The Top Project Management Methodologies
“You mean there’s more than one project management methodology?” There are quite a lot of them actually, and some even combine to form new hybrid approaches. But what are they exactly? How do they help project teams work better? And what makes one methodology better than another?
Project management methodologies are essentially different ways to approach a project. Each one has its unique process and workflow.
If you’re looking for a quick visual guide to popular methodologies, then check out the blog post and infographic: 16 Top Project Management Methodologies.
Here we take a look at some of the top project management methodologies grouped together by similarity and popularity.
A. The Traditional, Sequential Methodologies
Waterfall Project Management Methodology
What is the most common way to plan out a project? Sequence the tasks that lead to a final deliverable and work on them in order. This is the waterfall methodology — the traditional method for managing projects and the one that is simplest to understand. One task must be completed before the next one begins, in a connected sequence of items that add up to the overall deliverable. It’s an ideal method for projects that result in physical objects (buildings, computers), and project plans can be easily replicated for future use.
The power of this methodology is that every step is preplanned and laid out in the proper sequence. While this may be the simplest method to implement initially, any changes in customers’ needs or priorities will disrupt the sequence of tasks, making it very difficult to manage. This methodology excels in predictability, but lacks in flexibility.
Critical Path Method (CPM)
The critical path method was developed in the 1950s and is based on the concept that there are some tasks you can’t start until a previous one has been finished. When you string these dependent tasks together from start to finish, you plot out your critical path.
Identifying and focusing on this critical path allows project managers to prioritize and allocate resources to get the most important work done, and reschedule any lower priority tasks that may be clogging up your team’s bandwidth. This way, if changes need to be made to the project schedule, you can optimize your team’s work process without delaying the end results.
Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
Critical chain project management takes critical path method one step further. It is a methodology that puts a primary focus on the resources needed to complete the project’s tasks by adding resource availability to the critical path. It also builds buffers of time around these tasks into the project’s schedule, which helps ensure the project meets its deadlines.
B. The Agile Family
Agile project management methodologies are growing in popularity thanks to the increased pace of innovation and a highly competitive business environment. In general, agile methodologies prioritize shorter iterative cycles and flexibility.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular agile frameworks.
Agile Project Management Methodology
The core of the agile methodology was developed in 2001 with four main values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Their Agile Manifesto of Software Development put forth a groundbreaking mindset on delivering value and collaborating with customers. Today, the word agile can refer to these values, as well as the frameworks for implementing them, including: scrum, kanban, extreme programming, and adaptive project framework.
What do these various agile frameworks have in common?
Project objectives are made clear by the customer (internal or external) while the final deliverable can change as the project progresses. The project team works in iterative cycles, always evaluating results at the end. Depending on the results of these evaluations, the final deliverable may be modified in order to better answer the customer’s needs. Continuous collaboration is key, both within the project team members and with project stakeholders.
Scrum is the most popular agile development framework because it is relatively simple to implement. It also solves a lot of problems software developers struggled with in the past, such as convoluted development cycles, inflexible project plans, and shifting production schedules.
In scrum, a small team is led by a scrum master whose main job is to clear away all obstacles to work getting done more efficiently. The team works in short cycles of 2 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.
Kanban is another framework for implementing agile but 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 is well-suited to work that requires steady output. Project teams create visual representations of their tasks, often using sticky notes and whiteboards (or virtual versions that can be used online), and move the notes, or tasks, through predetermined stages to see progress as it happens and identify where roadblocks occur.
Extreme Programming (XP)
Extreme programming is another offshoot of agile and is a methodology designed to improve the quality (and simplicity) of software and the ability of a development team to adapt to customers’ needs. Much like the original agile formula, XP is characterized by short work sprints, frequent iterations, and constant collaboration with stakeholders. Change can happen within a sprint. If work hasn’t started on a certain feature, it can be swapped out and replaced by a similar task.
Adaptive Project Framework (APF)
Adaptive project framework grew from the view that most IT projects can’t be managed using traditional project management methods, due to uncertain and changing requirements.
Thus APF begins with a requirements breakdown structure (RBS) to define strategic project goals based on product requirements, functions, sub-functions, and features. The project proceeds in iterative stages, and at the end of each stage, teams evaluate previous results in order to improve performance and practices. Stakeholders can also change the project’s scope at the start of each stage in order for the team to produce the most business value.
C. The Change Management Methodologies
There are also methodologies that deal with managing projects, but with an extra focus on change management — especially planning for risks and taking control of change when it happens. Notable methods include:
Event Chain Methodology (ECM)
The underlying idea behind event chain methodology is there are potential risks often lying 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.
Extreme Project Management (XPM)
Extreme project management (XPM) is the opposite of waterfall. It offers you a way to manage massive change and still move forward to project completion. In XPM, you can alter the project plan, budget, and even the final deliverable to fit changing needs, no matter where the project is. It’s a good option when managing projects that have a short timeline of anywhere from a few weeks to mere days.
D. The Process-Based Methodologies
Next, there are the project management methods that practically veer into the areas of business process management (BPM) where each method focuses on work as a collection of processes. While project management purists may argue that these methods belong on a different list, we think these are still quite valid ways to plan for and execute a project plan.
Lean is a methodology 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. The goal is to do more with less — to deliver value to the customer using less manpower, less money, and less time.
