Essential Project Management Methodologies and When To Use Them

Sections of this topic

    There is no single agreed-upon definition of project management methodologies. However, in broad strokes, it can be thought of as a set of guidelines, principles, and processes for meeting or exceeding a project’s requirements.

    Any project management methodology may help you complete a project. That’s not quite the same thing as saying any methodology will help you successfully complete a project within budget and on schedule.

    Key Takeaways: Project Management Methodologies

    • Project management methodologies are a set of guidelines for running and completing a project efficiently.
    • There is a wide range of methods, some very broad and others tailored to specific contexts.
    • Agile methodologies feature customer input, decision-making by the entire project team, responsiveness, and an iterative process.
    • Traditional project management methodologies feature a clear plan from the start and a hierarchy with the project manager on top.
    • A project management methodology can be broad enough to use in several kinds of projects, or narrow enough to apply to a single person.
    • The role of the project manager can vary.

    How To Choose the Best PM Methodology

    Many factors go into choosing the right project management methodology. However, some basic factors you’ll need to address include:

    How to choose the best PM methodology
    • Assessment of the project.
    • Deciding what will bring the most value.
    • Evaluation of your organization.
    • Assessment of your team.
    • Assessment of resources.

    In the business world, a project is considered successful when it satisfies three criteria:

    • Time: Meets required deadlines.
    • Cost: Stays within an allocated budget.
    • Scope: Meets requirements.

    In the history of project management, these three factors were considered vital to managing successful projects and are generally referred to as the triple constraint. While they might not be the invariable guides they might once have been considered, they are still important to a successful project.

    A project management methodology organized along traditional lines seeks to define each of those factors before the project begins. Newer methods, particularly Agile project management methodologies, may try to redefine them in the course of the project and the project scope may be changed several times.

    Project management methodologies may include defining those goals, or they may be predefined. Either way, understanding the following basic factors can make the project management process go much more smoothly.

    Assess the Project

    The factor that is going to have the biggest impact on the project methodologies you choose is the nature of the project itself. Consider how the project is going to be planned. For example, construction requires very specific project management phases due to legal and financial constraints.

    Project managers may also wish to consider a hybrid methodology, which combines the strengths of both traditional and newer approaches.

    Decide What Will Bring the Most Value

    In any project, it’s important to ask if each task actually creates a benefit, to the project or otherwise.

    Deciding which value to emphasize is wrapped up in the project’s scope and goals, defining exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. It can also impact how you accomplish those goals. For example, green project management methodologies may have the same set of critical tasks but require green methods. 

    Evaluation of Your Organization

    Factors like skillsets and organizational goals also have to be considered. You may wish to focus on projects integrating sustainable methods, for example, if your organization prioritizes the environment. 

    However, if your organization doesn’t have the proper skillsets or resources, more time may be spent obtaining those than actually working toward the project’s goal. Likewise, prior experience with a specific methodology may make it more attractive.

    Assess Your Team

    Just as the nature of your organization can define which methodology is going to be most successful, so can the nature of your team. 

    You may wish to divide a larger group into several project teams so that multiple goals can be pursued at once. That has consequences when it comes to resource and time management that some methodologies are better suited to handling. Additionally, the role of project managers can vary depending on the project management methodology.

    Assess Resources

    Access to resources is important, as are other aspects of supplying what your project needs. There are some management methodologies, like PMBOK, that focus more on resource management than others.

    Often, a project management tool can be a good way of tracking resources. The best project management tools offer some flexibility to meet many needs.

    Types of Project Management Methodologies

    Examining a number of project management methods can clarify which best fits your needs. Keep in mind that this project management methodologies list isn’t exhaustive.

    Types of project management methodologies

    Agile: Collaborate To Produce a Working Product, Which Is Improved Iteratively

    Agile project management has come to refer to a whole class of different methodologies that have certain characteristics. However, it is also its own methodology, which has become one of the most popular project management methods out there.

    Agile methodology focuses on responsiveness to changing conditions. We’ll cover some Agile methods, but examples include extreme project management and rational unified process.

