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Project Management Methodologies: All the Ways to Go From Zero to Done

Project management as a phenomenon has been present for centuries. The Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Apollo moon landings; these are just a few masterpieces that are a direct product of impeccable project management methodologies.

This resource will explore the essence of project management methodologies, discuss the idiosyncrasies of 12 methodologies, and offer valuable insight for selecting the appropriate methodology. While reading through the brief summary of each methodology, there are links to an expanded article that teach even more about the methodologies. Simply click on the headings!

The 12 most popular project management methodologies

A project management methodology is a system of interrelated activities, procedures, and tasks that define the process of a project from start to finish. The reason why there are so many methodologies is that each individual project has specific requirements. What works for one project may not work for another.

A project management methodology can be divided into three major segments:

  • Initiation: The beginning of the project. This stage is where the idea is born, but no work has started. The idea is then pitched to a manager or project sponsor. Once the idea is approved, a structured baseline is prepared that explains the entire project in detail.
  • Control: This stage is dedicated to managing the project, and doing the work. After a project plan has been developed, the plan is usually presented via Gantt charts in order to identify the stages, tasks, resources, and timeline.
  • Closing: When a project is nearing its closing stages, it is important to determine whether the project has achieved its objectives. This is usually done with a project closure report.

The main difference between project management methodologies is in the way they approach organizing these stages. The 12 methodologies below are broken up into four main categories: ?Traditional, Agile, Change, and Process-based.

Traditional project management methodologies: Waterfall

Traditional project management methodologies are commonly used in projects that need to be run as a sequence. The most popular, the Waterfall method, has been around since 1970:

  • What is the Waterfall method: Waterfall is a linear approach that allows a project to be managed in a straightforward way. The project flows in a direct downward fashion, meaning that no phase can be started until the prior phase has been completed, and each phase completion is terminal. In other words, Waterfall does not allow users to revisit already completed phases, or skip ahead.
  • How it works: The process of Waterfall is divided into six individual parts. It starts with requirements gathering and documentation, system design, implementation, testing, delivery, and maintenance.

  • When to use: If the project has a massive scale and the end result has to be predictable, Waterfall is perfect. If there is a suspicion that during production the project requirements could change, then other methodologies, such as agile, are recommended.

Because of its inability to adjust to change, the Waterfall method is usually recommended for short-term projects with fixed goals. If the requirements of the project are static, the Waterfall method provides a linear way to get things done faster. Ideal project management tools that align with the Waterfall methodology are Wrike and Jira.

Traditional project management methodologies: Critical Path Method

The Critical Path Method (CPM) was invented in the 1950?s with the sole purpose of identifying important tasks and staying on track throughout the whole life cycle of a project. CPM is one of the most frequently used project management methodologies for complex projects:

  • What is CPM: Critical Path Method is the sequence of scheduled activities which determine the duration of the project. It is a step-by-step technique which identifies activities on a critical path. In layman?s terms, a CPM analysis is a graphic representation of what needs to be done in one project.
  • How it works: CPM approach users breaks down the project into multiple tasks and displays them in a chart. After that, the project duration is calculated based on the estimated duration of each separate task.

  • When to use: The Critical Path Method works best for small or medium projects. The bigger the project, the harder it is to accumulate all the data necessary for the diagram.

CPM is mostly popular among companies who want to achieve optimal productivity. The CPM project management methodology allows users to assess the objective time frame of all the major tasks that need to be completed. This way, the team members have a better understanding of their tasks.

Agile project management methodologies: Scrum

Agile project management methodologies approach the project as a process in which a team can manage the project by breaking it up into stages which are constantly collaborated on.

Scrum is a classic agile project management methodology. It is widely adopted in the software industry. Named after a rugby term, scrum is very interactive and uses ?sprints? to determine prioritized tasks:

  • What is Scrum: Scrum is a methodology for managing software delivery. It features a process that prioritizes iterative practices, helping teams deliver products more frequently.
  • How it works: This method relies on sprints. The whole project is led by a ?Scrum Master,? an iterative cycle is repeated until all the tasks are completed, the budget is depleted, or the deadlines arrive.

  • When to use: It is ideal for teams with no more than 10 people. Scrum is predominantly popular in the software development area, but the methodology is applicable to any industry that relies on repetitive tasks.

The idea is to prioritize the most important tasks of the project and divide them into small chunks which will be tackled in repetitive sprints until the job is done. This method works well with smaller teams that need to establish a repetitive working cycle. Asana is a flexible tool that would go along great with an agile project.

