The top 8 project management methodologies and how to pick the right one for you

Every project is unique and different. No two teams or projects are the same. Just as so, there’s no single ‘silver bullet’ project management approach that can solve all your problems. But rather than having to reinvent a new process every time you launch a new project, why not tap into some of the most tried and tested project management methodologies that are out there?

The problem is – there’s thousands of project management methodologies out there! How do you pick the right one for you and your team? To make it easy for you, we’ve put together a clear guide of the top 8 project management methodologies that helps you understand their pros, cons and whether they are suited for you!

What is a project management methodology?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a methodology as ‘ a system of practices, techniques, procedures, and rules used by those who work in a discipline’. A project management methodology is a foundational framework built on sets of guidelines and procedures that aim to optimise your project activities and performance. 

There are many different types of project management methodologies, many of which arise from specific needs and contexts of an industry, team or project. In the early days of production lines, waterfall sequential frameworks were the dominant methodology. As we move into a more digital society, iterative frameworks are increasingly favoured over the traditional sequential model to keep up with the fast-paced and constantly updating economic landscape. 

As needs and processes change, project management methodologies will also change and grow to accommodate these changes. Even with thousands already in existence, many more new methodologies are expected to rise in the coming years.

What are the benefits of using a project management methodology?

There are many benefits to using a project management methodology. Organisations who adopt project management methodologies can:

  • Secure repeatable, consistent and sustainable practices that achieve recurring success.
  • Reduce the impact of risk and unknowns through proper procedures that can quickly and efficiently address the issues.
  • Gain better metrics to better compare and benchmark success in projects.
  • Have clearer processes for continual growth and improvement in future processes, procedures and practices.
  • Easily manage data, knowledge and documents in a clear, easily-accessible and practical manner that works for the team.

How do you use a project management methodology?

As we always say, there is no ‘one size fits all’ way of doing projects and the needs of every project is unique. So even with all these strong and detailed methodologies, it does not mean that you have to follow each precept to the T. 

If there happens to be a methodology that perfectly suits your team – Amazing! But don’t freak out if it doesn’t because it’s more likely to happen than not. Most organisations are using a mashup of methodologies to find the best process that suits their organisation. Actually, research shows that 89% of project professionals utilize a hybrid mix of project management practices.

So what’s the point of knowing popular methodologies if all of them are mashups anyway? The main benefit of knowing the top methodologies is so you can understand the processes that are available to then adapt, evolve and improve upon to suit your unique context and need. Who knows – you may end up making the next dominant project management methodology that takes over the project management world!

Remember, there’s no distinct ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ to project management methodologies, it’s only a matter of which methodology best suits your needs!

What is the project management methodology spectrum?

Though there are thousands of project management methodologies out there, the most popular methodologies often come in two distinct camps: traditional methodologies vs iterative methodologies.

This long running debate, typically dubbed the Waterfall vs Agile debate, has often divided project management communities into these two camps and many methodologies fall on a spectrum between these two points. We prefer to call it traditional and iterative methodologies as Waterfall and Agile are simply two kinds of methodologies that run on more fundamental positions. You can read in more depth about this debate here, but we’ve put together a quick summary down below.

Traditional Project Management Methodologies: Pros and Cons

Traditional methodologies typically run projects in a sequential and linear manner and emphasize the need for upfront information gathering, sequential project gatekeeping, and end of project testing. Some benefits of this methodology is its ability to provide more straightforward planning that simplifies cost, schedule and resource management processes as well as clearly defined project roles, goals and scopes. The cons involve its lack of flexibility to adapt to new factors and limited interaction with clients or customers leading to higher chances of projects missing the mark.

Iterative Project Management Methodologies: Pros and Cons

Iterative project management methodologies often run projects in an incremental and iterative manner, meaning they run in cycles and as a result are fast-paced, flexible and less front-heavy. Some benefits of this methodology involve their high levels of flexibility, team ownership and customer-focused approach. The cons involve their requirement of highly experienced team members, propensity to project scope creep and smaller outputs per project increment.

