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Agile/Scrum, Project Management

4 types of project and 3 levels of planning

I’ve recently written about 4 types of project based on how well defined are the goals (WHAT), and how well defined are the methods of achieving them (HOW).

Type 1 projects are clearly defined and well-understood; for example many repetitive construction and engineering projects such as building or refurbisWhat-How_Matrix_2hing houses, offices or roads. Techniques to manage these are well-developed and the Project Manager’s job is speed them through a largely linear lifecycle of Initiation, Planning, Implementation and Close-out.

Type 2 projects have clear objectives, but there is uncertainty over how these can be achieved. Many organisational improvement projects fit into this type; for example cost reduction, cycle-time improvement and customer service improvement. Product and policy development projects are also often like this.

Type 3 projects have clear processes, but unclear outcomes and often success can only be judged at the end of the project, once the outputs have been adopted by customers and users.  Making movies, TV and radio programmes have well-developed processes, but whether the end result will be a blockbuster or a flop, is uncertain at the start. Many market research projects will also be like this; they have defined processes, but there is no way of knowing what answers the research will come up with. IT and systems development projects are often also of this type.

Type 4 projects are the most complex projects because neither the What nor the How are understood at the start. We may know “something needs to be done”, but can’t be specific enough to work out how to run the project. Many pure Research and Development (R&D) projects as well as Organisational Redesign and Change programmes fit into this type. They cannot be planned to any level of detail at the start since they require both innovation and flexibility.

3 levels of Planning:

All projects can be planned at three levels:

  • Aspirational (Vision – ends)
  • Guidance (Strategy – ways)
  • Operational (Tactics – means)

All four types of project require Aspirational-level planning. In practice, this means producing a project definition (PID/PDD – or similar) which describes the overall “shape” of the project and allows comparisons between several potential projects that may be competing for resources.

All four types can also be planned at the Guidance level using milestone planning. Type 1 and 2 projects are more likely to have milestones associated with deliverables, while Type 3 and 4 will have milestones associated with the completion of lifecycle stages or key decision gates (“Go – No Go”).

Type 1 projects can be planned at an operational level from an early stage, based on the known activities to be carried out (Gantt Charts, Critical Path etc.).

Type 2 and 3 projects will typically require a rolling wave approach to operational planning, building levels of detail as early products are delivered or when early lifecycle stages are completed.

Type 4 projects can’t be planned at an Operational level and need to be turned into Type 2 or 3 projects eventually, otherwise they cannot be implemented.

Not all projects are the same, so please consider what type of project you’ve got before you decide how to plan it. You may need to educate your Sponsor and other senior managers to understand that a Gantt Chart may not be appropriate, or even possible!

Download the full article on the 4 types of project and how to plan them (pdf).

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