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List of Project Management Methodologies: Comparison & Examples

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What are project management methodologies?

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:

  1. Definite result: Ex: Product such as a new car design
  2. Specific Start and End Dates: Dates when project work begins and when it ends. Also known as Schedule.
  3. Resources: Required amount of people, funds, equipment, facilities and information.

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.

List of Project Management Methodologies

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 Wrike, 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 Wrike free trial here.

Source: TheDigitalProjectManager.com

1. The Sequential Methodologies

These are what are typically known as traditional methodologies that follow strict, well-defined steps to complete a project:

Waterfall

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:

  1. Specification of Consumer Requirements
  2. Concept, Design, and Planning
  3. Creation of a Physical Product (Construction, Coding, etc.)
  4. Integration into Current Systems
  5. Validation (Testing, Debugging, etc.)
  6. Product Installation
  7. Ongoing Maintenance

Individual stages would be different for creative project management, but the core approach basically remains the same. Many leading project management software, notably Wrike, could easily allow one to use Waterfall workflows, as shown in the image above.

Why you should choose Waterfall Methodology:

  • Ease of use: This model is easy to understand and use. The division between stages is intuitive and easy to grasp regardless of prior experience.
  • Structure: The rigidity of the Waterfall method is a liability but can also be a strength. The clear demarcation between stages lends to clear organization and division of tasks. Knowing you can’t go back makes it urgent to do it right first time at each stage, prompting you to produce excellent results most of the time.
  • Documentation: The sharp focus on gathering and understanding requirements makes the Waterfall model heavily reliant on documentation. This makes it easy for new resources to move in and work on the project when needed.
  • Efficiency: Since waterfall management requires you to invest time in the early stages of a project to ensure design needs and other requirements have been met, you save the time and effort from retroactively correcting problems.

Why you shouldn’t choose Waterfall Methodology:

  • Higher risk: The rigidity of this methodology means that if you find an error or need to change something, you have to essentially start the project from the beginning. This substantially increases the risk of project failure.
  • Front-heavy: The entire Waterfall approach depends heavily on your understanding and analyzing requirements correctly. Should you fail at this—or should the requirements change—you have to start over. This lack of flexibility makes it a poor choice for long and complex projects. Teams that need to change their plans as their projects progress will simply find this method quite limiting.

What is Waterfall Methodology best for?

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.

Wrike, a leading project management software, showcasing Gantt charts depicting dependencies in Waterfall style.

Critical Path Method (CPM)

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.

Why you should choose CPM:

  • Better scheduling: The emphasis on mapping the duration of activities and their interdependencies help you schedule tasks better. If task X depends on task Y to be finished first, CPM will help you identify and schedule for it.
  • Prioritization: The success of the CPM methodology depends on identifying and mapping critical and non-critical activities. Once you’ve mapped these activities, you can prioritize resources better.

Why you shouldn’t choose CPM:

  • You need the depth of experience: As any experienced project manager will tell you, things always take more time than you expect. If you don’t have real-world experience with scheduling, you are bound to miscalculate time for each activity.
  • Inflexibility: Like the Waterfall method, CPM is front-heavy. You need to plan everything from the outset. Encounter changes and you are rendering the entire schedule irrelevant. Stay away from this methodology if your projects are prone to abrupt changes.

What is CPM best for?

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.

Critical Chain 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.

Why you should choose CCPM:

  • Resource-efficient: The entire focus on proper resource management makes CCPM one of the most resource-efficient project management methodologies around. The emphasis on monotasking is also well-aligned with our modern understanding of the detrimental effects of multitasking.
  • Focused on end goal: CCPM doesn’t obsess over the “optimum” solution to a problem. Instead, it prioritizes “good enough” solutions that can help meet the end goal. Since you also work backward from the end goal, CCPM usually yields better results for complex projects.

Why you shouldn’t choose CCPM:

  • Not apt for multiple-project environments: CCPM’s resource-focused approach can only work in single-project environments. In multi-project environments, projects might share resources. CCPM can’t plan for resource distribution in such a scenario.
  • Delays common: CCPM allots a gap or padding between tasks to derive a task time length. In theory, this is supposed to make up for resources overestimating their own efficiency. In reality, resources fill up the padding with inordinate delays.

What is CCPM best for?

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.

Agile and CCPM combine in Smartsheet, a leading project management software.

2. The PMI/PMBOK “Method”

Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)

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:

  1. Initiation
  2. Planning
  3. Execution
  4. Controlling
  5. Closing

Why you should choose PMBOK:

  • PMBOK Guide is a framework and a de facto standard.
  • It is process-oriented.
  • It states the knowledge needed to manage the life cycle of any Project, Program and Portfolio through their processes.
  • It defines for each process the necessary input, tools, techniques and output (deliverables).
  • It defines a body of knowledge on which any industry can build it specific best practices for its application area.

Why you shouldn’t choose PMBOK:

  • Complex for small projects.
  • Has to be adapted to the application area industry, project size and scope, time and budget and quality constraints.

What is PMBOK best for?

  • Management programs (general)
  • Departmental projects (functional)
  • Engineering projects (technical)
  • Industry-specific processes
  • Product development (marketing)
  • Government programs (public)
  • Development programs (international organizations)

3. The Agile Family

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:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

In just a short time, PM experts have expanded these concepts into many implementation frameworks, including:

  • Scrum Project Management
  • Kanban Project Management
  • Extreme Programming
  • Adaptive Project Framework (APF)

Scrum Project Management

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.