The Top 8 Project Management Methodologies

Now, there’s tonnes of lists online that will give you hundreds of different ‘top’ methodologies. But often these lists are putting down methodologies that may only be used in very specific contexts. The goal of this list is to gather the most prominent and popular methodologies that are currently used in the field so you can go deeper into the specific approaches within their branches to find the best fit for your team. We’ll go through the general frameworks of each methodologies, their pros, cons and contexts they are best suited for.

Traditional Project Management Methodologies

1. Waterfall

The Waterfall Method is one of the oldest project methodologies, first outlined by Winston W. Royce in 1970 to accommodate for the increasingly complex nature of software development at the time. It grew out of traditional manufacturing and construction industry approaches and follows a linear, sequential project design through which project progress is made in a continual downwards direction – similar to a waterfall. 

Its sequential form means that it is resource-heavy in its early planning stage and plots out the entirety of the project from start to finish without much space for changes other than contingent and accounted for risks. Waterfall emphasizes the importance of completing phases before moving onto the next. The common six phase include:

  • Requirements
  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Testing
  • Deployment
  • Maintenance
Waterfall Advantages
  • Easy to use model: The model is very straightforward, easy to understand and use for team members regardless if they have prior experience or not.
  • Clearly defined structure: The defined stages make it easy to track progress, organise work and divide responsibilities. By going through every stage, it ensures the product is at its highest quality through each stage.
  • Strong documentation: Waterfall methods are dependent on documentation to accurately understand the requirements of the projects. This makes monitoring and managing new resources easier.
Waterfall Limitations
  • Early stage dependency: Waterfall methods are heavily dependent on early stages of research, ideation and analysis. If the scope is not set out properly in the beginning, the lack of flexibility makes it harder to adapt leading to a less successful result.
  • Higher risk: Because of its rigid structure, running into issues could mean having to start the project from scratch all over again. This could lead to higher costs and increases the overall project risk of failure.
  • Less client engagement: due to its late-stage testing and front-heavy processes, client’s and customers often have minimal input into the project. This means that the project may be completed successfully but completely miss the mark for client.
Waterfall methodology is best suited for
  • Large projects that have defined deadlines, requirements and deliverables
  • Projects that require in-depth documentation
  • Projects that need flexible team members and resource sharing 

2. PMBoK

PMBoK, which stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge, is not technically a project management methodology but is rather a collection of processes, best practices and guidelines that have been accepted widely by the project management industry. Its creators, the Project Management Institute (PMI), do not advocate a single methodology, though PMBoK is commonly associated with traditional waterfall methodologies due to its grouping of project processes into sequential steps. These five process groups are:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and Controlling
  • Closing

So though there is no specific way to run a ‘PMBok project’, it is a very reliable source for a foundational framework that you can adapt to your specific needs and industry. 

PMBoK Advantages
  • Comprehensive reference: PMBoK pulls best practices and processes from a wide range of individuals and industries leading to robust and detailed elaborations on their foundational tenets to specific contexts
  • Adaptability: Though typically linked to waterfall, PMBoK methods and practices are also very adaptable for iterative methodologies. This makes this a valuable source of information for organisations wanting to take more hybrid approaches.
PMBoK Limitations
  • Rigid project governance: Their prescribed practices for project governance is tightly centered on using project sponsors and stakeholders, making it a highly descriptive ownership of projects rather than self-managed.
  • View of projects: Projects are mainly perceived as a singular entity with a start and end which does not suit more long-term iterative projects.
PMBoK is most suited for
  • Organisation that want to build their own hybrid and adaptable project management methodologies rooted in more traditional scopes.

3. PRINCE2

Similar to PMBoK, PRINCE2 is essentially the British counterpart to PMI but with a more clearly defined process which is famously used by the UK government. PRINCE2 stands for Projects IN Controlled ENvironments, and follows a ‘full stack’ process-driven take to traditional waterfall methodologies. The approach first divides projects into stages, all with clearly defined inputs and outputs to minimize risks and changes. The run on 7 foundational principles, themes and processes. Their 7 foundational principles include:

  • Continued business justification
  • Learn from experiences
  • Defined roles and responsibilities
  • Manage by stages
  • Manage by exceptions
  • Focus on products
  • Tailor to suit project environment

You can read more into their core tenets here.

