Top-down or Bottom-up Project Management?

How do you go about managing a project to improve equipment reliability? Well, there's two ways to tackle your planning; from the top down or the bottom up. PIF looks at both approaches to find out which is most effective.

The top-down approach

The top-down approach remains a firm favourite in contemporary project management circles. 'Top-down' simply means that project objectives come from the top management echelons, who share clear guidelines and targets to each project participant.

“Some see the top-down planning process as a way to make a plan, and not about who develops the plan,” say Bright Hub PM. “It allows management to divide a project into steps, and then into still smaller steps. Often, this approach is applied best to very small projects.”

Project managers engineering

But it's not without its flaws. “Following this approach, ambiguity opens the door for potential failure, and the managers should be as specific as possible when communicating their expectations,” that's according to

They add, “Experience shows that this top-down management often results in reduced productivity and causes bottlenecks or so-called lockdowns. A lockdown gives the project manager total control over his team. Such lockdowns can lead to unnecessary pain and significantly slow down a project’s completion.”

The bottom-up approach

The bottom-up approach was conceived in direct response to these issues. It's dependent on proactive team members giving their input at every stage of the management process and decisions are taken as a collective, by the whole team.

Project team discussions

Bright Hub PM say, “With bottom-up planning, you give your project deeper focus because you have a larger number of employees involved, each with their own area of expertise.

"Team members work side-by-side and have input during each stage of the process. Plans are developed at the lowest levels and are then passed on to each next higher level. It then reaches senior management for approval,” they add.

“Bottom-up style allows managers to communicate goals and value, e.g. through milestone planning,” according to “Then team members are encouraged to develop personal to-do lists with the steps necessary to reach the milestones on their own.”

“The advantage of this approach is that it empowers team members to think more creatively. Individual members of the team get an opportunity to come up with project solutions that are focused more on practical requirements than on abstract notions.”

Engineering project team

To-do lists are integrated into the general plan, to avoid any unwanted surprises, and there is complete transparency in terms of deadlines, budgets, results and issues. Once again though, it's far from perfect. The main problem levelled by critics is a potential loss of clarity and overall control.

So which is best?

Unsurprisingly, a holistic approach combining both methods is undoubtedly the most sensible strategy. “The most effective way to establish a successful roadmap might actually be a hybrid approach, starting with a brief assessment of the current organization relative to asset management best practices,” according to

“At the same time, identify the low hanging fruit for immediate improvement, and use that to assess the tangible and intangible benefits to justify the full blown implementation plant-wide,” they add.

Which technique do you employ in your project management? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

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