For every $1 billion invested in projects, businesses waste $97 million because of poor project performance. This should scare small businesses with scarce extra cash: Can you afford to waste 10 percent of your project budget on inefficiency?

Now for the good news: Project Management Institute (PMI) reported last year that more project managers met their initial goals and completed work within budget for the first time in five years. PMI cited the growing use of Agile within organizations as a factor in this rise of successful projects.

However, Agile is just one of many project management methodologies, and other factors that the PMI says contributes to success (such as having a project management office and executive sponsor) are often reserved for larger project teams with more resources.

That made us wonder: What’s the most popular project management methodology for teams under 10 people? Do the smallest project teams work differently?

To answer these questions, GetApp surveyed nearly 200 project managers in the U.S. who work on project teams under 10 people. (You can learn more about our methodology at the end of this article.)

In this article, we’ll cover the key findings from our survey. We’ll also include recommendations for how to choose the right project management methodology for your team.

Key Findings

  • Forty-three percent of project managers on teams under 10 people don’t use a project management method.
  • Forty-seven percent of project managers of teams under 10 people who don’t use a methodology have no plans to start researching or using one.
  • Thirty percent of project managers of teams under 10 people who do use a project management method have used it for between 12 and 23 months.
  • Forty percent of project managers of teams under 10 people who use a project management method plan to use it indefinitely.

Recommendations

  • Audit your team’s projects to confirm how many were delivered late or over budget within the last year.
  • Give your project team members a way to anonymously share their thoughts on team communication.
  • Evaluate project management methodologies against your team’s workflow.
  • Test your methodology on one to two small, low-risk projects and track the results before scaling out.

No method to the madness

We started our survey by asking participants to share which industries they work in. Nearly 1 in 4 respondents (a total of 24 percent) work in IT services or software/technology.

Survey participant industries
Next, we asked respondents which project management methodologies their teams use. The answer to this question surprised us most of all.

Project methodology chart

KEY TAKEAWAY: Nearly half of project managers on teams under 10 people don’t use a project management methodology.

Since a quarter of respondents work in IT and software/technology, we expected them to follow a project management methodology. After all, some of today’s most popular PM methods—including Agile and Waterfall—claim their roots in software development.

Additionally, PMI’s latest report said that 71 percent of organizations report using Agile approaches. But when we surveyed project managers of teams under 10 people, GetApp got drastically different results.

As it turns out, nearly half (43 percent) of project managers on teams under 10 don’t follow a methodology at all.

Of those project managers who do use methodologies, Waterfall was the most popular with 14 percent of the vote. Six Sigma, a process that aims to remove the causes of defects and minimize variability, was the second most popular at 10 percent.

A mere 7 percent of project managers of teams under 10 use Agile – the same number who say they’re not sure if their project teams use a specific PM method.

Sticking to it

Out of a total 192 respondents, 109 use a project management methodology. After learning which ones are most popular, we wanted to know how long these project managers have been using them:

Chart:how long have you used your project methodology?

KEY TAKEAWAY: Nearly 1 in 3 project managers of teams under 10 people who use a methodology have used it for 12-23 months.

Fewer project managers of teams under 10 people use PM methods than expected. But the teams that do use methodologies are loyal to them: More than 1 in 4 (27 percent) have used their chosen methodologies for more than 36 months. This is in addition to the 31 percent of respondents who have used their methodologies for 12-23 months.

When we asked respondents how their project management practices changed after they started using methodologies, a clear pattern emerged in their answers: Team communication and collaboration shot up.

One participant said:

“Agile changed the way we organized our project management components by having them in one space and having consistent practices in place in correlation with reporting. Also, it increased our teamwork abilities by making delegation of tasks more efficient and less time-consuming.”

Another noted:

“We were more connected with each other even though we were not working on the same project. My project management practices have become a lot more detailed and thorough.”

As already shown, project managers of small teams don’t broadly favor one specific methodology over another. These results—combined with users’ perceptions of how their work changed after starting to use a methodology— help explain why users continue to keep them.

Chart: Do you plan to keep your project management system

KEY TAKEAWAY: 43 percent of project managers of teams under 10 people who use a methodology plan to use it indefinitely.

How to choose the right project management methodology

Project managers on small teams tend to need flexibility. So, the fact the nearly half of project managers of teams under 10 people don’t use a methodology isn’t necessarily cause for concern. If you wonder how to choose the right project management methodology, these four steps are a strong starting point:

1. Audit last year’s projects

Before you choose a project management methodology, do an audit of your team’s projects throughout the past year. Then, confirm how many of those projects were delivered on time, under budget, and achieved their goals. If less than 80 percent of projects meet this criteria, consider adding some structure to your project team’s workflow.

Why 80 percent? PMI’s research found that organizations with project teams that complete this number of projects on time, under budget, and meet business intent are less likely to experience scope creep.

A mere six percent of their projects failed on average, and 14 percent of their average budget was lost when a project failed. By contrast, underachievers (which PMI classifies as completing 60 percent or fewer of projects) lose 46 percent of their budgets when projects fail.

2. Collect feedback from your project team

Once you’ve confirmed where your project team stands, make a survey in which team members can share honest, anonymous feedback. Your goal here is to learn how your team currently communicates and how team members perceive collaboration.

This qualitative feedback will enhance your project performance assessment. The answers you get from your team members should provide clues for which methodology might be best.

3. Evaluate project management methodologies against your team’s workflow

The third step involves assessing your project team’s workflow. Do you manage software projects in a top-down way that’s highly structured? If so, Waterfall or Six Sigma might be your best options.

By contrast, if your project team needs flexibility and wants to ship work more often, an Agile methodology is worth considering. CIO is a strong source for how to choose the right project management methodology. Consider your own project team’s style as you read these options.

4. Test your new methodology on small, low-risk projects

Finally, don’t go all in with your method of choice. Projects that are smaller in scope are more likely to succeed than larger ones. So, test your new methodology on no more than one to two projects. Then, measure the results over a six-month trial period. This will show you what’s working well and what you should stop.

No method is a catch-all solution, and not using one isn’t bad in itself. But qualitative feedback from project managers of small teams shows that using a method often leads to decreased confusion and increased collaboration. Don’t we all want that?

Which apps do small project teams love?


Methodology

GetApp ran a survey via Amazon Mechanical Turk in May 2018 to collect the data in this survey. As prerequisites to take this survey, all respondents had to live in the U.S., work on a project team with less than 10 members, and hold the role of either project manager or project management office. The survey asked a combination of multiple choice and essay questions.

The survey received a total of 192 qualified respondents. Of those respondents, 43 percent (a total of 83) reported that they don’t use a project management methodology at all. Our statistics about those who do use project management methodologies are based on the other respondents (a total of 109).