PRINCE2 Advantages
  • Extensive documentation: PRINCE2 depends on documentation much more than other typical traditional methodologies which is helpful for gathering and learning from past experiences to reduce risks.
  • Clarity: With all the clearly defined roles, stages and processes paired with its extensive documentation means that information follows through a clear chain of command with less chances of being lost under a deluge of activities.
PRINCE2 Limitations
  • Excessive documentation: For projects that don’t require the stringent amounts of documentation, PRINCE2 approaches can simply become laborious by adding potentially unnecessary steps to the project process. 
  • Lack of flexibility: a common trait of traditional methodologies, projects using PRINCE2 methodologies require a redocumentation of all processes if requirements of the project change.
PRINCE2 is best suited for
  • Projects that are large scale and complex with specified fixed requirements.

Iterative Project Management Methodologies

4. Agile

The current buzzword of project management, Agile methodology was originally made for software development and was a response to the inadequacies of traditional methodologies to accommodate for the increasingly fast-paced and competitive software industry. Agile project management methodologies are based on the 4 key values and 12 principles outlined within the Agile Manifesto

The central focus on Agile methodology is its adaptability achieved through its shorter project cycles, its focus on incremental growth as well as self-ownership and team autonomy to work within their own capabilities. As a result, Agile processes are not as clear-cut and sequential as traditional methodologies, mainly working within the scope of what is achievable within a single project cycle.

Agile Advantages
  • Flexibility and adaptability: This inherent quality of Agile methods give teams the freedom to be more experimental in the ideation process and adapt to changing requirements as they come. 
  • Lower risk: Agile methods emphasize continuous feedback and input from clients and stakeholders meaning that potential risks and issues are addressed earlier on, reducing the overall chance for project failure.
Agile Limitations
  • No fixed plan: The flexible nature of Agile projects means that planning resources and costs for future iterations of projects is much more complicated. This can be particularly hard for large organisations with many projects running at the same time with continually changing resource needs. 
  • Collaboration dependent: With their short and intense cycles, team members have to work very closely with each other to achieve results which is hard if a team is geographically dispersed. Its largely feedback dependent approach also means more collaboration with clients and stakeholders.
Agile is best suited for 
  • Projects that have a high level of complexity and uncertainty that requires flexibility. 
  • Projects that do not have fixed product deliverables, costs and scope, typically those that are long-term.

5. Scrum

Scrum is an extension of the Agile methodology and is arguably an extended framework through which Agile values and principles can be executed. If Agile is your ideal philosophy, Scrum is the methodology that gets you there. The Scrum approach puts the team at the center of all projects, operating through specified roles, events and artifacts that are based on five core values: commitment, courage, focus, openness and respect. Scrum uses its own unique set of terminologies which are all centred on making the team self-organizing and managing. Some Scrum terminology you may have heard of include:

  • Scrum master
  • Sprints
  • Daily Scrum
  • Sprint backlogs
Scrum Advantages
  • Short and focused project cycles: Scrum project cycles, also known as sprints, typically running for a period of 30 days or less, break down projects into smaller pieces and allow for more frequent feedback. The short cycle allows for team members to be much more focused on specific deliverables rather than all aspects of the project, leading to higher quality products.
  • Speed: The flexibility and speed of scrum sprints give teams the adaptability to manage changes and issues as they come.
  • Team-centered: the self-managed nature of scrum sprints means that teams have clear visibility of their project needs and can thus set their own priorities based on their own understandings of their capabilities.
Scrum Limitations
  • Higher chance of scope creep: Without any fixed end-date and end goals, Scrum projects are more likely to go over budget and time.
  • Highly dependent on team members: Without a proper project manager, Scrum projects are at the whims of their teams capabilities, discipline and motivation. Without the adequate experience, Scrum projects are more likely to fail.
  • Not completely flexible: Due to its dependency on the team, Scrum projects can easily fall apart if any resources or team members leave. This leads to a lack of flexibility of resources for large projects and organisations that continually share resources.
Scrum is best suited for
  • Large and complex projects run by a small team of skilled members.
  • Projects that require flexibility, adaptability and continuous client feedback.

