Project Management Guide

Project Management Frameworks

A. What is a project management framework?

A project management framework is a collection of tools, tasks, and processes used to organize and execute a project from initiation to completion. A framework outlines everything you need to plan, manage, and control your projects successfully. 

A standard project management framework can be broken down into three main buckets:

  • The project life cycle. A key difference between Waterfall and Agile methodologies is that their frameworks include different life cycles. For instance, the Waterfall framework outlines these five standard phases:
  • Initiation
  • Planning
  • Execution
  • Control and monitoring
  • Closure

An Agile project framework will likely use a modified life cycle to represent the flexible and iterative nature of Agile better.

  • Templates, checklists, and other tools. Your project framework contains the information you need to plan your project effectively, from recommendations on tasks, activities, and resources to draft project documents.

  • Processes and activities. Each framework will outline specific project processes to follow, so different frameworks work better for different projects. For instance, daily meetings are a regular activity in many Agile frameworks. 

The purpose of a project management framework is to provide a clear and consistent outline for projects – one that ensures reliable and repeatable execution of projects across teams and throughout companies. Frameworks document and share best practices to the benefit of all. They also help organizations and industries create common standards.  

The PMBOK Guide describes a framework as the basic structure for understanding project management. Project managers choose the framework that works best for their project or team – we explain how to select the appropriate framework for your project under Section F below. 

What is the difference between a methodology and a framework? 

A methodology outlines the project management principles, values, and best practices to follow, while a framework prescribes a way to follow them. In other words, a methodology tells you what you want to achieve, and a framework focuses on how to achieve it. 

For instance, Lean and Agile principles may tell you that responding to change is vital. However, these methodologies don’t tell you how to ensure your projects react well to change – this information is outlined in a framework.

B. What do Agile frameworks have in common?

The Agile project methodology is a project management approach that uses four key pillars and 12 principles to organize projects. Agile frameworks are all designed to support the achievement of these pillars and principles. 

The Agile process flow stands out from other project management approaches due to its emphasis on iterative development, flexibility, continuous feedback, and valuing people over processes. Therefore, Agile frameworks must be built around these core values. 

While each framework has its unique facets, each ensures that you follow the basics of project management to complete the project successfully. Agile frameworks are considered lightweight compared to traditional frameworks, as they typically focus on keeping documentation and rules to a minimum. However, every Agile project framework must include all critical project processes and phases.

C. The Scrum framework

The Scrum methodology was developed in the 1990s based on a Harvard Business Review article titled “The New New Product Development Game.” Most project managers would name Scrum as the most popular Agile framework.

As with other Agile frameworks, Scrum entails an iterative approach to project management. The Scrum methodology prescribes breaking a project down into sprints that typically only last one to four weeks. Each sprint ends with the completion of a workable version or draft of the final project deliverable. 

The Scrum approach’s short iterations enable your team to continuously deliver a working version of the final product. 

Scrum was initially designed using a software model that follows a set of roles, responsibilities, and meetings. It’s flexible enough to be used for any complex project in any industry but works best when your project results in a concrete product rather than a service.

Scrum is considered lightweight and flexible but difficult to master, with three main pillars:

  • Transparency. You must use a common language and standard definitions.
  • Inspection. Scrum “artifacts” and products must be regularly and diligently inspected to ensure quality.
  • Adaptation. Whenever an inspection discovers below-standard quality, the team must make adjustments or corrections as soon as possible. 

Scrum in Agile requires particular roles and responsibilities, including the following:

  • Product owner. The product owner on a project is the person responsible for representing the customer’s best interest. This person has the ultimate authority over the final product. The product owner’s job is to ensure product requirements, functionality, and priorities are understood and achieved.
  • Scrum master. The Scrum master is responsible for arranging the daily meetings, improving team interactions, and maximizing productivity. The difference between the project manager and Scrum master is that the latter focuses on being a servant leader. The Agile project manager’s roles and responsibilities often include the position of Scrum master. However, they can delegate this to anyone on the team who’s a Scrum expert and a strong facilitator. 
  • Development team. The development team is your Scrum project team. It’s typically self-organized and cross-functional. This team includes all the people necessary to design, produce, test, and release the final product.
  • Scrum team. The Scrum team structure includes your development team, Scrum master, and product owner. 

