We've all seen the fight between Agile and Waterfall evangelists on the web. The traditionalists opt for Waterfall and the new age is favoring Agile. Certainly there seems to be a shift to Agile these days, but who really runs a full Agile shop? What I wonder though, does it even matter? What is really at the core of Project Management best practice? Does using Agile principles make you a better PM than following a Waterfall methodology?
How about Project Management software? Does it matter if you are in the MS Project corner vs Planview or Clarity? Perhaps you rely on JIRA or Asana? Maybe LiquidPlanner or Wrike? There are literally hundreds of software solutions for Project Managers to use. Will using one over the other make you a better PM?
How about certifications? The standard of course is the PMP certification from PMI. Maybe you've opted for the CAPM certification instead. Outside the US, Prince2 is quite popular and widely acknowledged as a sign of a professional Project Manager. How long have you held your certification? Does that matter in the grand scheme of all things project management? Will having a project management certification make you a better Project Manager?
I suggest you can forget about Agile vs Waterfall. You can forget about which project management software solution you use. You can forget about your project management certification. At the core of all successful projects are 5 Core Steps; DEFINE, DESIGN, BUILD, VALIDATE, DEPLOY. It doesn't matter the size of your project, nor the industry you are working in. If you perform these 5 Core Steps well, consistently project after project you will become a respected and successful Project Manager.
You must first DEFINE what will be completed in your project. This can be done many ways and with many tools. You can have a Project Charter, a Scope Document, In/Out Frame exercise. Pick your tool or tools of choice, whichever work best for you. If you haven't DEFINED what you will be doing how can you make progress? How can you have an ending? Remember a project is a temporary endeavor with a DEFINED beginning and end. You must DEFINE the project to start, progress, and finish.
Once you have properly defined your project you must then DESIGN the solution. To simplify this, think about a room remodel in your home. You may have defined that you are going to remodel the bathroom, taking 4 weeks, having a $1k budget. But what does that new bathroom look like? Do you have a steam shower? Tile flooring? What kind of lighting? Separate tub? Without these DESIGN elements in place how will you know what to build? Imagine how many unhappy customers there would be if the contractor built the bathroom without asking the customer what they wanted. Without a complete DESIGN you will not be able to build a solution.
BUILD can take on many different forms depending on the project. A home construction build is vastly different than a website build which is vastly different than an automobile build. Whatever the product/service may be, they all need to be constructed or BUILT. The BUILD also has to happen after the define and design are in place. Sure you can start with some design elements missing but dependencies must be cleared identified to make that work. Go back to our bathroom example, if we started painting before the customer selected the color that would be a problem. However, we could start laying pipe prior to a toilet fixture being selected.
Once we have built something we then need to VALIDATE the product/service to ensure it is correct. Once again, you don't always need to wait for build to be complete, partial completion can be acceptable and in some cases preferred. The VALIDATION should always refer back to the design. Did the build actually construct what was designed? If the customer requested white tile, with gray cabinets and beige paint we can VALIDATE that is in fact what was constructed.
Finally, we DEPLOY the solution. DEPLOY can take on many different meanings depending on the project. Our bathroom remodel could have a DEPLOY which equates to the customer having access to the new space and using the shower, tub, lighting, toilet, etc. Software projects may have Sprints or Releases which get deployed to a production state or in use. Regardless of the detailed specifics of your unique project at some point the product/service will be used. At that point you have DEPLOYED your solution.
I know, you are irate at this point and shouting, "What about.......". Sure this is thin on details and we left out a whole bunch of detail. The reason being is every project is unique and you can't cover the details over every project. There are items like Risk, Communication, Resource Management, Lessons Learned and more which are also key components to a project and necessary. However, those are more activities and not the steps of the project. During each of the 5 Core Steps I would expect you would be managing Risk and documenting Lessons Learned. If you don't want to suck at Project Management we suggest you master these 5 Core Steps - DEFINE, DESIGN, BUILD, VALIDATE, DEPLOY.