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project management framework

Contributor(s): Wesley Chai

A project management framework is a set of processes, tasks and tools that provide guidance and structure for the execution of a project. The framework helps organizations map out the progression of the individual project steps, from beginning to completion. The framework includes all aspects of the project, from required resources and tools to specific processes and tasks.

Project management frameworks typically will be organized into three main components: the project lifecycle, the project control cycle, and tools and templates. The project lifecycle provides a timeline with goals and milestones for five different stages. The project control cycle provides functions for monitoring and management. Tools and templates can provide organizations with ready-made frameworks that can be applied to project implementations.

Popular project management frameworks include Agile, Scrum, PRINCE2, Integrated Project Management (IPM), Waterfall and Lean. While some frameworks were designed with general project management in mind, others originated for specific purposes such as software development or manufacturing, with use that broadened out into other project types over time.

Project lifecycle, project control cycle, and tools and templates

The project management frameworks are as follows:

  • The project lifecycle is comprised of five different stages: initiation, planning, execution, management and review. The purpose of the project lifecycle is to provide a timeline with goals and milestones to accomplish at each stage.
    • Stage 1: Initiation. This is the beginning stage of the project. Initiation activities include brainstorming, research, feasibility analysis and stakeholder interviews. The focus of the initiation stage should be to identify which key components are required to put the project into action.
    • Stage 2: Planning. Here, those planning the projects should determine who specifically will be involved in the projects, which teams, and plan out progress milestones and success benchmarks. Risk analysis and management should be addressed in detail.
    • Stage 3: Execution. This stage consists of the actual production of deliverables, and the specific action items required from each of the individual team members to drive progress for the project.
    • Stage 4: Management. This stage focuses on documentation, monitoring and reporting project progress at each milestone. Key takeaways should be shared with stakeholders.
    • Stage 5: Review. This occurs at the end of the project. Here, project leaders and team members involved will look back and analyze what went well in the project, any setbacks/hiccups that came up, and discuss how they can be improved with all relevant stakeholders, customers and manufacturing partners.
  • The project control cycle involves the active monitoring and management of the project. Key functions of this component include managing and mitigating risks, tracking progress across teams and team members, and communicating project status with external stakeholders. Furthermore, communications channels across different teams and projects are opened. The project control cycle has five of its own stages.
    • Stage 1: This stage involves drafting the initial plan, for teams involved in the project to follow.
    • Stage 2: Here, the focus is on monitoring project progress across the involved teams.
    • Stage 3: At this stage, project managers should evaluate actual progress and compare it to what progress was planned to be completed by that time.
    • Stage 4: Project managers should look to identify if progress has deviated at all from the original plan and analyze the implications if so.
    • Stage 5: If necessary, corrective action should be taken to steer the project back in the right direction.
  • Tools and templates offer ready-made structure to organizations looking to implement project management frameworks. There are many tools and templates available, many of which have reached widespread use.

Common project management frameworks

When it comes to choosing a project management framework, project managers have various options. While some frameworks originated for general project management purposes, others were designed for specific use cases -- such as in software development, IT governance structure or business process improvement. Some frameworks were designed for specific use cases but have since branched out into use with a broader variety of project types.

Traditional project management. A framework that draws from the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) guide. PMBOK is designed around three phases of a project: inputs, tools and techniques, and outputs.

Agile. This framework, which relies on short delivery cycles, is often employed for projects where speed and flexibility are prioritized.

Lean. This framework focuses on reducing unnecessary waste in resources and optimizing processes for efficiency. Originated from Toyota's manufacturing processes.

Critical chain project management (CCPM). This project management framework is more centered around the use and allocation of specific resources, as opposed to emphasizing timelines.

Critical path method (CPM). A step-by-step technique, used for process planning. It seeks to reduce bottlenecks and time frame issues, by defining which tasks are critical and which are not.

Event chain methodology (ECM). This framework focuses on managing events -- and chains of events -- that affect the schedules of projects, by accounting for variables and uncertainties.

Project headway. A work breakdown structure (WBS) framework built around Project Management Institute (PMI) standards that is offered only through PMI membership.

