8 Lightweight Project Management Tools and Techniques for Businesses in 2023

"Gantt charts, milestones, project structure plans, status reports, and actual-should analysis are just a few of the many tools that are frequently used in projects. In this blog post, I would like to introduce you to eight project management tools and methods from different areas of project management. These tools may not be mainstream, but they can still be very helpful for your project work.

1. Project management tool: Stacey Matrix

At the beginning of every project, the question of the approach arises. Should the project be more agile, or classical, or should it be carried out using a hybrid mix? The matrix invented by Ralph D. Stacey provides transparency for project managers in making this decision and helps to find the appropriate approach.

The Stacey matrix resembles a Cartesian coordinate system. On the y-axis, the clarity of the project object is described, and on the x-axis, the certainty regarding the project methodology to be applied. If you now try to place your project or the most important tasks of your project in this matrix, you can derive the most promising project methodology. Here's an example: if you place your project in the lower left area, you should be able to master the task with the common, classical tools of project management. It is a complicated project. If you place your project in the complexity zone, this means that your project is not fully planable and that the requirements may change during the project. In this case, you should prefer agile frameworks such as Scrum to the classical, sequential project management approach. If your project is in the chaotic area, it will be difficult for you to successfully complete the project. Use methods such as Design Thinking to gain more clarity and "pull" the project into the complex area.

2. Project management tool: Context Map

Another helpful tool for the project start is the Context Map. This alternative to the classic environment analysis is intuitively understandable, promotes exchange within the team, and helps to quickly identify risks and weaknesses in the project. The Context Map is a tool from the field of Graphic Facilitation. It allows you to document input factors, framework conditions, and trends of any kind. These can be customer requirements, technologies, uncertainties, competitors, laws and regulations, environmental influences, and much more."

I recommend creating a Context Map as a team, as different perspectives and experiences help to clearly define the context. Additionally, during the development, you will achieve a shared understanding within the team. You can easily create the Context Map yourself by creating six flipcharts with the topics:
  • My project,
  • Environmental factors,
  • Trends,
  • Customer needs,
  • Uncertainties, and
  • Technology
You can then place these around the central project and get a quick and comprehensive overview of the context of your project. Alternatively, you can also use the templates by Bernhard Schloss or by "Design a Better Business" and fill them in with your content.

3. Project Management Tool: Role Model Canvas

Clear role definition is essential for successful teamwork. With the Role Model Canvas, roles in the project can be easily defined and reviewed. The tool from the Graphic Facilitation area is intuitively understandable and promotes exchange within the team with little organizational effort. Additionally, it makes interfaces and relationships between roles transparent, thereby showing the project participants the communication pathways in the project.

The handling is simple: print one role canvas per role to be defined (preferably in A0 format) and hang it up. () Supply the participants of your workshop with sticky notes and sheets of paper and start filling in the canvas successively with your content. The order in which you start with the fields is secondary. It is important that all participants provide their input. After the initial placement of the notes, the result is discussed in front of the board field by field. The team can naturally add new notes or remove obsolete ones. After a short time, you will have achieved a shared understanding of roles within the team. You can download the Role Model Canvas for free on the Visual Braindump website.

4. Project Management Tool: Liberating Structures

Who doesn't know them - endless and ineffective meetings. In projects, participants often rush from one meeting to the next. However, the results of these meetings are often not very productive and draining. Meanwhile, project team members often wish for more mutual understanding, closer collaboration, and greater connectedness and mutual support. But not like this. If you want to break through the usual meeting patterns consisting of a clear agenda and predetermined structure, I recommend Liberating Structures. Liberating Structures is a collection of about 33 instruments that can be connected to solve complex problems using group intelligence. "Liberating" in German means "liberating" and that's exactly what these lightweight tools should be. They should eliminate restrictions such as hierarchical thinking. To give you a feel for these simple tools, I would like to briefly introduce you to "1-2-4-all":
  • In the first step, each participant writes down his thoughts.
  • Then he shares his thoughts with a partner. Then the pair chooses the best ideas and refines them.
  • In another round, the pair becomes a four-person group and the procedure is repeated.
  • In the final step, the four-person group presents its preferred idea to the rest of the team.
Try it out and let yourself be inspired on the website https://www.liberatingstructures.de.

