Project management methodologies (PMM) are the different approaches and disciplines in handling projects, dictating how your team works and outcomes measured. No one methodology is better than the others; some are structured for speed while others for comprehensiveness. Each approach has its pros and cons and is designed for specific project scenarios. In this article we will explain in detail how the most popular PMMs apply to a variety of project situations.
First, what is a project? Put simply, a project is any activity undertaken to create a unique outcome, service or product. All projects possess these elements:
While even in the past figureheads committed to accomplish a task could easily grasp all the above-mentioned rudiments to their trade, or craft, they will probably be left scratching their head if you mentioned to them our current ideas of project management methodologies. As it is, they will go about the tasks at hand unmindful of our modern appreciation of powerful project management software, project management techniques taking it as a given that all taskmasters proceed with their projects in the same manner as everyone else. They couldn’t be further from the truth.
The utter complexity of our world ensures that we are not going to enjoy that kind of approach simplicity to projects. Nowadays, the very ideas of project management life cycle and project cycle management would send many of our our sophisticated developers and engineers back to their respective boardrooms, mostly from trying to figure out how much they have missed to factor in as they see failing outcomes in their market projections of their new products or services.
The stark reality is that being a project manager today requires that you have a sound grasp of project management methodologies to steer your projects in the right direction and keep them on track. You also need them to help you manage your projects in a structured, repeatable fashion, not the least knowledge of today’s top PM tools. That way, you can apply the same approach to every project you undertake. Any one of them provides high-level project management framework.
You can get a quick picture of the software landscape by checking our comprehensives guide on the best project management solutions in the market today.
And unlike our simplistic project taskmasters of the past, we have to recognize that what end you have in mind will most likely determine the specific project management framework you have to enlist. In particular, this means that you need a unique set of project management methodology if you are going to build a Boeing spaceship, and another one if you are looking at manufacturing trendy apparel on the chic markets out there.
If you are embarking on a project management leadership role, the first thing that will strike you is the proliferation of different methodologies. Things can get easily confusing out there marking each solution and what it is best suited for. What to do?
We have just the answer for you: here we group these methodologies into something more intuitive, beyond labeling them as traditional or modern: classifying them into related families with similar characteristics and involved processes to them.
TheDigitalProjectManager.com made a simplified diagram of the top project management methodologies, which we will expound below. As software is critical to successfully implementing projects, we recommend that you get a flexible PM platform that adapts to these methodologies.
After a thorough analysis of dozens of PM solutions, we found that a few applications can handle most, if not all, methodologies. One highly recommended solution here is monday.com, which got top scores in our tests. It’s a great software to start with if your company doesn’t use any project management tool yet or if your tool doesn’t support the methodology you need. The vendor offers a great free trial that allows you to try out all the key features for free. You can easily sign up for monday.com free trial here.
These are what are typically known as traditional methodologies that follow strict, well-defined steps to complete a project:
This methodology is the oldest methodology on this list. It was initially articulated by Dr. Winston Royce in 1970 in order to address the growing complexity of software development, and as such found wide acceptance in many industries but especially in the software industry.
The Waterfall methodology is sequential. It is also heavily requirements-focused. You need to have a crystal-clear idea of what the project demands before proceeding further. There is no scope for correction once the project is underway.
There are many versions of the waterfall method, but the original one included these high-level phases:
Individual stages would be different for creative project management, but the core approach basically remains the same. Many leading project management software, notably monday.com, could easily allow one to use Waterfall workflows, as shown in the image above.
The Waterfall method best suits teams in manufacturing and construction that create physical products and follow precise assembly orders. They can easily copy plans from previous projects and apply them to their current work with little or no adjustment. Business leaders have created many varieties of this PM methodology, but remain consistent with the general components indicated above.
CPM managers make strings of tasks that each depend on the other. These sequential items form a team’s critical path.
Management experts created the CPM project management methodology over a half-century ago to highlight tasks that teams can’t begin until finishing others: construction workers, for example, find it best to install toilets and light fixtures only after plumbers and electricians have run pipes and wires through the walls—saving drywall and painting for last.