Agile project management methodologies: Kanban

The Kanban project management methodology focuses more on the status of individual tasks, rather than the deadlines:

  • What is Kanban: Kanban means ?signal card? in Japanese. It is a visual approach to project management. It helps manage projects by placing tasks on a Kanban board where the workflow and project progress is clear to all team members.
  • How it works: Teams that use Kanban visualize their workflow as cards moving from the left to right across a bulletin board. All tasks are grouped into several categories, starting with to be completed, in progress, and recently completed. By engaging visually with their workflow, managers and team members can always be up to date with the project’s development.

  • When to use: Even though this model was built for industrial purposes, it is highly popular in software development. Almost any project can be planned with Kanban boards by adding visual cards that represent project phases. Trello is a perfect example of a tool that has adopted the Kanban method.

Kanban is very popular for its cost-effectiveness. This methodology eliminates wasted time and resources while keeping everyone on the team well-informed about the progress of the project.

Agile project management methodologies: Extreme Programming

Extreme Programming is a project management methodology that focuses on teamwork and customer satisfaction. XP is another agile methodology that is easily adjustable throughout the whole project, meaning that budget, plans, and project priorities can be changed at any time:

  • What is extreme programming: The XP methodology allows users the ability to improve the quality of the product in order to adapt it to the needs of the customer. Change can happen at any point, and if a task hasn?t yet been started, it can easily be swapped with another one.
  • How it works: Much like the original Agile formula, extreme programming is also based on short work sprints, frequent iterations, and ongoing collaboration with the stakeholders. These short sprints allow users to maintain task structures and aim for an elegant solution.

  • When to use: Based on the characteristics of this methodology, it is recommended to use XP for projects that are only a few weeks long.

The difference between XP and the original Agile methodology is that it doesn?t allow as much flexibility in the process. XP teams adhere to a strict priority order and tackle tasks in a more formal manner.

Agile project management methodologies: Adaptive Project Framework

The Adaptive Project Framework (APF) methodology has a long history, dating back to ancient civilizations. However, its value to the modern world was brought to attention in the early 1900s:

  • What is APF: The Adaptive Project Framework concept has been adopted in the last couple of decades for use in flexible environments. The APF methodology was built on the premise that project management needs to be flexible, due to uncertainty and changing requirements.
  • How it works: The project starts by defining the objectives based on requirements and features. It proceeds in iterative phases. At the end of each phase, the team evaluates their success ratio to enhance performance. Stakeholders can get involved during any phase and change the project?s scope for the team to produce better results.
  • When to use: The Adaptive Project Framework methodology works best in flexible environments where team collaboration is at a high level. It is most suitable for the IT sector.

The APF project management methodology thrives on change. APF adopts a workflow that is driven by deep client involvement, rejecting the structured and linear approach of traditional methodologies, and establishing a more pragmatic Agile role.

Change project management methodologies: PRISM

PRISM is a project management methodology that is based on sustainable development. This methodology aims to enable companies to track and manage their projects whilst integrating environmental sustainability into their processes:

  • What is PRISM: In short, PRISM is an eco-friendly project management methodology. It is a structured, process-based methodology. PRISM provides an elegant solution for integrating sustainable development into project management.
  • How it works: PRISM is focused on five areas of sustainable development (P5), and four project phases (concerned groups, organizational orientation, sustainability orientation, results). All of these elements brought together can lessen the negative ecological impact of any type of project.
  • When to use: PRISM is suited for large-scale real estate development projects or constructions that can have negative environmental effects.

The goal is to reduce the negative ecological and social impact when carrying projects. In order for this method to work, it is essential that the entire team is involved and follows its principles and values.

Change project management methodologies: Event Chain Methodology

Change project management methodologies particularly focus on planning for risks and taking control of change when it occurs. Event Chain Methodology is built on the premise of preparedness for any potential risks that might take place:

  • What is ECM: ECM is a project management methodology that emphasizes identifying and managing events that might alter the project?s course. This method helps create a more accurate completion date, and helps organize scheduling plans.
  • How it works: The main principles which ECM is built on are a moment of risk and state of activity, event chains, Monte Carlo simulations, critical event chains, performance tracking with event chains, and event chains diagrams.

  • When to use: ECM is ideal for projects with great uncertainty throughout their life cycle.

