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One of the things that makes project management so interesting is that no one can ever say that they have all the answers. Project management approaches and strategies are constantly being evaluated, revised and improved, and successful project managers make it a priority to stay informed about the latest developments in their field.

Differences in choosing between a top-down or bottom-up project management approach.

In recent years, the world of project management has been the scene of a growing debate over two fundamentally different approaches to defining and assigning project tasks: the top-down approach vs. the bottom-up approach. Here, we’ll take a quick look at the benefits and limitations of each strategy.

Top-Down Project Management

The top-down approach is the more traditional of the two project management approaches. A top-down strategy calls for all key decisions to be made by the project manager or senior organizational leaders. When a project is managed from the top down, the work breakdown structure and project plan are usually completed by the project manager alone, after which team members are told which tasks they will be completing and when their tasks are due.

Top-down project management remains very common, and it is well suited to projects in which there are few unfamiliar tasks and few unique challenges to be met. However, many organizations have begun to find that the top-down approach can leave team members demoralized and demotivated, as they typically have very little control over what they are expected to do and how they are expected to do it.

The Bottom-Up Approach

Bottom-up project management is rapidly gaining popularity, especially in industries where projects tend to involve new challenges that require innovative solutions. In the bottom-up model, project objectives are still determined by organizational leadership, but the team members who will be doing the work are asked to provide input as to how the project goals will be met. Task lists and project timelines are usually not completed until after the project team members have weighed in, which often results in more realistic schedules and fewer surprises down the road.

Companies often find that employees are more personally engaged on projects that use the bottom-up approach. One potential drawback of this strategy is that the initial project phases can take significantly longer, as project managers need to incorporate input from a large number of stakeholders into the project plan.

Choosing a Direction

Few organizations are likely to make a formal decision to adopt either the top-down or bottom-up approach for every project. Instead, more and more companies are looking for ways to incorporate certain elements of the bottom-up philosophy into their current project management practices. Even companies in industries where projects are typically repeatable and predictable can improve their employee morale by allowing team members to participate in the project planning process. Organizations in rapidly-evolving industries like software and technology have even stronger incentives to move to bottom-up project management, in order to get maximum benefit from their employees’ expertise and creativity.

Clarizen’s highly flexible project management solutions can help you find the right project management approach for your organization. Whether you prefer the bottom-up or top-down approach, be sure to avoid the top project management surprises that’ll blow your project budget.

Helena Bachar