's dive deeper into the aspects where agile project management is particularly useful.

Projects with unpredictable challenges

If you work in a dynamic environment where change is the order of the day, agile project management may make sense for you. This approach allows your team to be flexible and responsive to unexpected challenges. That's because agile project management doesn't set all requirements in stone and then make them immutable law, but rather sees projects as dynamic processes that allow you to respond and adapt to change.

In addition, agile project management is particularly beneficial for projects where there are unforeseen risks that could affect the outcome. Because the agile approach is based on iterative work and constant feedback, rather than predefined planning, these risks can be identified and mitigated early on.

Projects with often changing requirements

In project environments where requirements change frequently, agile project management can be critical. This approach is designed to accommodate changes at any time and to deal with the changing requirements of the project.

In contrast to classic project management, which is based on the principles of rigid planning and process, projects with constantly changing priorities or goals could benefit significantly from agile project management. Agile project management promotes an open and flexible work culture in which changes are not only tolerated, but considered a natural and expected event in the project cycle.

In summary, you should always consider the context of your project and the specific requirements to decide when agile project management is the most appropriate option. While it provides an excellent opportunity for a flexible, adaptive approach to projects, it is not the right answer in all circumstances. It is important to find the right balance and sometimes even combine different approaches to find the best path to project success.

When should you opt for classic project management?

It has already been mentioned that agile project management is excellent for projects that require flexibility and adaptability. But what about projects that require more thorough planning and control? In such cases, it often makes more sense to opt for classic project management. In the rest of this discussion, we'll highlight situations where classic project management is the more favorable choice and how you can decide which approach to take.

Advantages of classic project management

Classic project management offers a whole range of advantages, especially when it comes to projects that require structure and thorough planning. Due to its phase structure, it enables precise advance planning of the entire project. This means that all steps, from initialization to completion, are planned in detail in advance. This increases predictability and enables precise cost and time estimation.

The classic approach is perfect for projects with a set framework and clearly defined goals. There is less uncertainty here, as the full scope and requirements of the project are clear in advance. So you can rely on stability and control and have a high degree of certainty in terms of cost, schedule and scope of delivery.

Implementation of a classic project management

In classic project management, each project is divided into several sequential phases. These range from initiation through planning and execution to completion. In each phase there are specific tasks and objectives. This enables a clear distribution of tasks and ensures a structured and organized way of working.

During implementation, changes in the project scope and requirements are considered a risk and the implementation of changes usually involves significant effort. However, this can also result in the final product meeting exactly the specified requirements from the beginning of the project and not deviating from original plans.

In summary, classical project management is recommended for projects with a fixed and unchangeable framework, clearly defined goals and conditions where changes during the project lifecycle are unlikely. Pros and cons always exist and it is crucial to analyze the context and choose the most appropriate method for your specific project. Whenever you are faced with this decision, remember the characteristics and advantages of both project management styles and ask yourself which approach fits your project, your team and your goals.

Advantages and disadvantages of agile project management

Agile project management is a pioneering approach that many modern companies have applied in many different areas, across all industries. It offers you a fresh outlook on project execution and teamwork. However, not every aspect of agile project management is perfect and there are potential issues to be aware of.

Benefits of agile project management

One of the most beneficial aspects of agile project management is its ability to make projects highly adaptable. The cyclical nature of agile project management means that you can introduce changes relatively easily during the project lifecycle. Project teams can constantly learn from their experiences and adapt to changing circumstances. It allows you to be more adaptable, making it ideal for projects in rapidly changing industries.

Another major advantage of agile project management is the ability to continuously improve. The iterative approach means that feedback is constantly collected and incorporated into the next project cycle or sprint. This allows teams to continuously learn and improve, which can ultimately lead to a higher standard of quality.

Risks and challenges in agile project management

As effective as agile project management is, it is not without its drawbacks. One major problem that many teams encounter is the difficulty of accurate project planning and cost control. Because the project is delivered in short sprints and changes are welcome at any time, it can be difficult to make accurate projections about the project schedule and associated costs.

