Author: Giovanny Guillen

I am a technology enthusiast with over 20 years working in software development and project management. As a technical project manager, I like to manage software development projects, applying PMI best practices and agile methodologies, with proven success in increasing revenue, market share, and profits, achieving cost reductions, managing successful projects, and their alignment with corporate strategies. As a software developer, I enjoy turning complex problems into simple ones to improve business processes. I have experience managing and developing software on IBM AS/400 and Windows platforms oriented to the integration and digital transformation of the business.
PMTimes_July26_2022

Save Project Time With the Kanban Method

Have you ever heard about the Kanban method? It is a method of work management that emerged in the Toyota Production System in the late 40s. At that time Toyota began to work with the “just in time” production system, so production was based on demand. This system started the foundations of Lean Manufacturing and lean production. What does this mean? That it is a production whose objective is to minimize waste, that is, create more value for customers but without generating more expenses.

What is Kanban?

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Figure 1. The Kanban Method. Source: https://getnave.com/blog/what-is-the-kanban-method/. Author: Sonya Siderova

Currently using Kanban boards are excellent tools to organize the workflow.  In addition, it is a very flexible method, which allows you to modify processes in the face of interruptions or unexpected and increase productivity. How? Through its 3 Kanban board states: To do, done and ready.

At the beginning of the day, or the beginning of a project, a list of objectives is drawn up, these are works that have to be carried out. The tasks that are on this list will be moved to the next as they are carried out, so they will first be in “to be done“, then “in progress” and, finally, in “done“. This is how the habit of computing tasks at work is worked, transparency is better since all team members know the state in which the project is and what each team member is dedicating their time to.

Thus, the Kanban method follows the philosophy Stop Starting, start finishing“, this means that it focuses on prioritizing the work that is already started before starting any other. In this way, there are a maximum number of tasks that can be performed for each phase before starting with the next one.

 

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How does Kanban work?

There are several basic principles to get the most out of your workflow.

  • Visualize what you do (your workflow): A visualization of all your tasks and items in a table will help all members of your team to stay on top of your work.
  • Limit the amount of Work in Process (WIP): Set affordable goals. Maintain the balance of your workflow by limiting in-process jobs to prevent over-commitment in the number of tasks you will be unable to complete.
  • Track time: Time tracking converges with the Kanban methodology. Track your time continuously and evaluate your work accurately.
  • Easy reading of visual indicators: Know what’s happening at a glance. Use colored cards to distinguish Job Types, Priorities, Labels, Deadlines, and more.
  • Identify bottlenecks and eliminate what’s disposable: make the most of lead times and cycles, Cumulative Flow, and time reporting. These criteria will allow you to evaluate your performance, detect problems, and adjust the workflow accordingly.

Even the most basic Kanban method will produce an increase in performance. A simple distribution of tasks, coupled with monitoring your workflow and making appropriate adjustments throughout the process will increase your efficiency. A software development team can experience formidable improvements over 12 months, following the implementation of Kanban. Delivery time can be reduced by 37% and consistency in delivery can be rebounded by 47%.

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Figure 2. Kanban Practices

Saving time with the Kanban method

Time is the central part of the Kanban philosophy, which is why most teams that bet on this method opt for time tracking. One of the great advantages of Kanban is the ability to point out bottlenecks in development processes by imposing a limit on the number of active tasks a team can have open at any given time. if the number of tasks in the process is too high the team must identify the problem and resolve it.

However, it is important to understand that bottlenecks do not have to be a symptom of an organizational problem, nor do they mean that developers are too slow. Rather, they indicate that an attempt has been made to cover more work than the team could manage, so it is time to either look for more staff or reduce the workload and extend the time of the project.

But what are the other advantages of the Kanban method?

With the Kanban method is very easy to detect bottlenecks, but this work system has many more benefits.

