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Projekto.Biz | Project Management Approach: Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

Some of the world’s most dynamic organizations have switched from the so-called top-down management style to bottom-up management.

Managing Projects Top-Down

“Top-down” means that all the project objectives, guidelines, information, plans, and fund processes are established by management, and expectations are communicated down to each project participant. This approach requires extreme process formality, as any ambiguity can easily result in misunderstandings and project failure.

The New York Times, a leader in the newspaper industry, used the top-down approach for many years. But American Journalism Review reported that The Times’ executive management felt that they were far from what was necessary for the creation of a vibrant workplace and a successful organization. Power was centralized and masthead editors had overall control.

Editors introduced the same management pattern in the projects for which they were responsible. One person’s emotions and opinions influenced all the project decisions, and that person was the project manager.

As a result, team members felt that they weren't heard, and their voices didn't count. Collaboration between journalists was nonexistent. Managing executives realized that they needed to give more freedom to the teams and change their project management implementation style. It took quite a while to introduce bottom-up management to the organization, but The New York Times employees say that collaboration has improved greatly, and team members now work together more productively and efficiently.

Similar problems can be seen at other organizations that stick to traditional management styles. Top-down management often causes bottlenecks and results in reduced productivity. When project managers have total control over teams, they can cause lockdowns that lead to unnecessary frustration and stress and can significantly slow down a project’s completion.

Bottom-Up Project Management Options

The obvious drawbacks and limitations of top-down management have motivated many organizations to adopt bottom-up management styles. The bottom-up approach requires proactive team input in every step of the management and project executing process. The whole team is invited to share in the decisions of which course of action to take.

The bottom-up style allows managers to communicate goals and value through milestone planning, and team members are encouraged to develop personal to-do lists with the steps necessary to reach the milestones on their own. The team decides which methods they’ll use to perform their tasks.

A clear advantage of this approach is that it empowers team members to think more creatively.

Motivation to make the project a success is doubled because:

  • They feel more involved in the project’s development and know that their input is appreciated.

  • Individual team members can come up with project solutions that are focused more on practical requirements than on abstract notions.

  • The planning process is facilitated by a number of people, which makes it flow significantly faster.

  • Schedules, budgets, and results are transparent.

Bottom-up project management can also be viewed as a way of coping with the increasing gap between the information necessary to manage knowledge workers and the ability of managers to acquire and apply this information.

Despite all its the advantages, the bottom-up style alone will not make your projects flourish. It’s not the perfect solution and sometimes lacks clarity and control. The best way is to find a balance between the two opposite approaches and take the best practices from each.



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