    Agile projects will involve all team members in initial planning sessions. The team then works on tasks for a set period, after which progress is reviewed and additional goals are set in continuous integration of feedback. It is an iterative process that works collaboratively with a client to produce working software in short order.

    When To Use the Methodology

    Agile was originally developed for small teams doing software development, which often doesn’t have or require precisely defined goals. 

    Pros and Cons

    Some benefits of Agile include:

    • Continually improving.
    • Feature-driven development.
    • Response to changes.
    • Cooperation with the customer.

    Some cons include:

    • Vulnerable to scope creep.
    • Lacks a clear plan from beginning to end.

    Waterfall: Plan Straight From Beginning To End

    Waterfall project management is a common project management methodology. In broad strokes, it’s the basic approach to project management methodology most people would evolve on their own. Phases of the waterfall method include:

    Phases of the waterfall method
    • Requirements: Analyzing needs.
    • Design: Complete planning of the project.
    • Coding: Following that plan.
    • Testing: Features are extensively tested.
    • Operations: Finished product is put into use.

    When To Use the Methodology

    Waterfall methodology might work best with small groups for projects in which deadlines, budget, and scope are all clearly defined from the outset. 

    Pros and Cons

    Some advantages of the waterfall method include:

    • Clearly defined requirements.
    • A well-defined plan for project completion.
    • Cohesive end product.

    Disadvantages include:

    • Little flexibility.
    • One missed deadline delays the entire project.

    Scrum: An Agile Method Organized Around Short ‘Sprints’

    Scrum is an Agile methodology, meaning it focuses on responsiveness to changing conditions and an iterative approach to tasks. It revolves around a couple of roles and a few events. Roles include:

    • Scrum master: A facilitator that helps the team understand and apply the method.
    • Development team: The project team members.
    • Product owner: Client or customer who selects features.

    Tasks are set and then worked on in a ‘sprint’ of a fixed length. The team meets daily, as well as having a larger meeting after the sprint to assess progress.

    When To Use the Methodology

    Like most Agile methods, Scrum was developed and is used most often by software development firms. It probably works best with a smaller team that can meet all at once and which is able to work closely with a client.

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Focus on creating working products.
    • Works closely with the customer.
    • Responsive to changing needs.

    Disadvantages include:

    • Lack of complete documentation.
    • Difficult to manage with larger teams.

    Kanban: An Agile Method Using a Board to Track Project Progress

    This project management methodology method was originally developed for assembly lines in Toyota factories. It is another Agile method, focusing on an iterative process to continually improve. 

    The defining feature of this approach is the Kanban board, which helps organize the project into repeated stages. The underlying goal is to remove bottlenecks that can slow the project process and add to the cost.

    The board is divided into four or more sections, usually including:

    • Ideas: Tasks that are still under discussion.
    • To do: Tasks that are ready to be worked on.
    • In progress: Tasks that are currently being worked on.
    • Done: Completed tasks.

    When To Use the Methodology

    Kanban allows a decent mix of pre-planning and flexibility. Goals may change and tasks adjust. However, it does require a clear idea of what a ‘finished’ task looks like. 

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Flexibility.
    • Clear goals.

    Disadvantages include:

    • Lacks a clear process.

    Extreme Programming (XP): An Agile Method Using Paired Programming

    Another Agile software development method, extreme programming methodology is intended to offer small, updated releases periodically that each offers new functionality. It uses a strict testing method to identify problems and resolve them at each stage.

    It focuses on several values, such as simple programming and collective ownership. XP is known for pair programming, in which two programmers work together, one programming while the other reviews for errors.

    When To Use the Methodology

    As the name implies, XP is focused exclusively on programming projects, specifically updating or replacing large, outdated systems. It combines pre-planning and an iterative approach.

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Close relationship with the customer.
    • Frequent testing.
    • Focused on simple coding.

    Disadvantages include:

    • Limited application.
    • Piecemeal release.

    Scrumban: Track Sprints on a Kanban Board

    As you might guess from the name, Scrumban combines the project management approaches of Scrum and Kanban. The Kanban board is great for organizing a project and tracking the status of tasks. However, Kanban lacks a connection to higher levels of management, as well as a way to put releases into operation.