By determining a critical path and focusing on these important tasks above all others, managers can avoid frustrating bottlenecks. They can allocate more resources to any items on a critical path that lag behind and threaten delays.
The Critical Path Method is best suited for projects with interdependent parts. As our previous example illustrates, it is quite useful in the construction industry. Other industrial projects that call for repetitive activities will thrive on this methodology.
You will not want to use if for dynamic fields such as creative project management.
An extension of CPM, Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) is favored by managers who need to prioritize critical resources. Contractors on projects like home-building not only run the risk of certain teams waiting for others to finish, they must also time out the delivery of critical supplies.
To illustrate, a team leader might delay an order with a concrete company if they experience delays while digging a foundation. If the cement workers were to arrive and there was no place to pour concrete, they would have to dump their loads or risk having those set inside their trucks!
To avoid bottlenecks and disruptions in the ordering of resources, managers put time buffers around critical tasks. Though this slows down project completion slightly, it dramatically reduces their risks of expensive resource re-orders. These buffered tasks form a “critical chain” of the most sensitive tasks on a critical path.
For resource-strapped project teams, CCPM can be a powerful methodology.
CCPM works best in environments where resources are devoted to a single project. If you have a dedicated team for a project, it works great. If your team is spread across several projects, you’ll struggle with resource planning.
The resource-focused approach of CCPM is also ideal for resource-strapped project teams. If you find yourself constantly overworked or missing deadlines, the CCPM methodology might be for you.
Among the leading project management software in the market, Smartsheet is especially capable of handling CCPM-style workflows.
Many project managers consider the PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) a PM methodology in its own right. Purists will tell you it is more of a reference book.
No matter which side of the fence you are in, the PMBOK provides an essential set of conventions and standardizes the professional terms used by PM experts, requiring managers to break projects into five steps:
Agile project management can refer to the four values espoused in the Agile manifesto for software development. Or it can be one of several frameworks, including Scrum and Kanban. Either way, these methods have objectives defined by the customer, while final deliverables can change. Meanwhile the project team works in iterative cycles, evaluating results after each cycle, and always collaborating with customers.
The core of the Agile methodology was developed by 17 people in 2001 in written form. Their Agile Manifesto of Software Development put forth a groundbreaking mindset on delivering value and collaborating with customers. Agile’s four main values are expressed as:
In just a short time, PM experts have expanded these concepts into many implementation frameworks, including:
Scrum is the most popular Agile development framework: it is relatively simple to implement, and it solves a lot of problems that software developers have struggled with in the past such as convoluted development cycles, inflexible project plans, delayed production.
In Scrum, a small team is led by a Scrum Master whose main job it is to clear away all obstacles to work getting done more efficiently. The team works in short cycles of two weeks called “sprints,” though the team members meet daily to discuss what’s been done and where there are any roadblocks that need clearing. This methodology allows for quick development and testing, especially within small teams.
The Scrum approach is best for highly experienced, disciplined and motivated project teams who can set their own priorities and understand project requirements clearly. It has all the flaws of Agile along with all its benefits. It works for large projects, but fails if the project team itself is very large.
In short: use Scrum if you’re developing complex software and have an experienced team at your disposal.
Kanban is based on a team’s capacity to do work. It originated from the factories of Toyota during the 1940s and was originally a visual system of cards (“kanban”) used by a department to signal that their team is ready for more raw materials, that the team has more capacity to produce.
Today, this visual approach to managing a project—as evidenced by kanban software offerings like Trello—is well-suited to work that requires steady output. Project teams create visual representations of their tasks often using sticky notes and whiteboards (though there are also virtual versions that can be used online) and move these through predetermined stages to see progress as it happens and identify where roadblocks occur.
Kanban is best suited in projects where priorities fluctuate to a high degree, even every day.
Like all Agile systems, Extreme Programming focuses on teamwork and customer satisfaction. It features five basic tenets:
Extreme Programming teams work in shorter sprints typical for Agile/Scrum companies. These shorter cycles allow them to maintain rigid task structures. EP teams don’t embrace as much flexibility as other Agile teams, undertaking tasks in a strict priority order.