5. Project Management Tool: Good-Bad-Keep

The classic Lessons Learned at the end of a project has slowly but surely become obsolete. More and more project managers see the sense of regular reflection in the project. Because: shared learning of the team is important. Just like a constant exchange on things that have run in the recent past, to draw lessons from it as a team. A simple method to visualize these events is the Good-Bad-Keep technique. The goal of this method is to classify events, processes, errors, and experiences of any kind into the three categories mentioned above.

Form small groups and have them jot down things that went well, went wrong, and should be maintained on pre-prepared flip charts or whiteboards. Afterwards, the participants cluster the results and present them. After all presentations have been completed, the group can collectively derive actions for the future. You can also do this categorization over time. This helps to make developments visible, especially in the case of longer periods of time (in the illustration, the negative aspects decreased over time).

6. Project Management Tool: From Red to Green

In the field of project controlling, I also have a more unconventional method for you. The simple concept of the "From Red to Green" method is based on visualizing work packages with colors. At the beginning of an iteration or milestone, all work packages of a team are displayed in the form of red-marked fields in a matrix.

At the weekly JourFixe meeting, completed work packages are marked green and presented to the team. The goal is to get all fields green by the end of an iteration. The beauty of this method is that the visualization with the colors red and green ignites a competition among the teams. Especially when you have a meeting with the customer at the end of an iteration, where only the teams have to comment if they haven't turned all tiles green. But you have to be careful when using such a method. Because only a few organizations can withstand a red status without triggering all escalation mechanisms.

7. Project Management Instrument: Delegation Poker

Correct delegation and the trust associated with it is a decisive success factor in the management of project teams. Jürgen Appelo has developed the game Delegation Poker in order to learn about delegation in a playful way in a group. The game has three primary learning objectives:
  • Delegation is not a binary decision. This means that when delegating, there are often more states than "I'll do it" or "You do it."
  • Delegation is a step-by-step process. This means that successively more responsibility can be given to an employee.
  • Delegation is situation dependent. Context must always be considered. Delegating everything can also overshoot the mark.
For this purpose, Appelo has symbolized seven levels of delegation on cards. The individual levels are as follows:
  • Level 1: The boss makes decisions alone and directs employees.
  • Level 2: The boss sells his decision. That is, he makes the decision but tries to convince his team that the decision is correct.
  • Stage 3: Here, too, the boss makes the decision. However, he seeks the team's opinion.
  • Stage 4: Here, the boss and the team make the decision together.
  • Stage 5: The boss acts as an advisor. The team, however, makes the decision.
  • Stage 6: The boss is informed after the team has made the decision.
  • Level 7: The boss delegates completely and is not actively informed about the outcome.
When you run the game, each participant receives a set of cards with the 7 cards described above. After a participant has presented a work package, the participants choose from their deck of cards the delegation level they feel is adequate for that task and place it upside down on the table in front of them. When all participants have chosen, the cards are turned over at the same time. If there is a unanimous opinion regarding the delegation level, this work package or task will be implemented with this delegation level. If there is a large discrepancy in the group, the participants with the highest and lowest delegation level explain why they chose that level. The procedure is then repeated until the participants converge and a consensus is reached in the group.

8. project management instrument: tools for project marketing

You can also use a simple scheme when choosing the best tools for project marketing. Rank the tools according to their reach, impact, level of engagement, and the effort involved in implementing the activity. To illustrate this, I have compared the two marketing tools workshop and newsletter.

While the newsletter has a much wider reach and can be created without much effort, the workshop has its strengths in terms of impact and engagement level. Use this simple chart to review your project marketing strategy and make it stakeholder-friendly.

You see, there are not only the heavyweight, complicated tools and instruments, but also simple and easy-to-use tools that you should try once in your current or new project.