  • Prevention of unnecessary processes: through Kanban boards an effective transmission of information is carried out so that failures and delays caused by poor communication can be avoided. This translates into agile development and avoiding unnecessary additional processes.
  • Encourages teamwork: all the workers of the team have access to information, know the process and know what tasks have to be performed previously so that theirs can be performed, even those who may be waiting for their task to be finished to be able to start theirs. In this way, solidarity between the team is strengthened and the active participation of all staff is encouraged.
  • Production flexibility: this method allows you to respond quickly to changes and make the necessary adjustments to the strategy. In addition, as we have said before, only what is necessary is produced or carried out, so resources and time are saved.
  • Increase in the efficiency of the processes: it is clear that those processes that generate greater profits in the best conditions, with the highest quality, and in the least amount of time are the most effective for the company. Kanban allows performing the necessary tasks for the phases of the project within the necessary period.

That is why the Kanban method is ideal for companies that require a lot of flexibility, especially in terms of entry of new tasks, as well as during the monitoring of these. Using the Kanban boards you can perform supervision of the work team and the tasks in progress, as well as get a global vision.

PMTimes_June1_2022

Design Thinking and Project Management

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a methodology that was created by Stanford University professor Tim Brown and IDEO’s CEO, an innovation agency where they wanted to improve the service to their customers, from an empathy approach. Every time, the method proposed in Design Thinking is being used all over the world, especially in organizations that want to solve problems, focused on clients, based on ideas, proposals, and experimentation, above all.

This dynamic occurs even when the ideal of the final product or deliverable is not yet clear, but if the problem is clear and the work of experimentation with the final customer is enhanced. This way of solving problems has stages, but without a doubt its basis is the focus on the needs of the client, empathizing, observing, evaluating, creating prototypes (experimentation), testing, getting feedback, and improving the product.

This process allows sustainable growth and is based on teams from multiple disciplines, to achieve products or services, technically feasible, that meet the expected and within the resources available.

The process.

Through the different design thinking phases, we can use a series of technics and tools that allow us to develop new products and services, from understanding problems or needs to prototype, business model, evaluating alternatives, client feedback, etc. It is important to punctuate that this is an iterative process.

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Figure 1. Design Thinking Steps

The stages are briefly described for comprehension purposes; however, I will focus on the “Empathize” stage and its tools to improve the lifting of the client’s need, their desires, knowing their “pain” and how to plan possible solutions. Independent of the project approach: predictive, agile, or hybrid.

  1. Empathize:

This stage is perhaps the most relevant, because it focuses on understanding as a team and individually, the desires and incentives that the client has, beyond the need itself. Here is much of the success of this method, as it drives you to know customers or end-users deeply. Considering, of course, the “hard” data, figures, fixed strategy, business plan, which are important because they are the “context” of the problem, but it is not the primary objective of empathizing.

This empathy is achieved by engaging with end-users or customers. Getting your point of view and ideally living it. Several tools and techniques of this stage are those that I will deepen in this article.

  1. Define:

In the first stage, we should be able to obtain the main problems posed by the user/client with the necessary depth. It is then necessary to evaluate the information obtained and detail the one that contributes to a greater extent to really know the users.  Here are defined those hypotheses that present greater opportunities to generate value to the client when solved.

  1. Ideate:

It is now up to elaborate ideas for the problems selected from the previous phase, the focus is to look for a range of solutions, there is no “bad idea”, the more alternatives the better for the process. Brainstorming is crucial at this stage, the best one for the team and its characteristics are sought, considering of course the users/customers. As the name suggests, in this phase the solution ideas are worked on, and collaboration and participation of all team members are encouraged.

  1. Prototype:

As the name implies, here ideas are transformed into prototypes. It pursues further experimentation by the team and customers. Prototypes can be made with common materials such as paper, cardboard, Lego blocks that reflect functions of the final product. Or in the case of digital prototypes, app demo.

  1. Testing:

Here the tests with the prototypes made are carried out and the users/client are asked for their feedback regarding the experimentation with the prototypes. This stage allows to identify improvements, failures, deficiencies, good points that must be maintained, etc. Ideal to maintain as a team a receptive look at the interaction of users with the prototype, answer inquiries and documents.

  1. Evaluate:

Here it is necessary to analyze the errors, and observations obtained from the previous stage, looking for the points of improvement of the product. This can lead us to go back to previous stages with the improved products and experiment again until we get to the closest thing to the product desirable by the user/customer.

 

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Design Thinking Tools.