    Scrumban allows for the easy tracking of tasks through the board, while dividing a project into discrete, iterative phases. This allows the team to work toward concrete goals while advancing the overall project.

    When To Use the Methodology

    As with most Agile methods, Scrumban is primarily used in software development and is one of the most popular project management methodologies in that field. It is ideal for projects where there is a clear idea of what a finished task looks like, without having well-defined goals overall.

    Pros and Cons

    Pros and cons of scrumban

    Advantages include:

    • Flexibility.
    • Visibility.
    • Continuous improvement.
    • Focus on releasing products.

    Disadvantages include:

    • Difficult for larger teams.
    • No clearly defined endpoint.

    Adaptive Project Framework (APF): Plan Agile, Work Traditional

    Hybrid project management practices seek to combine the flexibility of Agile with the clearly defined goals and processes of traditional project management methodology. Adaptive project framework is an example of such a hybrid.

    The methodology recognizes that parts of a project may be open to an Agile approach, such as initial planning, but other parts require clear goals and deadlines. A project is divided into parts, with a plan created with Agile methods that are followed traditionally—lessons learned are applied to the following parts.

    When To Use the Methodology

    While APF was devised for software development projects, it has become popular in other contexts. Environmental planning, urban planning, and construction projects also use APF.

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Combines flexibility with clear planning.
    • Useful for large or long-term projects.
    • Responsiveness to changes, while maintaining clear goals.

    Disadvantages include:

    • Complex.
    • Can be difficult to implement.

    Lean: Smooth the Path From Supplier, to Production, to Customer

    Lean methodologies use Agile concepts to focus on creating a simple, uninterrupted flow from suppliers, to production, and then to the customer. A Lean project may include suppliers in the planning process as a result. 

    Additionally, Lean methodology attempts to identify a value for each product or service, in an effort to eliminate wasted effort and resources.

    When To Use the Methodology

    Lean is used in some IT companies. It may be a good choice whenever a project depends on an uninterrupted flow of resources.

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Customer collaboration.
    • Working closely with suppliers.
    • Eliminating waste.

    Its primary disadvantage is that it might be better thought of as a management philosophy, rather than a true methodology.

    Critical Path Method (CPM): Identify Tasks That Can’t Be Delayed

    CPM is a traditional methodology focused on pre-planning and a clear path. The goal is to complete the project in the minimum time, at a minimum cost, drawing on as few resources as possible.

    The critical path method involves creating a flowchart that can be used to identify critical ‘paths’ or task dependencies, as well as estimate completion times. In other words, it focuses on important tasks that can’t be started until other tasks are finished. This allows managers to focus resources on important points to prevent delays.

    When To Use the Methodology

    This approach is best suited for complex projects that have limited resources or have to share resources with other projects.

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Clearly defined goals and processes.
    • Shared resource utilization.
    • Reducing cost and time.

    The primary disadvantage to CPM is that it may not be suited for smaller projects or projects in which resource management isn’t a concern.

    Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM): Identify Critical Tasks, With a Flexible Schedule

    Critical chain project management is similar in broad strokes to the critical path method. Both try to anticipate the path to project completion and identify important tasks along that path.

    CCPM differs in assuming each task will be completed as efficiently as possible and so doesn’t need a fixed deadline. Instead, it uses task ‘buffers’, essentially scheduling extra time between one task and the next to allow for delays.

    When To Use the Methodology

    The context for CCPM is similar to that for CPM, with the difference that time is managed somewhat differently. CCPM might be a better option when it’s difficult to estimate task completion times.

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages and disadvantages are similar to CPM, with the difference that CCPM allows for more uncertainty in planning.

    New Product Introduction (NPI): Cross-Department Cooperation To Bring New Products to Market

    An NPI team is made up of representatives from different departments in a company and other interested parties. The team’s role is managing conflict between departments and outlining the overall process.

    NPI focuses primarily on the production process, including design, feasibility, and pre-production testing. It’s a traditional methodology in which steps are outlined before work is begun.

    When To Use the Methodology

    NPI assumes the team is working within a larger organization that has production and testing facilities available. It also is most likely to focus on a physical product.