Integrated project method (IPM). An adaptive and incremental mode of project delivery. The IPM framework divides its core areas of focus into six areas:

  • Management processes and functions
  • Management deliverables
  • Metrics
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Reviews and sign-offs
  • Techniques

PRINCE2. Involves a high degree of early stage planning. Originating from the U.K. government, where it is still used, this project management framework combines many proven practices from a variety of backgrounds and industries. It is commonly employed for IT projects.

Waterfall methodology. Sequential in nature, where work flows between defined phases and work stations. In the Waterfall model, work only moves to the next phase after completion of the previous phase; workflow in the opposite direction is generally discouraged.

Cynefin. A variant of the Agile framework designed by Dave Snowden at IBM to help project managers use cause and effect to classify the situation that's driving a new project -- and then use the classification to decide the most appropriate response.

Scrum. An Agile framework that is typically used for complex projects. Scrum places a focus on transparency, inspection and adaptation. Scrum encourages iterative progress, accountability and teamwork. Work is broken down into short "sprints."

Extreme programming (XP). Another Agile variant. This framework emphasizes an incremental, iterative approach to product development with cycles of continual testing and revision. Extreme programming is primarily focused on business results.

Feature-driven development (FDD). A software development framework that utilizes shorter iterations and more frequent releases for projects. This framework encourages a customer-centric approach to development.

Dynamic systems development method (DSDM). Another Agile delivery framework. DSDM determines fixed time, quality and cost factors at the start of the project, and then prioritizes what the project must have, should have, could have and won't have.

Adaptive software development (ASD). This software development framework embraces continuous adaptation to work processes as the norm.

Rational Unified Process (RUP). This framework divides development into four phases: inception, elaboration, construction and transition. Each of these phases involves its own cycle of modeling, analysis, design, implementation, testing and deployment. RUP is named after a division of IBM called Rational, where this framework originated.

Six Sigma. A data-driven framework that relies on the systematic measurement and analysis of quality, to bring the number of defects in the project as close to zero as possible.

Customer experience management (CEM). A framework that takes an "outside-in" approach to project processes, which are designed around specific, successful customer outcomes.

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). A framework that helps coordinate IT functions to support the business. It helps identify, plan, delivery and support IT services.

COBIT PO10.2 (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology). A framework that includes various components: an overall master plan, a resource assignment plan, defined deliverables, user approval, multiphase delivery, a test plan and a review process for the post-implementation stage.

Joint framework (COBIT + ISO17799 / 27001 + ITIL). A framework that combines ITIL and COBIT with ISO/IEC 27001 (the International Organization for Standardization's information security best practice code).

Kaizen. This is an approach that focuses on the continuous improvement of business processes. The premise of Kaizen is that small, ongoing changes produce substantial benefits.

Project management framework best practices

When implementing a project management framework, it is very important to maintain controlled methods of communication. Successful implementation of a project management framework demands cross-team coordination of tasks and efforts over multiple communication channels. Without them, the framework, along with the entire project, is prone to collapsing.

Organizations can benefit from creating and using templates across similar types of projects. Because project management frameworks are flexible, they also can be used to support a variety of different project types and can even be customized or tailored to better fit an organization's specific project structures and flows. This can create a more efficient overall process for the implementation of these projects.

Another best practice for implementing project management frameworks is to create a central repository to store and access all of a project's relevant notes, documents, communications and comments. This can be useful for the reviewing phase, to diagnose points of improvement that can be bettered for future projects.

Generally speaking, project management frameworks are simple, flexible and somewhat difficult to fail. Therefore, best practices tend to focus on areas where organizations can further optimize efficiency.

Project management frameworks vs. methodologies

When it comes to project management, the terms "framework" and "methodology" are often used interchangeably, leading to confusion about differences between the terms. However, frameworks and methodologies do have differences.

A project management methodology is less flexible than a framework. It is a set of defined practices, steps and rules, for specific use cases. Methodologies are inherently more prescriptive. Methodologies are very specific steps that must be strictly followed.

Frameworks, on the other hand, provide structure and guidance while also allowing for more freedom. They are flexible by nature and should be used as looser guidelines. Rules can be changed, adopted or abandoned as needed.

Though project management frameworks differ from methodologies, the two terms are often used interchangeably. Therefore, many true frameworks exist that include "methodology" in the names.

This was last updated in November 2020

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