6. Lean

Lean is all about delivering more with less. Rooted in the Japanese manufacturing industry, it is much less a complete methodology and framework and much more of a set of foundational guideline principles that dictate the project process. Rather than telling you what to do, Lean focuses more on addressing three common dysfunction within projects that create waste known as the 3Ms: Muda, Mura and Muri.

Muda is focused on eliminating waste by removing processes that do not add value to the customer. It identifies seven original wastes as: transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, and defects. For more digital-based projects, these general concepts can be adapted to their more contemporary contexts.

Mura is focused on eliminating variations by removing overhead variances in the workflow process. It ensures all scheduling and operations are leveled out to ensure a smooth flowing project process. 

Muri is focused on eliminating overload but removing unnecessary expectations and working within productive capacities to optimise resources rather than simply maximizing. 

Lean Advantages
  • Streamlining project processes: By identifying spaces of waste, project processes become more efficient letting projects run on-budget and on time.
  • Improve team satisfaction: Due to its unique focus on work overloads, Lean approaches collaborate closely with team members leading to increased sense of ownership to the project and its results.
Lean limitations
  • New inefficiencies: Lean techniques have their limits. Certain processes can only be streamlined so far before they become overused and once they reach that level, efficiencies have to be addressed across the entirety of the organisation which can be time consuming and complicated.
  • Low margin for error and change: When processes are all dependent on efficiency, it often makes it hard to accommodate sudden changes and errors as it assumes everything will run at optimum levels continuously.
Lean is best suited for
  • Organisation that want to optimise their project processes and unify value streams across the entire organisation.

7. Kanban

The Kanban methodology was developed by Toyota in the 1950s by adapting supermarket inventory control logics. It applies a mixture of Lean principles with a less prescriptive form of Scrum processes. It emphasizes on flexibility, collaboration and self-managing teams but does not have prescribed roles, rather focusing on simply improving outputs by getting teams to easily prioritise the most important parts of the project. The main way they do this is through visualizing workflows clearly to reduce bottlenecks, wastages and inefficiencies. Kanban methods operate on six general practices:

  • Visualization
  • Limiting work in progress
  • Flow management
  • Making policies explicit
  • Using feedback loops
  • Collaborative or experimental evolution
Kanban Advantages
  • Easy to use: Kanban’s high visual form makes it easy to use even if without much experience with iterative methodologies and practices.
  • Flexibility: Like most iterative methodologies, Kanban projects can easily be adapted and changed in real-time without much documentation barriers
  • Facilitates collaboration: With its open collaboration model, Kanban makes it easy for teams to plan and work together to complete tasks rather than simply allocating specific roles and responsibilities.
Kanban Limitations
  • Lack of focus: Due to the lack of defined roles and responsibilities, team members can easily lose focus on the most important tasks and objectives
  • Can quickly become complex: Its highly visual format can run into limitations once projects get too complex and can eventually lead to confusion rather than clarity
  • Can run over schedule: The lack of timing parameters is one of the biggest limitations on Kanban board and methods.
Kanban is best suited for
  • Project with clearer objectives and smaller team but need flexibility and adaptability in project delivery process.

8. Hybrid methodology

As the name would suggest, Hybrid methodologies are a combination of traditional and iterative methodologies. Rather than a specific methodology, hybrids are very much the mashup of methodologies that have the central goal of applying approaches that achieve the best results for the specific context, client and project. The idea is to get the best of both worlds, letting projects have the flexibility to adapt to changes but also the structure to imbue some confidence and security in the project’s success. 

