Tempo logotype
6 min read

Why choose traditional project management over agile?

What is traditional project management? Discover the classic tools of the project management trade and whether they have a place in your current practice.
From Team '23

Tempo Team

As technology evolves, old versions generally fall out of favor. It only makes sense; why limit yourself to an album of 10–12 songs by your favorite musician when you can enjoy their entire catalog by switching to a streaming service?

Project management techniques follow the same trend. In recent years, dynamic project management methodologies, such as agile and Lean, have become the go-to means of organizing and delivering work. But does this mean older project management techniques are obsolete?

Traditional project management tools and methodologies will always have their place, much like vinyl in the music industry. The trick is knowing when to shelve the Kanban board and switch to old-school, linear techniques like waterfall and PERT to get your project off the ground. 

What is traditional project management?

Pre-agile methods do not take an iterative approach to project development; instead, they focus on step-by-step management processes to oversee task and goal completion. Just like agile management, the classic approach to project delivery can include multiple practices. 

Here are the four most common traditional project management methods:

Waterfall

When people discuss traditional project management methodologies, they’re usually referring to the waterfall framework. Introduced in the 1950s, it became the preferred delivery management approach worldwide until the advent of agile project management. 

The waterfall methodology requires a project manager to break down and meticulously plan the entire project before launch. Work progresses linearly, and project team members begin a new task only when the previous step is complete.

The traditional project management lifecycle is rigid and sequential, comprised of five project phases:

  1. Initiation: This is the preplanning phase, where the project manager works with stakeholders to identify

    • Requirements

    • Project scope

    • Risks

    • Benefits

    • Probability of success

  2. Planning: At this stage, the manager creates the project plan by dividing the work into smaller tasks, allocating resources and staff, and establishing the schedule, milestones, and deadlines. 

  3. Execution: Once project planning is complete, management launches the project, and team members begin work. 

  4. Monitoring: The project manager regularly checks in with the team to ensure they’re on the right track. They may adjust plans, staff, and activities.

  5. Closure: Once the team completes work, the manager evaluates the entire project for lessons learned and plans updates or old product replacements.

The waterfall method works best when managing large projects or working with an organization that requires a structured approach to project planning and delivery.

Gantt charts

A Gantt chart is more of a tool than a methodology. Project managers use them to visually outline a project’s start and finish dates, individual elements, and task timelines. By illustrating a project’s life cycle, Gantt charts help stakeholders better understand the process.

Gantt charts are commonly used in traditional project management and by project-oriented organizations to monitor progress and adjust plans.

Critical chain project management

Also known as the critical path method (CPM), critical chain project management (CCPM) reviews project resources and activities to identify and complete the critical path – the longest sequence of dependent tasks. Once the critical path is defined, the project manager balances resourcing so each task in the chain has the necessary assets for execution.

CCPM provides greater control over a project and its schedule, decreasing risk thanks to mutualized safety margins surrounding each task. This project-level buffer typically reduces overall project duration. 

Like the waterfall methodology, CCPM requires extensive upfront project planning and estimations. Plotting the critical chain is complex, so most contemporary PMOs use project management tools to support this endeavor.

Consider implementing CCPM when tackling small, tightly scheduled projects.

Program evaluation and review techniques

Similar to CCPM, program evaluation and review techniques (the PERT method) focus on timeline analysis of individual project tasks. The project manager must determine the minimum duration time and then total those numbers to calculate the time required to complete the project. Only then can they allocate resources accordingly.

PERT simplifies the planning and scheduling of large, complex projects.

6 benefits of traditional project management

Dynamic project management boasts some impressive advantages, especially regarding fluidity and adaptability. However, you may prefer the benefits of the traditional approach in certain situations. Here’s what traditional project management provides:

1. Established expectations

When you plan the entire project before kick-off, you can more easily estimate costs, schedules, and resources. Team members understand their responsibilities, outcomes, and timelines. 

2. Clear responsibilities

Preplanning establishes each team member’s role and responsibilities within the project. Clearly defined duties empower everyone to work efficiently with minimal supervision. 

3. Reduced risk

The planning phase of traditional project management requires the project manager to evaluate all potential threats to the successful delivery of a project. Once they’ve identified these factors, they can create mitigation and contingency strategies for each identified risk.

4. High level of control

All changes to scope, plans, or resources require approval from the project manager – even the slightest deviation. Gatekeeping change reduces scope creep and keeps the project team on track. 

5. A single point of accountability

The project manager holds all the power, so they are also exclusively accountable for the project’s success or failure. Every decision goes through them, providing stakeholders and team members a single point of contact for approval and status updates.

6. Extensive documentation

Traditional project management is famously heavy on documentation. These accounts standardize the process and serve as an archive of vital information that management can leverage to inform and improve future project management efforts.

Traditional vs. dynamic project management

The primary difference between traditional and dynamic project management is the capacity to adapt to change. A dynamic framework’s short, iterative sprints help a team accommodate marketplace changes or customer feedback. The traditional approach stresses preplanned and linear sequences, which can hamper your ability to adjust to new realities. 

If you’re taking on a complex project with unpredictable elements that require a flexible approach, it’s best to use a dynamic project management framework.

Traditional vs. agile project management

Initially created for software development, the agile approach has evolved to become the favored project management framework across almost every industry. Up to 71% of companies use the agile project management framework. Compared to the waterfall method, it’s easy to see the attraction.

The agile methodology is collaborative

Traditionally, the project manager makes all the decisions. Conversely, the agile framework organizes project teams into scrums that collaborate to define and prioritize tasks and goals.

The agile framework is flexible

Unlike traditional project teams that operate linearly, scrums work in iterations called sprints – periods of activity lasting two to eight weeks. At the end of each sprint, the agile team gathers new insights about the project that they can apply to later iterations. Workflows are open, so the team can adjust without scuttling the entire schedule if company priorities change.  

Agile management incorporates user feedback

Traditional project management’s linear process only allows acceptance testing on the product when it’s nearing completion. Clients and users have a limited window to discover bugs or offer feedback. The Agile Manifesto, which details the principles of the agile approach, insists users and customers should test project outcomes with each iteration so scrums can incorporate their feedback into upcoming sprints.

Should you choose the traditional or agile project methodology?

There’s no clear-cut answer regarding which project management approach is better. The best choice for your organization depends on the following factors:

  • The project team’s current workflow

  • The industry you work in

  • The project’s scope and complexity

  • The desired outcomes and deliverables

A traditional project management methodology is better suited to straightforward, predictable projects with clear resource allocation plans. More dynamic undertakings demand an agile approach.

Project management tools for everyone

Whether you prefer traditional project management or agile methodology, Jira-enabled Tempo applications can support your team. Tools like Capacity Planner, a resource management platform, allow you to optimize resource and capacity planning. You can also leverage Tempo’s Timesheets, a time-tracking software that monitors team activities and progress while streamlining productivity reporting.

No matter your approach to project management, Tempo has the solutions you need.