Scrum also has some unique terminology. The following are key terms commonly used in the Scrum framework: 

  • Product backlog. The backlog is a list of tasks and requirements that you must include in the final product. It’s the product owner’s responsibility to create and manage the backlog. 
  • Sprint. A sprint is a set time frame for completing each set of tasks from the backlog. Every sprint should be the same length. Two weeks is typical, but the sprint can be anywhere between one to four weeks, depending on the team and project’s needs. 
  • Backlog planning. Backlog planning (sometimes called Agile sprint planning) refers to determining which tasks on the backlog list you will include in each sprint.  
  • Sprint backlog. The portion of the backlog that is assigned to the current sprint. 
  • Daily Scrum. A Scrum project team meets every day to discuss any progress over the last 24 hours, progress expected in the next 24 hours, and any new problems. These meetings are typically referred to as a Daily Scrum or Daily Stand-Up and generally take about 15 minutes.
  • Retrospective. Each sprint should end with a review meeting called a retrospective. The team reviews their progress so far and discusses how they can improve in the next sprint.
  • Scrum board. A Scrum board helps your team see and manage the sprint backlog. It can be a physical board, such as a whiteboard, or a virtual one within a project management tool. The board typically has three columns: “To Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” As you complete backlog items, you move them from one column to the next on the board. This way, everyone can see what they need to do during the current sprint and how the work progresses. 
  • Artifact. The product backlog, the sprint backlog, and the product increment are the three Scrum artifacts within a project. The product backlog and sprint backlog represent work still to be done, and the product increment is the portion of the product that the team has already completed during the current sprint.

D. Other popular Agile project management methods

While Scrum is one of the most popular Agile project management methods, it’s certainly not your only option. You may be wondering: what is Agile planning, and which framework should I pick? Here are five other Agile project management methodologies to choose from:

1. Kanban

Kanban is a simple, visual means of managing projects. Originally designed as a scheduling method, Kanban helps teams execute just-in-time (JIT) production by enabling everyone to see both the project’s progress and what’s coming up next. 

Kanban focuses on a visualized workflow with tasks broken into small pieces. The Kanban framework is similar to Scrum in many ways. Kanban also uses a board to help view and keep track of progress, segmenting tasks into three primary columns: “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” However, unlike Scrum, the Kanban board tracks all product work without separating it into sprints. 

Kanban can help identify bottlenecks and waste, as well as reduce wait time.

2. Extreme programming (XP)

Extreme programming (XP) is an Agile framework initially designed for Agile software development projects. Like Scrum, this framework focuses on continuous development and customer delivery and uses intervals or sprints. 

However, the XP framework is centered on engineering principles and includes 12 supporting processes specific to the world of software development. These are:

  • Planning game
  • Small releases
  • Customer acceptance tests
  • Simple design
  • Pair programming
  • Test-driven development
  • Refactoring
  • Continuous integration
  • Collective code ownership
  • Coding standards
  • Metaphor
  • Sustainable pace

3. Feature-driven development (FDD)

Feature-driven development is another software-specific Agile framework. This framework aims to create software models every two weeks. It also requires a separate development and design plan for every software model feature, making it more documentation-heavy than other Agile frameworks. Due to its rigorous documentation requirements, FDD is better for teams with advanced design and planning abilities. 

The FDD framework breaks projects down into five basic, repeatable activities:

  • Develop an overall model
  • Build a feature list
  • Plan by feature
  • Design by feature
  • Build by feature

4. Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)

The Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) arose from the need for a common industry framework for rapid software delivery. Under DSDM, rework is expected, and any development changes that occur must be reversible. Like Scrum, XP, and FDD, the DSDM framework breaks projects down into smaller sprints. 

This framework is based on eight key principles:

  • Focus on the business need
  • Deliver on time
  • Collaborate
  • Never compromise quality
  • Build incrementally from firm foundations
  • Develop iteratively
  • Communicate continuously and clearly
  • Demonstrate control

5. Crystal

Crystal is a family of Agile methodologies, including Crystal Clear, Crystal Yellow, Crystal Orange, Crystal Red, and more. Each crystal methodology has a unique framework, and the one you choose depends on several project factors, such as your team size, project priorities, and project criticality. When deciding how to adopt Agile, it’s essential to recognize that different projects require a slightly different set of policies, practices, and processes based on their unique characteristics.

Is Lean project management an Agile framework?

While Lean often shows up on Agile frameworks lists, Lean development is an entirely separate methodology. Lean and Agile are often grouped because they share many of the same values. For example, both Lean and Agile emphasize the ability to adapt to change easily. 

The main principles of the Lean methodology include:

  • Eliminating waste
  • Build quality in
  • Create knowledge
  • Defer commitment
  • Deliver fast
  • Respect people
  • Optimize the whole

E. Agile epics defined

In Agile project management, epics are “large user stories.”   