In addition, agile project management can lead to low accountability due to the fluid nature of its structure. In a classic project management environment, roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. In agile project management, on the other hand, this lack of fixed structures can lead to confusion as to who is responsible for which aspects of the project. This can lead to audit problems and expose the project to the risk of procrastination.

What is certain is that agile project management can be a worthwhile method if it is applied correctly. It strengthens collaboration and promotes innovation through continuous learning and adaptation. But as with any method, there are challenges and risks, and it's important to fully understand them before you decide to adopt this approach. Never forget that successful project management methods must be tailored to meet the specific needs of a project and a team.

Advantages and disadvantages of classic project management

Running a project with classic project management has both its strengths and weaknesses, which will be explored in more depth in this discussion. It is important to understand the different characteristics of this management style in order to recognize when it can best be applied, especially in contrast to the more agile approach that characterizes the current project management landscape.

A deep dive into the benefits of classic project management

First of all, if your project has a clear structure and well-defined goals, then classic project management can be an extremely effective method of implementation. It provides structure, fixed schedules, and clearly outlined roles, which can help improve efficiency. The organization is clear. The scope, budget, and timelines are clearly defined from the beginning, which allows for easy monitoring and control.

In addition, classic project management usually requires less internal communication than the agile approach. Since everyone knows exactly what their tasks are in this method, there is less need for constant discussions and coordination. This can increase productivity while reducing the number of meetings, which are often perceived as time-consuming and unnecessary.

The challenges and limitations of classic project management

Despite its advantages, traditional project management is not without its challenges and limitations. One of the biggest challenges is its inflexibility. In contrast to the agile approach, classic project management assumes that all requirements are known before the project begins and that there are few or no changes during the project.

Other challenges include risk management. Although classical project management tries to minimize risks already in the planning phase, it can be difficult to react to unexpected problems or changes during the project duration. Compared to the agile method, which is iterative and flexible and sees change as a normal and expected thing, the classic method is seen as rather rigid and inflexible.

In summary, classic project management is still relevant and useful for certain projects. It works best when the requirements and goals are clearly defined from the beginning and there is little room for change. However, it is important to recognize that it is not the only option. In a business landscape that is constantly evolving and where flexibility and adaptability are increasingly important, the agile approach might be the better choice in many cases. So think about both the benefits and challenges of traditional project management before deciding which method is best for your next project.

The importance of context when choosing between agile and classic methods

There is a lot of talk about the differences and advantages of agile and classic project management methods. But an important aspect that is often overlooked is the context of the project. It is imperative to consider the context of the project and the environment of the organization to determine which method is most appropriate. After all, what works in one situation will not necessarily work in another.

A deeper look at the context

What exactly do we mean when we talk about "context"? It basically includes various aspects such as the business model, the corporate landscape, the team and its capabilities, the type of work that needs to be done, and the stakeholders and their needs and expectations. What works for a start-up with a small, flexible team developing an app doesn't necessarily work for a large construction company.

The context determines how flexible or structured the project management methodology needs to be. In projects with frequent changes and unpredictability, such as the development of new software, the agile method is more preferred because it can be easily adapted to changes. On the other hand, classical methods are quite appropriate in situations where stability and control are essential, such as large-scale projects in construction or research.

The consideration of stakeholders

Another important aspect of context is the stakeholders. Their needs and requirements play a crucial role in choosing the right methodology. Some stakeholders value transparency and close collaboration and might therefore prefer an agile method, while others secretly hope that a project will be carried out in a structured and plannable manner for reasons of practicality, which would speak more in favor of classic methods.

In addition, it also depends on how familiar the stakeholders and the team are with the agile and classic methods. If they are well acquainted with one or the other method, this could lead them to prefer it as well.