Why you should choose Scrum:

  • Scrum “sprints”: The Scrum approach is heavily focused on 30-day “sprints.” This is where the project team breaks down a wishlist of end-goals into small chunks, then works on them in 30-day sessions with daily stand-up meetings. This makes it easy to manage large and complex projects.
  • Fast paced: The “sprint” approach with its 30-day limit and daily stand-up meetings promotes rapid iteration and development.
  • Team-focused: Since the project team is expected to manage itself, Scrum teams have clear visibility into the project. It also means that project leaders can set their own priorities as per their own knowledge of their capabilities.
  • Besides these, it has all the benefits of Agile – rapid iteration and regular stakeholder feedback.

Why you shouldn’t choose Scrum:

  • Scope creep: Since there is no fixed end-date, nor a project manager for scheduling and budgeting, Scrum can easily lead to scope creep.
  • Higher risk: Since the project team is self-managing, there is a higher risk of failure unless the team is highly disciplined and motivated. If the team doesn’t have enough experience, Scrum has a very high chance of failure.
  • Lack of flexibility: The project-team focus means that any resource leaving the team in-between will hugely impact the net results. This approach is also not flexible enough for large teams.

What is Scrum best for?

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

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.

Why you should choose Kanban:

  • Choose it to optimize inventory and reduce product obsolescence.
  • It allows you to reduce waste and scrap
  • It lets you increase output easily
  • Provides flexibility in production

Why you shouldn’t choose Kanban:

  • It is less effective in shared-resource situations.
  • Surges in mix or demand cause problems because Kanban assumes stable repetitive production plans.
  • A breakdown in the kanban system can result in the entire line shutting down.

What is Kanban best for?

Kanban is best suited in projects where priorities fluctuate to a high degree, even everyday.

Kanban is well executed in Trello, a very popular project management software.

Extreme Programming (EP)

Like all Agile systems, Extreme Programming focuses on teamwork and customer satisfaction. It features five basic tenets:

  1. Communication
  2. Simplicity
  3. Feedback
  4. Respect
  5. Courage

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.

Why you should choose EP:

  • It allows software development companies to save costs and time required for project realization. Time savings are available because of the fact that EP focuses on the timely delivery of final products. Extreme Programming teams save lots of money because they don’t use too much documentation. They usually solve problems through discussions inside of the team.
  • Simplicity is one more advantage of Extreme Programming projects. The developers who prefer to use this methodology create extremely simple code that can be improved at any moment.
  • The whole process in EP is visible and accountable. Developers commit what they will accomplish and show progress.
  • Constant feedback is also the strong side.It is necessary to listen and make any changes needed in time.
  • EP assists to create software faster thanks to the regular testing at the development stage.
  • Extreme Programming contributes increasing employee satisfaction and retention.

Why you shouldn’t choose EP:

  • It is focused on the code rather than on design. That may be a problem because good design is extremely important for software applications. It helps sell them in the software market. Additionally, in EP projects the defect documentation is not always good. Lack of defect documentation may lead to the occurrence of similar bugs in the future.
  • It does not measure code quality assurance. It may cause defects in the initial code.
  • EP is not the best option if programmers are separated geographically.

What is EP best for?

Projects suited to Extreme Programming are those that:

  • Involve new or prototype technology, where the requirements change rapidly, or some development is required to discover unforeseen implementation problems
  • Are research projects, where the resulting work is not the software product itself, but domain knowledge
  • Are small and more easily managed through informal methods

Adaptive Project Framework (APF)

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.

Why you should choose Adaptive Project Framework:

This is a good approach for situations where you know what the end goal is, but you are not sure how to get there.

Why you shouldn’t choose Adaptive Project Framework:

Because of the flexibility and constant changes in the range, APF can lead to project delays and / or higher costs.

What is APF best for?

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.

4. Uncertainty Methodologies

These are PM methodologies that deal with uncertainty and change, specifically how to manage projects so that they succeed despite risks.

Event Chain Methodology (ECM)

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.

Why you should choose Event Chain Methodology:

ECM allows managers examining the relationship between external pressures and tasks. This makes projects more realistic.

Why you shouldn’t choose Event Chain Methodology:

Often, PM’s can get caught up in identifying risks, they can forget that an external event can actually present opportunities and be beneficial.

What is Event Chain Methodology best for?

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.

5. Process-Based Methodologies

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:

PRINCE2

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:

  1. Continued business justification
  2. Learn from experience
  3. Defined roles and responsibilities
  4. Manage by stages
  5. Manage by Exception
  6. Focus on products
  7. Tailor to suit the project environment

Why you should choose PRINCE2:

  • Running a PRINCE2 project requires extensive documentation. Additionally, one of the guiding principles of PRINCE2 is to “Learn from experience.” This focus on documentation and past experience can help reduce risk.
  • The comprehensive documentation required for PRINCE2 is useful for: business planning, tracking performance, limiting risks

Why you shouldn’t use PRINCE2:

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.

What is PRINCE2 best for?

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

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.

Why you should choose Lean Project Management:

When deadlines are short, resources are scarce, and budgets are low, Lean can help you deliver quality work while making the cuts you need.

Why you shouldn’t choose Lean Project Management:

It relies on decisions being made decisively and quickly—and that dilly-dallying usually corrupts the process.

What is Lean Project Management best for?

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.

Wrike’s ability to show multiple dashboards eliminates waste, bottlenecks, delays—for full Lean Project Management compliance.

Six Sigma

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.

Why you should choose Six Sigma:

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.

Why you shouldn’t choose Six Sigma:

As a data-driven system Six Sigma can significantly limit creativity of your team.

What is Six Sigma best for?

If your company is extremely wasteful from poor technical processes, your company is probably waiting for Six Sigma to save it.

Conclusion

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 Wrike, a solution that got the best score in our tests. You can easily sign up for Wrike free trial here.

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