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Choose a project management style

The amount you know about a problem and people’s response to your solution should help you decide on a project management style.

When to do it

This is something to think about after you have set out your problem (see the chapter: examine your problem) and your schedule (see the chapter: build a roadmap).

How to do it

You should:

  • assess how certain you are about the nature of the problem

  • assess how predictable the outcomes of your intervention are

  • choose a project management style:

    • if there is a high degree of uncertainty or unpredictability, then take a more experimental approach (such as agile) to check that you are doing the right thing

    • if the problem and response are already well understood, then plan ahead and get on with delivery

Try this activity

This activity will help you choose a style of management for your project. It will give you a map of the type of problems that you face and indication of how you should work.

Time, space and materials

  • 30 minutes

  • any space with a wall, sticky notes, flip chart paper, and pens for a face-to-face event

  • or for a remote event use a video conference and online whiteboard that will take the place of the wall and enable participants to add and move online ‘sticky notes’

  • your roadmap (see the chapter: build a roadmap)


  • stick your roadmap to the wall

  • make a big graph of 2 axes at least 1 metre wide and tall – you should label it like this example

  • cover up the vertical and horizontal axes

People to include

  • your team

  • any number of people

  • a facilitator to give the instructions


The purpose of this activity is to think about the type of tasks that you face and to choose the best way to manage the work.

  1. Choose a person to describe the roadmap and highlight the tasks you need to do.

  2. Reveal the horizontal axis. This scale shows how certain you are about the problem. From very certain (you already know everything about the problem) to very uncertain (you’re not yet sure about what questions that should be asked to find out more about the problem). Everyone should now place the tasks on the axis. As you place the tasks, see where other people place theirs. Discuss and move the tasks round until you agree on the positioning. You have 3 minutes.

  3. Reveal the vertical axis. This scale shows how predictable the outcome of your actions will be. From very predictable (you definitely know how people will respond if you do something) to very unpredictable (you do not know how people will respond or what the solutions might be). Everyone should now select at least one of the tasks and move their vertical position. Do not change the horizontal position. Discuss and move the challenges round until you agree on the positioning. You have 3 minutes.

  4. Draw rings on the graph from one axis to the other (eg low to low, high to high), as shown in this example. Discuss where most of the tasks are positioned and what this mean for how you manage the work.


  • obvious tasks are highly predictable so you can plan everything in advance without any more information

  • complicated tasks need a little more investigation. Experts already agree on what to do, you just need to get them to explain it to you and coordinate delivery of the solution

  • complex tasks are ones where the problem is not clear and you do not yet know what all the questions are. Also, there may be some solutions that you are not yet aware of and you do not know how people will respond to them. Working in quick cycles of experimentation and iteration (the agile project management model) can help you narrow things down and get more certainty

Next steps

  • talk to a delivery expert to discuss your findings and get more advice

  • take a decision on the project management style that is best suited to your work

Further reading

Find out more about this topic by searching the internet for:

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