Overall, it should be clear that the decision between agile and classic project management methods depends heavily on the context. It is not about which method is "better" or "worse", but about which one fits best to the particular project and organization. By considering the context of your project, you can ensure that you choose the most appropriate method that will lead to better and more satisfying project outcomes.

Tips for your change from classic to agile project management

A big challenge can often be the change from classical to agile project management. This can prove to be a difficult process, as it involves significant changes in the way you work as a team. However, although complex, the transition from traditional to agile project management can offer many benefits and ultimately increase your productivity and efficiency. Here are a few tips that can help you with this transition.

Understand the fundamental differences between agile and traditional project management

A basic understanding of the differences between agile and classic project management methods is the first step to a successful transition. Primarily, classic project management is linear and sequential, dividing the project into different phases that must be completed in a specific order. This approach can be efficient for projects that have clear and precise goals.

In contrast, agile project management involves an iterative and incremental approach. Here, the project is divided into smaller, manageable segments called "sprints" that cover a short period of time, usually one to four weeks. At the end of each sprint, the team conducts a review to evaluate the product and workflow and plan improvements for the next sprint. Both flexibility and continuous improvement are characteristics of the agile approach.

Trainings and workshops

The change from classical to agile project management often requires training and further education for the team members. This training could take the form of workshops or seminars to give team members the knowledge and skills they need to work successfully and efficiently with the new approach.

Workshops are particularly helpful because they give team members the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the new methods. These workshops should cover the core principles of agile management and include real-world examples to support the learning process.

Both a basic understanding of the differences between the two methodologies and comprehensive training and education are essential to ensure a successful transition from traditional to agile project management. Ultimately, the shift to an agile way of working will not only contribute to the effectiveness and efficiency of the team, but can also help to create a culture of continuous improvement and adaptability within the team.

Case studies on agile project management

So it seems that you are interested in real examples of how to apply agile project management. Nothing explains things better than practical examples, right? That's why in this section I focus on some case studies that show how agile project management works in the real world.

Example 1: Agile project management in software development

Let's start with the industry that practically invented agile methods - software development. A software company faced the challenge of developing and launching a new product in just six months. How did it manage to do that? It chose Agile.

The team organized itself into weekly "sprints" to complete specific tasks. It held daily "stand-up" meetings to discuss its progress and identify problems early. At the end of each sprint, it presented working software to the customer and gathered feedback.

This method allowed it to address customer problems and requests in real time and adjust the software as needed. The result? A successful product launched on time and on budget. Agile definitely saved the day here!

Example 2: Transformation to Agile in a traditional company

Now let's look at how a traditional company made its shift to Agile. The company, an older-model firm, found that its usual linear methods were too slow and too rigid to keep up with ever-changing market demands.

With the help of Agile coaches, the company began introducing iterative work methods to its teams. At first, this change was met with resistance, as many employees stuck to familiar processes. But over time, they began to see the benefits of Agile: better communication, faster solutions and more flexibility.

The result was a profound cultural transformation and a strong improvement in efficiency and customer satisfaction. It was not an easy process and required significant adjustment. But in the end, the shift to Agile was more than worth it.

These case studies show that agile project management can be a powerful method for achieving goals and meeting customer needs while fostering a positive work culture. When choosing between Agile and Classic, it's not a matter of which approach is superior, but which one best fits the specific needs of a project or team.

No matter what industry you work in or what type of project you lead, consider how you can use Agile principles to your advantage. You don't have to adopt all of Agile theory - maybe you can just adopt one or two methods that fit your situation. The point is to stay flexible and use what works. And who knows, you may soon be writing your own Agile success story.

Case studies on classic project management

Take a deep look into the world of classic project management and analyze some case studies. This will help you understand its application, function and effectiveness in different business scenarios.

Case study 1: Infrastructure project

The first example is a large infrastructure project where planning and execution followed the classic project management model. In this case, a highway bridge was being built and the project managers used a classical approach to ensure that every step from design to completion was carefully planned and monitored.