Independent of the project approach: predictive, agile, or hybrid. Especially for user “requirements” or “stories”, the following tools or techniques add a lot of value in complementing and fully identifying the customer’s desires.

  • Empathy Map: this is one of the most useful and applicable tools to get to know our customers/users in depth. It allows delivering a global vision of the aspects of the “human being” behind the client.

It is a canvas like the one presented below, which can of course be complemented with the areas that as a team we determine valuable for our process, this gives us benefits such as:

    • Improve the understanding of our customers or users.
    • Have a dashboard view of customer needs
    • Land expectations and document them.
    • The visual saves a thousand words.
    • Develop the products considering the map obtained.
    • Enhance the lifting of requirements and enrich user stories.
    • Allows you to engage in the client’s “pain” and experience their concerns.

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Figure 2. Empathy Map
  • Job Shadowing or Observation: focuses on observation, supported by an interview with stakeholders or users who carry out the activities of the business flow that is part of the client’s environment. Example: A shoe factory would mean observing (not just talking or interviewing) all those roles that are part of the required business flow. In IT or Technological industries, for example, it is common for metrics such as:
    • A number of interactions carried out by users in the system or application they use as part of the process to be surveyed.
    • Failures or points of failure of the system or application.
    • Execution process times of the functionalities of the system or application.
    • Of course, everything is related to the customer experience.

Benefits: observing that it goes beyond the story, the daily operation of the organization (in-situ), allows to know, document, and see the critical points of the flow and what can be improved. There is no better feedback than from the first source, experiencing and evidencing the activities that will be the focus of intervention of our project, allows us in addition to documenting the current flow, to know the “pains” of the user (client) and their expectations.

  • Actors Map: it is a graphic representation, very simple, that allows concentrating in the same plane, the interactions, degree of involvement, and the relationships of the actors that relate to our main client. All this is in the context of the problems that are being tried to develop.

There are several ways to represent this map, the example described below is circular, which is segmented into three parts depending on the areas of the customer relationship, segmentation is according to our need.

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Figure 2. Actors Map
Source: http://tynerblain.com/blog/2007/03/13/visualize-stakeholder-analysis/

Another important point is that the gaze of actors is also equivalent to those interested in the project such as people or institutions, private or public.

They participate in this diagram:

  • Direct actors: they interact directly with our client (in the center). We can associate them with greater or lesser influence.
  • Main actors: they are related and interact with our main client; they have lower interaction, and you don’t have so much control over them.
  • Secondary actors: they are related and interact with our main client, in a distant way, but may or may not have influence and relevance. They are unpredictable.

 

Design Thinking in Project Management

In projects, independent of the approach, we can innovate, with tools or techniques that are not necessarily the traditional or usual ones for our projects. Precisely in times where the dynamism of the market and the behavior of our customers, we must have the ability as a team and organization, of course, to adapt and use those techniques that facilitate our day to day and allow us to get to know our users or customers who are finally the main focus of our activity.

In this context, we can use this tool to define:

  • Customer needs
  • The product features
  • The project scope
  • Design business process
  • The IT architecture
  • Requirements analysis

This approach helps us to identify stakeholders, improve the process to select projects, reduce conflicts, innovate in a changing world, solve complex problems, and we can work to satisfy needs and increase value to the business.

OKR and Project Management

What are OKRs?

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. This allows to clearly define the course in a project must be set to achieve the expected result, for this OKRs are established in objectives that can be measured. The OKR method consists, first in establishing qualitative objectives, and second define the strategy to quantify the outcomes and the achievement of these objectives. In addition, it is essential that once the results of the process have been quantified, a retrospective is made to discuss the results obtained (Something that can be associated with the development of agile methodologies).

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One of the main characteristics that enhance the positive impact of OKRs is that they vary between two types of objectives:

  1. Very difficult objectives to achieve. The purpose of these objectives is to motivate the team and exploit their skills to the fullest.
  2. Achievable objectives, which can be developed smoothly by the team.

These two types of objectives must vary and coexist to achieve good outcomes.

What are the differences between OKRs and KPIs?

