Defining Project Management Styles: Structured vs. Relaxed

Most people have experienced a project management style at some point during their careers; whether directly as a project manager, or indirectly as a team member on a project. Although the national Project Management Institute (PMI) has created a standardized approach and designation, the Project Management Professional (PMP), to project management as a whole, this designation has not been mandated in North America to work in the project management field. This means that there is still a variability between project management styles. At a high level, project management styles can be broken down into two distinct styles: structured and relaxed.


This style is exactly what it says it is, and most closely follows the PMI version of project management. It’s often strict and regimented – this means that tasks, milestones, and goals are scheduled and strict. All projects should use a project management system, and the structured style would log a task, within a milestone, for every task – regardless of size – in the project.


The structured approach has some pros: it can often be used easily with companies who require a strong sense of management, and often have difficulty completing tasks without being micro-managed. In addition, it is a strong approach to take on a project where there are many moving parts and multiple resources, as these aspects can be hard to manage if it is not strictly regimented.


On the other hand, there are some cons with the structured style: specifically with regard to flexibility. When you use a regimented and structured approach, it removes the ability to be flexible – i.e. if a milestone must be shifted, or if a date is not met – for whatever reason – then it’s often a mammoth task to have to change the dates of all of the milestones. In addition, this will often mean that there is little room for negotiation of dates and could likely result in pushing out the final project deadline.


The relaxed structure also uses a project management system or tool. Having this tool for tracking purposes just allows a project to be recorded and flow simply. The relaxed approach still maintains the integrity of the project and the timelines, but takes a less regimented approach.


There are many pros to the relaxed project management style: for example, tasks and milestones are given tentative dates for completion and milestones and tasks are only created for project specific deliverables rather than every miniscule task. This allows a higher level of tracking, while still ensuring accountability. Next, a buffer is often created near the end of the project, or prior to the final deliverables. This allows for negotiable time that can be used in the event that a task or milestone needs to be pushed out. In addition, having the buffer can be beneficial for any additional items that come up throughout the scope of the project. It’s often inevitable that ‘out-of-scope’ requests will emerge during the timeline of the project – budgeting for that from the beginning with a buffer period will make life easier when issues do arise.


Some people find it hard to work in a more relaxed project management environment. The project team members need to be independent and have initiative, if anyone needs to be highly managed, this style may not work for them. This style does not drive down to the detailed level that the structured style does, and thus does not highlight every task that is required.

Overall, the structured approach is exactly what you’d expect: regimented. The relaxed approach allows more flexibility but requires employees more independence. Both styles require digital project management tools or programs to log tasks within milestones and projects for tracking and visibility; this is a must across the board.

You might be asking yourself: which one is better? To that I would say: both. It all depends on the team you surround yourself with as the project manager, and the scope of the project you have at hand. If you have a very detailed/large project with a vast amount of resources and tasks that are scheduled – then the structured approach might relieve the stress of trying to manage it all on a daily basis. If you have a smaller team, and/or high confidence in your team members, then a relaxed approach will allow you to achieve the same (if not more) work than the structured style.

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