Objectives were clearly defined in advance and every detail of the project was planned in advance to ensure the work was completed on time. Contracts with vendors were carefully negotiated and finances were meticulously monitored to ensure the project stayed on budget. Ultimately, the project was a great success and the bridge was completed on time and on budget.

Case study 2: Software development project in the banking industry

In our second example, we consider a software development project commissioned by a large bank. The end product was to be a new banking system that would allow customers to conduct online transactions. The bank decided to use classic project management to optimize project progress, cost monitoring and communication with stakeholders.

Since this software project had specific requirements that were well defined and unchangeable in advance, classic project management provided the ideal framework. Before the start of the project, a detailed specification was created and handed over to the software developers. The entire development process was divided into chronologically sequential phases, including requirements analysis, system design, implementation, testing and maintenance. Each phase was performed sequentially, based on a detailed plan and schedule.

In this way, the team was able to identify potential errors and problem areas in advance and correct them in good time. In traditional project management, control over resources, schedules and costs is very strict, which was an advantage in this case. Although the bank used traditional project management methods, the project was completed successfully.

In summary, classical project management can be useful and effective in certain situations. As these case studies show, it can make all the difference, especially in projects with fixed goals and little room for change. It provides a stable and predictable framework in which responsibilities, roles and expectations are clearly defined. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that each project situation is unique and requires careful consideration of the context and specific requirements in order to select the most appropriate project management method.

The future of agile and classic project management

In an ever-changing business world, you must constantly update and adapt your project management approaches to remain efficient and successful. Advances in technology and business processes have led to new, more flexible methods, including agile project management. But what does this mean for traditional project management? Is it outdated and doomed to fail, or does it still have a place in the modern business world? In this section, we take a look at the future of agile and classic project management.

The constant evolution of agile project management

Agile project management has proven to be an effective method for dealing with constantly growing and changing requirements. With its flexibility and adaptability, combined with the ability to continually incorporate feedback and improvements, it has established itself as a future-proof model. But it is not without its challenges.

Agile project management continues to face its limitations, especially from organizational structures that are more focused on stability and control. Here, the challenge for Agile is to overcome these barriers and continue to find ways to work effectively and efficiently. Developments such as informal hierarchies and cross-functional teams can help overcome these challenges and establish Agile as the way forward.

The continuing value of classic project management

Classic project management is often portrayed as a rigid and outdated method that is no longer relevant in the modern business world. However, this is a simplification of the facts. Yes, classic project management has its challenges, especially in projects with a high degree of change and unpredictability. But it still offers countless benefits for projects where stability and control are valued over flexibility and adaptability.

The world is not going completely Agile, there will always be projects and situations where a traditional, sequential approach is more appropriate. What we may see is a greater integration of Agile principles and practices into traditional project management methods. This could take the form of hybrid methods that combine the best of both worlds - the adaptability of Agile with the control and predictability of the classic approach.

We must not forget that classic project management has experienced and will continue to experience its own innovations and developments. With advances in AI and automated processes, many of the areas of classic methods that are seen as rigid and ineffective could be revised and improved. It will be exciting to see how classic project management evolves in the future.

So what does this mean for the future of project management? It is unlikely that we will see the total disappearance of classic project management. Rather, we can expect to see the best of both methods taken and combined to create new, more efficient and effective approaches to project management. The important thing is that we value both approaches and understand that they each have their advantages, depending on the nature, size and requirements of the project in question. The future of agile and traditional project management is one that emphasizes openness, flexibility, and continuous improvement.

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About the Author: Sven Emmrich

Sven Emmrich avatar
Sven is a business graduate, DEKRA-certified coach and passionate entrepreneur. As CEO of Karrierehelden, he has been writing for many years on all career topics such as job applications and job changes, money and salary negotiations, leadership skills and management issues, psychology and personality development, communication and conflict management, self-confidence and entrepreneurship, and the line between work and private life with work-life balance... or much more work-life integration. Sven has coached over 1,000 academics, professionals and executives with his team and is happy to help you too.
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