The main difference between KPIs and OKRs is that KPIs are performance indicators associated with the team and the process with which the results are obtained. OKR is associated with increments to deliver value in an iteration or the final result of an iteration, having a more global reach of the organization.

OKR in Agility

In agility the purpose of each iteration is to add value to the product that is being developed, OKRs can play an important role since they provide support in the efficiency of processes and allow to enhance their value based on organizational goals. In an agile organization, the team needs to define, by themselves, OKRs. This is because there will be no one better at setting the key results than the same team that plans to develop them.

KRs

It is essential to be focused on the KR or key results and this must be differentiated from the tasks.

  1. A key outcome must be geared towards what needs to be achieved.
  2. One task will be how development is proposed.

For this reason, KRs should be prevented from being sorted as a task list.

In order to measure these results, it is necessary to establish a scoring scale:

  1. Between 0 and 1 using decimals
  2. Between 0 and 10 with integers

One of the indicators that must be borne in mind is that the score must be staggered, that is, if we have scores for results that only indicate 0 and 1 or 0 and 10 should be analyzed since they possibly resemble a list of tasks (a situation that has already been described and should be avoided).

The key results for them to be scored should be as least subjective as possible. An example of this can be, for example, if a company has fixed a KR to increase monthly sales considerably, instead of, to fix a KR to increase monthly sales by 10%, the latter will be easier to measure.

A fairly common mistake in the results is that they don’t know how to measure KRs, which could completely divert the development of the activities of a team.

OKRs must always be established at the team level and the work to consolidate them must always be collaborative, it is common that between 4 and 8 KR are established by objectives and that those are evaluated in a period.

The O

The objectives are what guide the development of the KR and are fundamental to know the direction of the project or product that you want to develop. Its fundamental characteristics are:

  1. They must be challenging and inspiring objectives since in this way the team will be motivated to achieve them.
  2. The objective should qualitatively describe what you want to achieve with the result or/and the product.
  3. They must be limited to a period in which they will be developed.

The objectives, unlike the results, can spare with the metrics to be reflected, that is, they do not need a numerical parameter that limits since they are qualitative propositions.

In the objectives there are two key errors that can damage the methodology:

  1. Set impossible objectives; since the people who will develop the activities will be unmotivated under the knowledge that they will not be able to consolidate it. Usually, this happens if the goal is set by a person who doesn´t develop the activities (The principle of self-organized teams is not followed).
  2. Set easy objectives; like the previous one demotivation is generated, in this case, objectives don´t invite to work for them.

OKRs Methodology and Cycle

To implement OKR in your organization or even in your personal life, you have to follow the next steps:

  1. Review or define your annual vision and mission. In the current environment with the changes in the market, laws, economy, and customers preference, it is important to review and validate if these statements are true yet.
  2. Define the strategy to face changes and uncertainty and accomplish with the vision and mission.
  3. Define key objectives that must be aligned to the vision, mission, and strategies. This is a 3- or 4-months cycle. To establish it, follow the next steps:
    1. Define objectives with your team. Each objective must be clear, time achievable, and measurable.
    2. Specify the actions for each objective that can help to achieve it. Each action could represent a project initiative.
    3. Each week, review your progress based on the metrics from every project and analyze if you are in the correct direction.
    4. If you detect deviation improve your OKRs making the changes needed to correct it.
    5. After 3 or 4 months, repeat the cycle with the aim to make changes and improve OKRs again.

Figure 1. OKR Methodology and Cycle

OKRs and Project Management

While OKR is the way to define objectives for a short period, and establish the desirable results, project management, especially agile methodologies, is the way to become those objectives and results into a reality. OKRs allow business and project managers to face uncertain, evaluate risk, and changes in the market to set the direction and to make decisions about what changes are needed in current projects or which projects initiate or cancel.

Figure 2. OKRs and Project Management

The objectives execution through project management allows to gather the information and get the metrics needed to determine if objectives are achieved in a short period, with the aim to execute the OKR cycle again. From objectives, product owners, business analysts, and project managers can organize and plan releases, iterations, and sprints to develop the product.

