Choosing a project management methodology is like choosing which recipe to follow when baking chocolate chip cookies. One recipe might use room-temperature butter while another recommends melted margarine, or call for dark chocolate instead of semi-sweet chips. Each recipe gives you delicious cookies, but the steps, ingredients and techniques are all a little different to suit your tastebuds. You should pick your PM methodology based on your available ingredients: project constraints, timeline, tools, and people.
Read through this list of common project management methodologies and see if they sound like they fit your project or organization. We include brief descriptions, pros, and cons for each, and if one captures your attention, we definitely encourage further research.
Here's the first half of our PM methodologies list:
1. Adaptive Project Framework (APF)
The APF method strives to learn from experience. These projects begin with a Requirements Breakdown Structure to define strategic project goals based on product requirements, functions, sub-functions, and features. As they proceed, teams continually evaluate previous results to improve policies and practices at each stage of the project lifecycle. Clients/stakeholders can change project scope at the start of each stage so the team can produce the most business value.
PRO: This is a good approach for when you know what your goal is and aren't sure of the best way to get there.
CON: Due to its flexibility, the Adaptive Framework may lead to project delays or increased budgets.
2. Agile Project Management
Great chefs taste their food as they cook so they can add new ingredients to create the best dish. Agile is like tasting our project as we go and adjusting it accordingly. Planning begins with clients describing how the end product will be used, its benefits, and so on, so the team gets a good understanding of the expectations. Once the project has begun, teams cycle through the process of planning, executing, and evaluating tasks — which might change the final deliverable. Continuous collaboration is key, both among team members and with project stakeholders, to make fully-informed decisions.
PRO: This approach is beneficial for creative projects with goals that are flexible and can be modified midway.
CON: Timelines and budgets are difficult to define, and stakeholders must have the time and desire to be actively involved in the day-to-day work.
Confused about the difference between APF and Agile? We’ll break it down for you: with APF, your end goal is clear, but your method for achieving that goal will change based on your experience at each stage of the project. With Agile, your end goals are less defined. Each stage brings feedback from stakeholders to help guide your decisions and improve or alter the final product.
3. Benefits Realization
This project management methodology redefines success as not just delivering the package on time and with money to spare, but achieving a desired benefit. Here's an example: say your clients want to increase their sales conversion rate by 15%. They hire you to manage the development of a new CRM software that will help the sales team personalize their communications, track sales data, and determine ideal communication timelines. You deliver a CRM with those features on time and within budget. Success, right? What if your client's sales conversion rates only increase by 5%? With benefits realization, your project isn't successfully completed until the client's desired benefits are achieved — in this case, until the sales conversion rate is up 15%.
PRO: This approach ensures that your projects contribute real value to the business and deliver the end results your stakeholders care about.
CON: Benefits aren't always exact, measurable, or scientific, so it can be difficult to know if they've been achieved — or if your project actually contributed to that success. You'll need to put careful thought into developing effective metrics to measure the outcomes of your project, such as ROI, process capability, faster delivery times, or higher customer satisfaction.
4. Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
Project delays are usually caused by resources that aren't available when you need them. CCPM avoids that by building a project schedule that first identifies a "critical chain" of tasks and then reserving resources for those tasks. Your project timeline may be longer, but you’ve got a higher probability of predicting realistic deadlines.
PRO: Tasks can be collaborated on because you know that all key players are available when you need them.
CON: This approach may not be effective for projects with short deadlines, since CCPM plans build in extra time buffers along the critical chain.
5. Critical Path Method (CPM)
Determine your project's shortest timeline and adjust to shifting deadlines using CPM. You'll start by looking at all the tasks absolutely necessary to complete your project, and then estimating completion times for each step, including task dependencies, milestones, and final deliverables.
PRO: Specific dates can be assigned to each task, so managers can compare what should be happening with what is happening on a daily basis. It's optimal for projects with short deadlines.
CON: Critics say a major drawback is that CPM doesn’t consider resource availability in planning, so you may be left with an overly optimistic plan.
6. Event Chain Methodology (ECM)
Most projects don’t go exactly according to plan. Risks are difficult to identify and analyze, and project managers may be under pressure by stakeholders to create optimistic timelines, budgets, or deliverables. Event chain methodology helps recognize and plan for potential risks that may lie outside the project scope. By using techniques like Monte Carlo Analysis and Event Chain Diagrams, project managers can see how external events affect project tasks and determine the probability of certain risks occurring.
PRO: By visualizing the relationship between external events and tasks, managers can create more realistic project plans.
CON: It's easy to forget that external events aren't just threats to your project — they can also present opportunities. Don't automatically squash all potential risks and fail to capitalize on fortunate circumstances.
7. Extreme Programming (XP)
XP features short development cycles, frequent releases, and constant client collaboration. Productivity is high, and the approach is well-suited to complex or undefined projects. These teams allow for change within their sprints; if the team hasn't started work on a feature, a similar task can be swapped out to replace it. Teams avoid overworking themselves through effective collaboration and by writing the simplest possible code to produce the desired feature.
PRO: XP is efficient, with a focus on simplicity. Teams work at a sustainable pace, meaning no 80-hour work weeks leading to burnout and low-quality output.
CON: Critics warn that the XP approach's strength lies too much in the ingenuity of unique team members rather than with process itself.
If a continuous workflow and outputting a slow and steady stream of deliverables are your main priorities, Kanban is your man. Managers create visual representations for the workflow (often using a whiteboard or sticky notes) to uncover process problems and prevent tasks from stalling as "works in progress." The sticky notes move across the board to tangibly represent project progress.
PRO: Kanban helps teams understand where their time is really being spent so you can improve efficiency.
CON: Variations in customer demand — like the start of the holiday season, or a drop-off due to a recall — can make Kanban inefficient, since it’s designed to produce a steady output.
Find a project management methodology you like? Itching for more bite-sized breakdowns? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post, where we'll cover 8 more essential methodologies as the next chapter in your PM handbook.
Does your company use one of these PM methodologies? Is it good? Bad? Tell us about your experience with it in the comments below.
• Project Management Basics: A Review of PM Methodologies (Part 2)
• A Crash-Course in Project Management Methodologies (Infographic)