Modern project management usually adopts the Waterfall approach, which means everything goes in a sequential, linear process according to plan. Be it building a website, launching a new product, or constructing a railway station, waterfall methods are applied to almost all projects. There is, however, this question: is the result is as good as expected?
Let’s take a look at the work flow in waterfall approach. The managers would make a systematic analysis before kicking off the project work. They would make hypothesis about different scenarios and predict how customer demand will change. It may take several months or even years to finish that process. Then the team will move to design, and make budget and timetable, which also takes several months if not several years.
And putting everything into execution would take another several months or years. Generally speaking, bigger projects would take even more time.
Most projects adopt waterfall management, with this approach being relatively popular in the business sector and at business schools. But more and more examples show that there are various risks embedded in the system, either from design or execution.
Any delay in any part of the project might create issue for next part. Delay means huge economic losses.
Project managers would tend to use the time reserved for last round of check or testing as buffer against any delay in the process. It would hence impose risk on proper project supervision.
Many projects cannot be tested until they are near completion stage. It’s difficult to detect anything wrong mid-way if there is a design default.
By contrast, there is this Agile model adopted by start-ups and tech firms. Agile is an iterative, team-based approach to development, and it can respond quickly to an unpredictable environment. I’m not saying agile model is better than waterfall, but agile approach does offer some benefits to some government projects.
The project manager would first build up overall guidelines, direction and budget, and different teams would work on their specific areas. The teams would interact actively among themselves and with customers. Through this method, the firm would respond better to any sudden change and find a good solution.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 22
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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