Figure 3. OKRs and Project Management Alignment

Final Considerations

  1. To develop OKRs one of the keys is consistency in them since it will be useless to start based on them and then never feedback or evaluate them.
  2. It is always good to reference the methodology in already proven models, however, to achieve the maximum potential and understand the development of a specific case it is convenient to study and adapt the OKRs.
  3. OKRs are a very powerful tool, however, it is difficult to strategically guide an organization based on them because:
  • They don’t necessarily have a long-term vision but are set for more limited periods.
  • Lack of management in the evolution of different scenarios and the detection of changes.
  • They only contemplate the results.
  • The processes to achieve results are based on project management.

OKRs can be defined as a tool of the great potential that will allow articulating with other procedures to obtain what would be an organizational strategy.

The PMBOK guide® – Seventh Edition Summary

In this article, I show a forecast of the new edition of the PMBOK-7 Guide for Project Management. I have read the new guide and it is important to show everyone how this guide can help us and how we can apply it to our role as project managers.

The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) has been the go-to resource to help Project Management professionals use best practices to add value to their work.

However, rapid improvements in technology and the need for organizations and professionals to adapt more quickly to changes in the market, have made our profession evolve incorporating agile approaches in projects. Professionals now have the responsibility to select the most appropriate management approach (predictive, agile, or hybrid) to do their job and deliver value.

Therefore, for the new PMBOK Guide® – to remain useful, it must reflect this flexibility and help the professional in decision-making and the management of their projects, in a way that allows them to obtain the expected results.

Thus, the PMBOK® Guide supports this need for flexibility by adopting a structure based on principles and domains, rather than groups of processes and areas of knowledge from the above versions.

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Some key facts from the new guide

  1. The PMBOK® Guide provides a framework for applying the ISO-21500 Project Management
  2. This edition reflects the full range of development approaches, with no preference for any of them.
  3. Instead of focusing solely on project deliverables, it also places great importance on the results/value the project brings.

      

Figure 1. PMBOK-7 Changes. Source PMI

Structure and Content

The Guide is separated into two blocks “The Standard for Project Management” and the “Guide to Project Management: Body of Knowledge”.

Figure 2. PMBOK-7 Structure

The main sections of the new guide are described below.

System to deliver value

The main purpose of a project is to deliver value to the organization where it is executed. This value is achieved through customer satisfaction, the creation of a new product or service, the improvement of a process, or the implementation of a new change that can enhance the process and operations.

The approach is that projects are considered as systems to deliver value. That is, the strategies, missions, and objectives of an organization determine the portfolios of projects. In other words, the value that a project brings to the organization has a relevant weight, without excluding the rest of the aspects of the triple constraint triangle that ensure the success of the project (Scope, Time, Cost).

The achievement of benefits in the broad sense is closely linked to value management. Value management is described as “a management approach that focuses on motivating people, developing skills, and fostering synergies and innovation with the ultimate goal of optimizing overall organizational performance.” In a sense, the value that projects brings to an organization is especially focused on those organizations that implement project management at their full capacity. In this case, the business value is achieved through the optimization of business functions in several ways, including:

  1. Alignment of business strategy and execution
  2. Integration of business functions
  3. Navigating, evaluating, and watching environmental and business ambiguity
  4. Achieve enterprise scalability
  5. Distributed collaboration management
  6. Reduced time to profit

Figure 3. PMBOK-7 Factors to consider

Project Management Principles

Figure 4. PMBOK-7 Principles

The guide has 12 generally accepted principles used in project management. A Principle is “A statement, truth or rule that guides and leads our thoughts and actions“. Principles guide the actions, but do not detail how to do things, and are not strict. To ensure the expected results of project delivery, project team members should follow these principles:

  1. (Stewardship) Pay Attention/Care: Be a diligent, respectful, and caring steward. Carry out activities with integrity, care, and trustworthiness while maintaining compliance with internal and external guidelines. They demonstrate a broad commitment to the financial, social, and environmental impacts of the projects they support.
  2. Team: Create a collaborative project team environment. Project teams that work collaboratively can accomplish a shared objective more effectively and efficiently than individuals working on their own.
  3. Stakeholders: Engage stakeholders to understand their interests and needs.
  4. Value: Focus on value. Align the project with the objectives of the organization. Continually evaluate and adjust project alignment to business objectives and intended benefits and value
  5. System thinking: Recognize, evaluate, and respond to system interactions, with the aim to respond to the dynamic circumstances within and surrounding the project in a holistic way to positively affect project performance.
  6. Leadership: Motivate, influence, train and learn. Demonstrate leadership behaviors in areas of honesty, integrity, and ethical conduct and adapting leadership style to the situation.
  7. Tailoring: Adapt the approach of deliveries according to the context. Adaptability is the key through the use of an iterative approach.
  8. Quality: Incorporate quality into processes and results. Maintain a focus on quality that produces deliverables that meet project objectives and align to the needs, uses, and acceptance requirements set forth by relevant stakeholders.
  9. Complexity: Address complexity using knowledge, experience, and learning. Continually evaluate and navigate project complexity so that approaches and plans enable the project team to successfully navigate the project life cycle.
  10. (Risk) Opportunities and threats: Optimize responses to opportunities and threats. Maximize positive impacts and minimize negative impacts to the project and its outcomes.
  11. Adaptability and resilience: Be adaptable and resilient depending on the context to help the project accommodate change, recover from setbacks, and advance the work of the project.
  12. Change management: Enable change to achieve the expected future state.

The adoption of these principles does not mean that the process-based approaches (process groups) of the previous version are no longer relevant or useful, are still valid, and represent a way of applying the previous principles in practice.

Body of Knowledge: Performance Domains

These are areas of knowledge that must be focused on to manage the project. The goal is not only to provide deliverables but also results, regardless of how often this delivery is made periodically or at the end of the project, made through product increments or improvements all over the project life.

 

Figure 5. PMBOK-7 Performance Domains

  1. Team: Develop high-performance teams.
  2. Stakeholders: Build good relationships with Stakeholders.
  3. Life Cycle: Develop appropriate phases and approaches for the project.
  4. Planning: Carry out adequate planning at each precise moment.
  5. Navigating between uncertainty and ambiguity: Analyze the project environment to anticipate risks and seize opportunities.
  6. Delivery: Proportionate value.
  7. Performance Measure: Track to ensure results are achieved.
  8. Project work: Guarantee the activities to facilitate the team the delivery of results.

The way these domains interact and combine among them, it is typically different in each project.

Body of Knowledge: Tailoring

An entire section of the new guide, which significantly improves on what was included in the previous ones, is to have a framework and criteria for the adaptation (tailoring) of the approaches for each project. With conventional cascading project management approaches, it was difficult to address rapidly changing requirements in projects. That is why agile methods and approaches to project management emerged, especially in the IT and software industry. Depending on the characteristics of each project, the specific industry, stakeholder requirements, and the organization, project managers have to apply different approaches to managing projects. These approaches can be predictive, agile, hybrid, or cascading.

Sometimes we get carried away by fashions and it seems like all projects have to use an agile approach. The new project management standard is neutral in this regard, does not favor one approach over another, and provides guidance on how to carry out this “tailor-made” approach.

Figure 6. PMBOK-7 Tailoring Process. Source PMBOK7

Body of Knowledge: Models, Methods and Artifacts

This last part includes a series of models, methods, and artifacts that can be used or implemented to manage projects. Here it includes the group of processes, methods, and artifacts that allow:

  1. Initiate: defines and authorizes the project or a phase.
  2. Planning: clarifies and refines the objectives, planning the necessary actions to carry them out.
  3. Execute: Integrates people and other resources to produce the deliverables and performance information of the project.
  4. Monitoring and controlling: measures and monitors the progress of the project in order to identify possible variations and discrepancies with respect to the original plan and correct them when necessary.
  5. Close: completes all activities of all groups of project management processes to formally complete the project (or a phase) and formalize the acceptance of the product, service, or result.

Shows the range of options that the project team can use to produce or generate project deliverables, organize work, facilitate communications and collaboration. Models, Methods, and Artifacts can be used in the Domains. In fact, the PMBOK in this section shows the crossover between them. Many of these Models, Methods, and Artifacts were mentioned in earlier versions of the PMBOK within the processes.

Figure 7. PMBOK-7 Methods