A user story is simply something a user wants – in this case, the results your customer requested. Ideally, a user story is small enough to fit within one project sprint. Say, for example, you were producing a book. If you could complete each chapter in a sprint, each chapter would become a user story. 

But what if a chapter would take eight weeks to complete? The user story is too large to accomplish within one sprint and is considered a large user story or an epic. 

There is no exact size guideline for epics. It depends on your team’s sprint length and project needs. 

Another Agile term it’s important to know is ‘theme’. A theme is a collection of user stories that are related or easily categorized together. For instance, if you were planning to build a house, you may choose to group the electrical requirements under one theme and the structural needs under another. 

Story, epic, and theme are terms that many Agile teams use to help streamline product backlog discussions and planning. You may have a requirement in your product backlog that’s too big to assign to one sprint, but by labeling it as an epic, everyone understands that they need to break it down before the work can become part of a sprint backlog.

Similarly, grouping requirements under themes can help you accomplish your sprint backlog planning. After all, conditions categorized together may benefit from being in the same sprint. 

Epic project management is all about managing your backlog in an executable way. It ensures requirements are concise enough to be accomplished in a one- to four-week period.  

Two of the benefits of epics are: 

  • You can keep track of big, loosely defined ideas in your backlog. You can note a requirement down as an epic and then refine it as the project progresses. 
  • You can establish a hierarchy for your backlog items. The epic stays in the backlog as the original idea or requirement. The user stories associated with it track the aspects of the product that’ll allow you to meet that requirement. 

However, teams can get caught up in differentiating between epics and stories and often put too much effort into estimating, tracking, and refining them. 

Epics are meant to be a useful grouping tool for your backlog, but if they’re creating headaches for your team, then you should rethink their use.

Here’s a video by Knowledge Hut further demonstrating the definition and value of Agile epics.

F. Project manager best practices for choosing the right framework

With more than six popular Agile project frameworks to choose from, how do you know which is the right one for your project? 

No one framework will suit all projects, so it’s important to assess individual projects and teams’ needs. 

Here are seven project management best practices based on the Project Management Institute’s Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3) and Implementing Organizational Project Management Guide.  

  1. Assess the project size and scope. If it’s a large, lengthy project, it may be difficult to break down into two-week sprints. But if the range is challenging to define and expected to evolve, Agile is likely a better fit than a more traditional framework. 
  2. Determine project drivers. It’s vital to understand a project’s business case and its value to the organization. What benefits does it provide for your company? 
  3. Understand the customer’s key goals, expected outcomes, and priorities for the project.
  4. Identify any project drivers, goals, outcomes, and priorities that’ll be impacted by different methodologies. For example, if your goal is to be as cost-effective as possible, a Lean methodology may be the best fit. If a customer expects in-depth feature documentation, FDD might be the right choice. 
  5. Create a list of the potential methodologies that may suit your project and rank them based on the criteria outlined in the last step. 
  6. Whichever framework supports most drivers, goals, outcomes, and priorities should be your chosen one. If some results are more critical than others, you can prioritize your assessments to ensure they’re not overlooked. You’ll want to select the framework that provides the best results with the lowest amount of risk. 
  7. Once you’ve chosen your framework, monitor how it’s working. A core concept of Agile is flexibility and adaptability. If the project methodology you’ve selected isn’t producing your desired results, you may need to modify or even change your framework. 

G. Free Agile project management tools

Anything you use to manage an Agile project is an Agile project management tool. Whiteboards and sticky notes are two of the more basic options, but many sophisticated digital tools can handle Agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban.

Here are five free Agile project management tools:

  • KanbanTool
    KanbanTool is an online Kanban board. It features Kanban cards, swimlanes, colors, and more to help ensure project visibility. The basic version of the tool is free for up to two users and two boards.
  • Pipefy
    Pipefy allows you to build and execute Kanban-style workflows. It doesn’t offer pre-designed process templates but does give you the ability to design and customize your workflows. This tool is free for teams of up to five people. 
  • Wrike
    Wrike is a cloud-based project management tool capable of supporting both Agile and more traditional project management frameworks. Wrike offers a basic version for free for up to five team members. 
  • Yodiz
    Yodiz is an all-in-one Agile platform that enables you to customize fields, board layouts, board colors, and more. It’s free for up to three users.
  • Zoho Sprints
    Zoho Sprints is a cloud-based tool for Agile teams. It offers a variety of Agile project management features, including Scrum boards. The software is free for up to five projects and five users.