Six sigma is a statistics-based methodology seeking to improve the quality of a process by measuring the defects or bugs present and eliminating as many 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.
Combining the minimalist approach of lean (“no waste!”) and the quality improvement of six sigma (“zero defects!”), lean six-sigma focuses on eliminating waste so that projects are more efficient and cost effective, and truly answer customers’ needs.
Process-Based Project Management
Process-based project management is a methodology aligning all project objectives with a company’s larger mission and corporate values. Thus all project goals and tasks remain strategic, and must roll up to the larger corporate objectives. The actual steps involved include: defining the process, establishing metrics, measuring processes, and adjusting objectives when these prove unstable, planning improvements and then implementing them.
E. Other Methodologies
PRINCE2 stands for projects In controlled environments. It’s a method for managing projects used by the UK government and characterized by a product-based planning approach. In PRINCE2, high-level activities such as setting the business justification and resource allocation are owned by a structured project board while a project manager takes care of the lower level, day-to-day activities such as scheduling. This methodology gives teams greater control of resources and the ability to mitigate risk effectively.
PRiSM stands for projects integrating sustainable methods and is a project management methodology aimed at managing change while incorporating environmental sustainability into its processes. The goal with PRiSM is to complete projects while reducing a company’s negative environmental and social impact. It is, quite literally, green project management.
From conception to execution to delivery and beyond, the benefits realization methodology focuses on whether your deliverable satisfies the benefits the customer is expecting to get from it, not just whether or not a product was delivered on time or within budget. This methodology ensures that you deliver real value to customers and stakeholders.
F. The PMBOK “Method”
While it may be debatable whether this is a true project management methodology, you will find organizations that say they use the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) method for managing projects.
What this simply means is they break down their projects into the five process groups agreed upon by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and documented in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). The five stages include:
They are similar to the project life cycle we outlined in the previous section. Although it is not technically an official methodology, it is widely embraced by the project management community.
What’s Inside the PMBOK Guide
The PMBOK collects set processes, best practices, terminologies, and guidelines that are accepted as standards within the project management industry. The PMBOK is documented within the book, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), which is compiled and overseen by the Project Management Institute (PMI).
The PMBOK Guide provides project managers with guidelines and best practices, and defines everything from the project lifecycle to project management strategies and concepts. The PMBOK Guide goes into detail on the various project management processes that interact and overlap throughout a project’s lifecycle.
The 10 Project Management Knowledge Areas of PMBOK
PMBOK officially recognizes 47 typical project management processes, which can be organized into 10 knowledge areas:
- Project Communication Management: Processes that disseminate information among team members and external stakeholders, ensuring that information is exchanged continuously, and more importantly, understood by all concerned.
- Project Cost Management: Processes regarding budgets, funding, spending allocation, and timing. Cost management is dependent on activity estimates from time management.
- Project Human Resources Management: Processes involving managing your project team, like sourcing, hiring, assigning roles, professional development, and fostering team spirit.
- Project Integration Management: Processes necessary to define, consolidate, and coordinate all the other processes and project management activities. These processes are key to setting expectations and keeping communication lines open.
- Project Procurement Management: Processes for planning, budgeting, and purchasing resources — whether physical or informational — in order to complete work.
- Project Quality Management: Processes that define the success of a project or criteria for considering the project complete. Quality is managed at every stage of the project from planning to the continuous performance improvement.
- Project Risk Management: Processes involved with preparing for and managing unexpected risks.
- Project Scope Management: Processes managing the scope or parameters of a project. These processes ensure that the scope is well-defined and that all requirements remain within the scope limits.
- Project Stakeholder Management: Processes involved with identifying who will be impacted by the project and managing relationships with them, including strategies for collaborating with stakeholders on project direction and execution.
- Project Time Management: Processes needed to ensure the project is completed before the specified deadline.
Choose the Right Project Management Methodology
With so many different options available, how do you choose the right methodology for your project and your team? You should pick your methodology based on the needs of your project and your team. Two tips are relevant here:
A. Start With the End in Mind
Take a look at your requirements, your project goals and objectives. What does your final deliverable need to look like? What benefits should it provide? Some examples:
- If it’s a physical object, such as a building or a household product, with very definite materials and clear stakeholder expectations, it may benefit from a sequential methodology such as waterfall or critical path.
- If it’s a software product or an app that is not set in stone yet, a flexible agile methodology may be just what the project needs.
- Is environmental sustainability a core value of the organization and essential to the delivery of your product? Then look at PRiSM.
- Is rapid development of a minimum viable product the most important thing? Then look at one of the process-based methodologies such as lean or lean six-sigma.
B. Assess What’s Already Working
But don’t forget to look at the work processes you already have in place that have proved successful for your team in the past. What kind of work environment does the team excel in?
- If they thrive on collaboration, incorporating new ideas as they work, and even last-minute pivots due to changing needs, then consider methodologies such as scrum, kanban, XP, or APF.
- Or do they prefer an orderly, structured plan that accomplishes tasks sequentially? Then look at methodologies such as waterfall, critical path, and critical chain project management.
Now that you’ve been introduced to the various methodologies, the next step is to better understand each phase of the project lifecycle, so you can start planning your project from start to finish.
In the next section, we outline everything you need to know about the project lifecycle.