Due to its highly adaptable nature, there is no one way to build a hybrid methodology. However, an increasingly common hybrid methodology is Wagile. A play on the words waterfall and agile, Wagile is exactly that – a blend of the two polar opposite methodologies into one. The core Wagile philosophy is to:

  • Move fast
  • Practice discipline
  • Understand risks
  • Engage customers
  • Provide autonomy
Hybrid Advantages
  • Improved flexibility: Though hybrid methodologies often pull on more traditional methodologies during the planning stage, they are often structured to give more freedom during the project implementation stage and can make incremental changes easily and in real-time.
  • Enhanced structures: By pulling from traditional planning processes, hybrids can now have the structures that are critically lacking in purely iterative methodologies.
Hybrid limitations
  • Compromise: Due to their diametrically opposed nature, there will be certain compromises on both flexibility and structure that have to be made. 
  • Continuous administrative intervention: Depending on where you implement the different approaches, if processes are not clear cut from the beginning it can become very complex and taxing to continually deal with team conflicts due to the different approaches.
Hybrid methodologies are best suited for
  • Projects that need a mixture of flexibility and structure.

How to pick the right project management methodology

All the talk above shows us that it is clearer than ever that some methodologies are better suited for specific projects and contexts. An Agile approach may not work well for a large-scale facility development project, nor would a traditional waterfall approach work well for a competitive software project needing constant updates. 

We’ve made a list of the five steps to take when selecting your project management methodology.

Step one: Evaluate the project’s needs

What does this project want to achieve and what is the best way to achieve that? If the goal of your project is to build a new customer software that requires new external talent and flexibility, you need to select a methodology that can accommodate that.

Other things to also consider is the general make-up of the project from how it is budgeted, its size and complexity, timeframe restrictions and the industry context of the project. If you have a fixed and tight budget, iterative methodologies may not be the best match as they have the tendency to run over-budget due to their open-ended timelines and occasional lack of focus.

Step two: Understand your organisation’s context and structures

The structure, culture and context of your organisation can greatly impact how well project management methodologies can be applied and adapted. Some methodologies are better suited for large organisations whilst others would struggle. Understanding your organisation’s past history with different methodologies, their pre-existing culture, hierarchical structures, PPM maturity levels, size and industry will greatly inform what project management methodology is best suited and whether it will be openly received.

Step three: Determine your current teams values, practices and capabilities

Many iterative methodologies are highly dependent on the capabilities of the team itself. If your team does not have much experience in being self-managed, motivated and organized, implementing a Scrum approach might not be the wisest choice. Your methodology is your project blueprint, but if your team can’t read it – you’re not going anywhere!

Step four: Identify your stakeholders needs and expectations

It’s important to understand how much stakeholders will be involved in the project processes and how to accommodate their expectations. If the project is a customer service software, it is important to be continually tracking and gaining feedback on the software experience to be able to quickly launch future improvements. However, projects that don’t require much feedback need not use the Agile methodologies with constant feedback loops.

Involved and valued stakeholders will often lead to higher chances of project success, so make sure you take them into account.

Step five: Assess your tools

Theoretically, project management methodologies are meant to be applicable no matter what tools you use. However, the reality is that many project management tools are catered for specific methodologies. That’s why it is important to assess the tools you use and whether they work with your selected methodology or whether you need to implement a new project management software. To help you out, we’ve made a guide on how to find the best PPM software and tools for your organisation’s needs. Some key things you need to consider when assessing your PPM tools include identifying the key features you need, conducting a cost/benefit analysis of different tools and evaluating their return on investment. 

Any methodology you use, pmo365 is the best PPM service for you

No matter if you’re team iterative or team waterfall, we’ve got your back! Our PPM service is made to cater to your specific needs and requirements. From our intuitive software, all-round support services, our simplified pricing packages and our extensive PPM experience, we’re confident we can bring your organisation’s project management activities to the next level. If you know just how we can revolutionize your project management activities, make sure to book a free trial and speak directly with our PPM experts.

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