The EP methodology mandates specific engineering practices such as test-driven product development, automated testing, simple and elegant design, refactoring, etc. Experts recommend teams begin with Scrum and adopt EP slowly as they determine their own best practices and engineering protocols.
Projects suited to Extreme Programming are those that:
The Adaptive Project Framework allows Agile teams to work with optimal flexibility, epitomizing the idea of “agility.” Sometimes teams must improvise their systems and protocols as they work, due to roughly-defined goals and outcomes.
This is a good approach for situations where you know what the end goal is, but you are not sure how to get there.
Because of the flexibility and constant changes in the range, APF can lead to project delays and / or higher costs.
The APF framework best suits unique challenges which don’t call for one size fits all solutions. This approach empowers teams because they aren’t expected to blindly follow pre-ordained scripts.
In this model, clients work directly with Agile teams and select the exact features they need in finished products. Consumers appreciate not having to accept products that meet some, but not all, of their needs.
These are PM methodologies that deal with uncertainty and change, specifically how to manage projects so that they succeed despite risks.
The underlying idea behind event chain methodology is that there are potential risks that often lie outside the project’s scope. It’s important to prepare for these risks and plan what to do if they occur. Why? Unexpected events will impact your project’s schedule, deliverables, and potentially its success.
ECM allows managers examining the relationship between external pressures and tasks. This makes projects more realistic.
Often, PM’s can get caught up in identifying risks, they can forget that an external event can actually present opportunities and be beneficial.
If you are working on projects with a high degree of unknown elements and risks to them, then Event Chain Methodology is the way to go for you.
These PM methods set out a standard approach to managing a project using methods that almost veer into business process management (BPM). Each method focuses on work as a collection of processes.
Some PM purists dislike these methods, but they’re still valid ways to plan and execute a project.
The Process-Based Methodologies:
Not to be confused with the PMBOK, the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (a best-practices resource), PRINCE2 is a complete project methodology system.
PRINCE2—Projects IN Controlled Environments—is the official project management methodology of the UK government (which means that most UK government projects use it).
PRINCE2 is based on 7 principles, 7 themes and 7 processes. The 7 PRINCE2 principles, for instance, are:
Extensive focus on documentation means that changes can be hard to accommodate. If the requirements change, you have to redo the documentation and re-allocate resources, which can hamper project pace.
This methodology is best-suited for large and complex projects with fixed requirements. If you’re in the UK, you’ll likely want to know the PRINCE2 methodology. It is widely used in the country and is a requirement for government projects.
Lean project management is a methodology that is focused on streamlining and cutting out waste. The first step is to create a work process breakdown to identify and eliminate bottlenecks, delays, and all forms of waste (“muda”). The goal is to do more with less: i.e. deliver value to the customer using less manpower, less money, and less time.
When deadlines are short, resources are scarce, and budgets are low, Lean can help you deliver quality work while making the cuts you need.
It relies on decisions being made decisively and quickly—and that dilly-dallying usually corrupts the process.
If you want to optimize what limited resource your company has while seeing to it that you deliver quality to customers and make them happy, then Lean Project Management is for you.
Six Sigma is a statistics-based methodology that seeks to improve the quality of a process by measuring the defects or bugs present and getting it down as close to zero as possible. A process can therefore attain a rating of Six Sigma if 99.99966% of the final product — your project deliverable — is defect-free.
It does not just take into account one element of the process. Instead, Six Sigma looks at everything suggesting improvements before bugs are even detected.
As a data-driven system Six Sigma can significantly limit creativity of your team.
If your company is extremely wasteful from poor technical processes, your company is probably waiting for Six Sigma to save it.
Using the right methodology takes your project on the right path from the get-go. Take time to assess your project’s requirements, dynamics, and goals and see which methodology best addresses them. Once you are decided on the path to take make sure your project management software adapts to it. Not only that, it should adapt to your other methodologies in the future, not vice-versa. The key is to get a highly flexible project management software. We recommend you start with monday.com, a solution that got the best score in our tests. You can easily sign up for monday.com free trial here.
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