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Clear goals.
    • Well-defined process and schedule.
    • Well-established methodology.

    Disadvantages include:

    • Not responsive to changes.

    Outcome Mapping: Tracking Behavior To Plan Community Outreach and Development

    Outcome mapping’s key attribute is that it is more concerned with behavior than a product or service. It was developed by an international development agency to organize development programs, such as assisting farmers in producing a wider range of crops. 

    It has some characteristics of Agile methods, such as involving the beneficiaries in planning stages and reevaluating after a set period. However, the ‘product’ is a change in behavior in the community being developed.

    When To Use the Methodology

    Any project that focuses on community reform and development could probably benefit from using outcome mapping. 

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Evaluating changes in community behavior.
    • Community involvement.
    • Iterative structure to assess and evolve programs.

    Its biggest advantage is also its greatest disadvantage, as the method’s narrow focus makes it unsuitable for use in other types of projects.

    Six Sigma: Analyze Existing Processes To Eliminate Errors

    Six Sigma is a methodology aimed at eliminating defects from products, processes, and transactions. It uses a five-step process that begins by identifying sources of error using statistical tools. In the following steps, users create solutions and ensure that the solution remains effective.

    There is also a well-known project management certification program associated with Six Sigma.

    When To Use the Methodology

    Six Sigma will be most useful when searching for inefficiencies in a process. Using this method, those inefficiencies can be corrected.

    Pros and Cons

    Pros and cons of six sigma

    Advantages include:

    • Process focused.
    • Clear progression from planning to execution.
    • Statistical approach.

    Disadvantages include:

    •  Narrow use.
    • Assumes there is always a problem to solve.

    Project Management Institute’s Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMI’s PMBOK): Comprehensive Standards for Project Management

    PMBOK was written by a professional association called the Project Management Institute. It has often been identified as a set of standards for different project management methodologies, rather than being a methodology itself. It outlines broad areas of concern, from contract negotiation to cost management. However, it does not give specific tools for addressing those areas. 

    When To Use the Methodology

    PMBOK is organized along traditional lines and is intended to be applicable in many situations. It is more like an outline for a method, which may be helpful in situations in which an established method isn’t available.

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Traditional approach.
    • Wide applicability.
    • Created by a project management body.

    Disadvantages include:

    • Lacking specifics.
    • Complexity.

    PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments): Traditional Methodology Incorporating Customer Input

    Originally developed as a method for managing IT projects by the UK government, PRINCE2 has been expanded for use in other areas. While not an Agile method, it still puts a priority on customer input. PRINCE2 is a complex method that uses nine elements:

    • Organization.
    • Planning.
    • Control.
    • Phases.
    • Risk management.
    • Quality in project management.
    • Configuration management.
    • Change control.

    When To Use the Methodology

    PRINCE2 is probably most useful in large software development projects. Its complexity may require some expertise, however.

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Detailed approach.
    • Involves the customer in the planning stages.
    • Addresses starting and ending a project.

    Disadvantages include:

    • Complexity.
    • Not as useful in smaller projects.

    Rapid Application Development (RAD): Methodology With Time Management as a Top Priority

    RAD is a project management methodology that breaks each project down into components. Each component has a deadline or ‘time-box’ by which it must be completed, even removing features if necessary to stay within constraints. 

    When To Use the Methodology

    RAD is perhaps most suited to small projects in which there is a degree of flexibility in the final product, or where there is a tight deadline.

    Pros and Cons

    Advantages include:

    • Staying within time constraints.
    • Individual components can be adjusted.
    • User input early in the process.

    Disadvantages include:

    • Possible to miss requirements due to time constraints.
    • Infrastructure (backups, documentation, human factors) is neglected in favor of time management.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Project Management Methodologies

    Final Thoughts on Project Management Methodologies

    This brief guide merely touched on some of the most well-known and useful project management methodologies. However, while it is a field that was developed only in the 60s, it has become a broad and highly developed field. 

    The complexity and breadth of options may be overwhelming. However, taking some time to investigate and choose the right methodology for your project can pay dividends in time and money saved.