This methodology simplifies risks related to project schedules, and it can be used as a support for other project management techniques.

Change project management methodologies: Extreme Project Management

Extreme Project Management (XPM) is the opposite of Waterfall. It offers ways to make considerable changes while still being able to move on with the project. The extreme process does not run constantly. Instead, it adapts to the project activity during the process:

  • What is XPM: XPM is a methodology that is used in managing complex and uncertain projects. Regardless of what stage the project is in, XPM allows users to change the project plan, budget, and even the end result.
  • How it works: To produce project plans, XPM uses a concept called rapid application planning (RAP). The project manager invites the stakeholders to the RAP meeting where the planning of the project is done.
  • When to use: Because of its flexible and short-duration nature, XPM is recommended for fast-paced projects that are only a couple of weeks long.

XPM requires the entire team to immerse into full collaboration mode in order to be effective. This method utilizes the principles of human interaction and emphasizes the importance of team collaboration.

Process-based project management methodologies: Lean

Process-based project management methodologies approach project management as a collection of processes managed to achieve a certain result. Lean is a process-based methodology that is focused on streamlining and reducing waste. The whole point of this methodology is to improve the processes in order to create the greatest client satisfaction with the least resources:

  • What is Lean: Lean is a systematic project management methodology that is focused on increasing value. Value is any process or action that a customer would be willing to pay for.
  • How it works: The six principles of Lean are – eliminate waste; empowerment, resources, and integrity; decide later, deliver fast; amplify learning; see the whole; and risk management.

  • When to use: Lean is an ideal methodology for manufacturing. However, Lean has also been adopted by construction and education industries, as well as startups and software development companies.

The Lean approach eliminates the parts that don?t add value to the project and prioritizes the ones that do. Basecamp is a PM tool that would go well with a process-based project.

Process-based project management methodologies: Six Sigma

Six Sigma was introduced in the 1980s. This methodology is focused on improving the end result by removing the causes of defects:

  • What is Six Sigma: Six Sigma is a methodology that applies quality management which includes empirical statistics and employs individuals who are experts in these fields. The goal of Six Sigma is to reduce futile utilization of budget, resources, and time.
  • How it works: Six Sigma is always trying to perfect the end result of the project by assessing its stages and processes. This is done by identifying and eliminating the bugs and anomalies which are almost always present in larger organizations. The analysis is usually done by experts in the industry.

  • When to use: Six Sigma works best for larger organizations with complex project processes.

The benefits of Six Sigma come from analytical statistics and evaluating process quality. The goal is to measure the defects and bugs that appear in a project and minimize their impact.

Process-based project management methodologies: PRINCE2

PRINCE2 stands for Projects In Controlled Environments. This methodology was initially created by the UK government for IT projects, but it was later adopted by many countries worldwide:

  • What is PRINCE2: PRINCE2 is the world?s most widely adopted project management methodology, characterized by a product-based planning approach. This methodology gives teams greater control of resources and the ability to reduce potential risks.
  • How it works: The concept of PRINCE2 is based on multiple principles, themes, and processes. Combined, all of these create a repeatable guide to delivering successful projects.

  • When to use: Given its complex nature, PRINCE2 is not suitable for smaller projects. It is, however, used by organizations from wide-ranging industries and sectors.

PRINCE2 is a flexible methodology that allows users to successfully manage projects, regardless of the type and scale.

Choosing the best project management methodology

When choosing a project management methodology, it is vital to take the project goals and objectives into account. It is necessary to imagine what the end result needs to look like and see which project methodology offers the best path toward that end result. Key considerations to take into account include:

  • Organizational objectives and core values
  • The nature of the project itself
  • Stakeholder expectations
  • Internal policies
  • Available project management software and other tools
  • Project size and cost

It is also important to analyze the team members, understand their strengths and weaknesses, match the available resources to the upcoming tasks, and take the budget capabilities into account.

Last, it is essential to research these methodologies and analyze what type of environment the team would excel in. Do they thrive on collaboration, or prefer a more structured plan? The whole point of choosing a project management methodology is to emphasize the strengths of the team and make the most out of their capabilities.


Scott Ellis

Scott is a content manager for PMFoo, a free online resource that quickly matches businesses and individuals to their Project Management software needs. He specializes in project management tips, tools, and tricks . On the rare occasion Scott isn't writing, he's reading comic books, playing video games, or cheering the mighty Blue Jays. No, Scott is not a 12 year old boy. He assures us all he is a grown man.