Project Management Styles

There are two popular types of project management styles which can be used when delivering a project. These styles are not just the domain of project management but throughout managerial principals around the world. Regardless of which style is used, it is best to have one of the disciplines in place when executing a project. The two of the most popular approaches are top down and bottom up management, both of which provide a good introduction to greater management.

There are many considerations when choosing a management style. For instance, what is the culture of the company, the personality of the executives and the business environment? What kind of project management tools are being used, that is, are they collaborative or planning based.  Choosing a style is a personal decision, one of great importance. The decision will influence every aspect of the project and team.

What is Top down Management?

Also called autocratic leadership, top down management is the most common form of management. It is hierarchical, with a chief executive officer (CEO) who sets the course for the entire company. Their leadership is then carried out through a succession of executives, middle management all the way to the core operational resources who perform the day to day duties.

In top down management, everything from the workplace to the business systems are all determined by upper management, and then it’s passed down the chain of command. Each role is responsible for carrying out the mission as stated by the higher-ups, without much room for comment or criticism. While some lower-level managers might join the decision-making process, ultimately the final decision rests with the C-level executives.

Examples of Top down Organizations

As noted, most organizations use top down management. Any company with an executive ladder (with a CEO on top, then middle management, then team leaders directing team members) is structured in such a way.

Pros and Cons of Top down Management

The pros of top down management aren’t always immediately clear to low-level employees, but they are there.

Knowledge brings clarity

One of the advantages of top down management is that it sets clear goals and expectations, as goals are delivered by one person, and that message is not diluted by committee or multiple voices. Because the direction is laid down from on high, the resources don’t have to be distracted by participating in the process of decision-making. This gives them more time to focus on their tasks.

The top down management style requires a strong leader, and there are benefits to this type of leadership. It makes it easier for middle management; they have direct orders and can act on them quickly without second-guessing or trying to decipher mixed signals.

These types of management structures work best when the leader has done the due diligence researched and considered all angles of how the decision will impact the project.

Weak or Dictatorial leader

On the downside, the idea of a powerful personality leading the project can veer from thoughtful and careful stewardship to something more dictatorial. If that happens, buy-in from resources suffers and morale sinks, which in turn impacts the ability for the project to be successful.

What’s Bottom up Management?

At times the project manager responsible for the delivery of the project may not have the formal knowledge of the product being delivered and how it will affect the outcome. It is during these instances that talent within the ranks should be considered. This would be wasted in a top down environment. Or, the leadership is not skilled and knowledgeable enough to lead decisively. In these cases, bottom up management is recommended.

The broad definition of bottom up management depicts a structure where the whole project team participates in the process of directing the project. This collaborative method gives resources a say in how to accomplish the overall goals and objectives of the project. Bottom up management utilizes their unique perspective from the front lines of the work.

Teams are autonomous and are assembled by skills and experiences, which are then trusted by managers. These teams are self-directed and decide on the best way to accomplish their tasks, rather than receive orders and only then act on them.

Examples of Bottom up Organizations

While still in the minority, more companies are embracing the bottom up style of management. The approach is seen in the way some businesses are approaching projects, if not in their overall administrative process.

For example, The New York Times and even well established businesses like Ernst & Young and IBM have all tried the bottom up management approach at the team level. Everyone should be a part of the decision-making process, at least in subsets of the project. As these experiments prove fruitful, more companies will come on board and even adopt the style for its full administration.

Pros and Cons of Bottom up Management

The advantages of bottom up management are clear to people who are at the core delivery of a project.

Gets the Most Out of a Team’s Talents and Dedication

One advantage is that bottom up management can retain talent, keep morale high and get project buy in, since it gives lower-level resources a voice. Because the whole team feels part of the process, then productivity is likely to improve. If everyone feels ownership in the overall goals and objectives of the project, they will likely be more dedicated to its cause.

Furthermore, the ability to get the most out of a resource is one of the great benefits of bottom up management: it allows for the full talents of resources to be used. Those resources that are performing more of the core tasks who are interfacing with customers and dealing with the nuts and bolts of what a project does. Therefore, their input, which is not considered in a top down management approach, is a competitive edge in bottom up management. Sometimes this even leads to business process improvement.

Too Many Voices & Ideas Slow Business Agility

In terms of disadvantages, having employees a part of the decision-making process can slow things down or have the project follow unproven ideas that lead nowhere. This can cost precious time, losing time to market, allowing the competition to take advantage.

A glut of ideas is not always the best way for maintaining high project agility. Given the high number of choices, it can be difficult to discern the best one. This may require more time for research in order to make an educated choice.

There’s also the issue of ego. If everyone is vying to get heard, they might be motivated by self-interest rather than the overall goal of the project and company. This creates division and conflicts that are not good for business.

The Choice is yours

The differences between top down and bottom up management are significant, each with their pros and cons. The decision, of course, is up to the project manager. Leadership knows that productivity can increase with dynamic software, regardless of the management style. provides a selection of cloud-based project management software with online Gantt charts for project planning, Kanban boards for team collaboration and real-time reports for better decision making. Whatever type of leader you are, try one today for free with a 30-day trial.

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