7 Most Popular Project Management Methodologies

Project Management Methodologies

As a project manager, one of the first things you need to do when starting to work with new clients is choose the most effective and appropriate way of collaborating with them. And, believe it or not, it's this decision that will ultimately determine the future of your workflow, client communication, and work efficiency. 

However, given the myriad of different methodologies out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed, which is why it’s useful to get a clear idea of the most commonly used models first, which approach it's best to focus on and why. 

It's important to remember that each project management methodology offers different steps and strategies that can nurture the successful delivery of a project. And a carefully chosen methodology can produce the right guidelines for team collaboration, goals on deliverables, instructions on test processes, and an effective governance structure, clean oversight, and many other advantages.

In the guide that follows, you’ll find a breakdown of the most widely used project management methodologies. We'll talk about their core functions in detail, compare their elements, and offer practical examples of their use, so that way, you’ll be able to evaluate them and formulate the right approach.

Types of Project Management Methodologies

As with any business model or approach, project management methodologies have a range of advantages as well as drawbacks. Some will have speed as their top priority, while others will focus more on comprehensiveness or collaboration. 

Seeing that most project managers consider methodologies like Kanban, Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, and Waterfall to be the blueprint of project development, and others regard them as the starting point of project management, we'll focus on these five in this guide, plus we'll analyze Scrum and PRINCE2, as well. 

Before we go straight to the first methodology on our list, we want to remind you that the one that you will ultimately choose depends on your team and client. In other words, a forced methodology without a practical approach can lead to failure, and you as a project manager need to pay attention to all the nuances and adapt them to the project at hand.

Without further ado, let's dive right in.

1. Waterfall

The Waterfall model is perhaps the oldest one out there, with Winston W. Royce having introduced it back in 1970. He devised it as a type of response to the rapid advancement of the software industry. This model is among the more traditional and quite possibly the most common ones, and it follows a sequential approach that mirrors the direction and flow of a waterfall. It’s likely the simplest methodology to grasp and an optimal starting point for research.

While the Waterfall has been the backbone of IT project management for many decades, multiple other industries such as manufacturing or construction use it, as well.

As mentioned, the model is sequential, i.e. it splits the entirety of a project into separate phases or tasks. At first, a manager or team will have to collect the project requirements, form approaches and solutions, and outline their implementation. 

Stages 

The stages in the Waterfall model are independent, but the progress depends on the completion of each phase. For a software development project, the phases would look as such: 

Waterfall Methodology

Simply put, the Waterfall requires you to create a list of objectives and bring it to completion. That is why it’s a well-suited method for industries with products that call for precise and detailed instructions. 

Strengths and Weaknesses

In addition to being straightforward, Waterfall's main benefit is that almost any plan can be streamlined and reused from past projects with few adjustments. Furthermore, its linear nature ensures that you meet all requirements from the get-go. While using the Waterfall methodology, it’s possible to save time as well as effort that stems from problem-solving at a later stage. 

Moreover, this methodology relies heavily on documentation and records during development. That way, the method also sets out to facilitate employee retention issues. For example, in case of an old employee’s departure, a new one can continue working instantly without any difficulties thanks to the provided documentation. Another advantage of the method is increased oversight and control at every stage. 

But, once the phases are set, the methodology requires them to remain static. Thus, the method appears obstinate and limiting. If the range and scope of the project were to change, the plan would not be able to adapt to it. 

Some critics have claimed that the decreased level of flexibility and creativity makes this model obsolete, judging by modern standards. Another disadvantage lies in the fact that the method does not rely on customer feedback, which one can use to improve products during development. 

Who Should Use It and Why? 

Regardless of its weaknesses, the main advantages of the Waterfall methodology are its planning capabilities. They are adaptable to any development process that requires complex tasks and high volume (e.g., computer manufacturing, constructing buildings, etc.). It will also be reusable in future projects. 

This methodology is highly suitable for enterprise-level projects with strict deadlines. It can even assist those that have been repeated many times with a low risk of errors and surprises. 

2. Agile

The Agile methodology is a means of bypassing the weaknesses of the Waterfall in the management of complex projects. While some Agile concepts have been in use for a long time, the methodology was officially introduced in 2001’s “Agile Manifesto”. The publication, written by leading software development experts, called for an alternative that would counter the heavyweight, documentation-oriented processes in the industry. 

Initially, the methodology was devised with iterative development in mind. It focuses on complex projects with a necessity for speed and adaptability. Agile project management is based on short-cycle delivery or “sprints,” as well as a high degree of interactivity and collaboration. 

Agile Values

The approach revolves around four core values

  1. Interactions and individuals out-value tools and processes.
  2. Functional and working software triumphs over comprehensive or extensive documentation.
  3. Customer collaboration out-values contract negotiation.
  4. Intense planning is discarded in lieu of responding and adapting to change.

Agile Methodology

The reason why Agile broke new ground in project management lies within its revolutionary ideology. Agile-driven projects have managed to set a milestone in terms of adaptiveness, customer collaboration, and value delivery. However, it’s worth noting that many experts classify the approach as a framework while still labeling it as the “Agile Methodology.” 

Some Agile frameworks and subsets include Scrum, Adaptive Project Framework (APF), and Extreme Programming. They share a common thread — as the objective outlining comes at the beginning, the product, solution, or deliverable can evolve.

Key Principles and Deliverables

The Agile Manifesto also outlines twelve fundamental principles:

  1. Ongoing or early software delivery generates customer satisfaction. 
  2. Development should welcome changing requirements.
  3. Functional software should be delivered frequently.
  4. A strong emphasis on the stakeholder-developer connection.
  5. Trust, support, and motivation for anyone involved. 
  6. Face-to-face collaborations.
  7. The principal measure of progress is a working software.
  8. Sustainable development is supported by agile processes. 
  9. Design and detail-oriented solutions boost agility. 
  10. Simplicity.
  11. Quality software architectures and designs are encouraged by self-organizing teams.
  12. Consistent reflections on results and effectiveness. 

Levels of Planning

In addition to the principles above, Agile utilizes six stages of development: 

  1. Vision Statement
  2. Roadmap
  3. Release Plan 
  4. Backlog
  5. Sprint Backlog
  6. Increment

Strengths and Weaknesses

Compared to Waterfall, the Agile methodology offers higher flexibility. Yet, its implementation will vary greatly depending on the needs of the project. The main upside of the framework is that it allows for collaboration, modification, and revaluation during development. That is why it is highly popular in the IT world. The approach supports continuous improvement while allowing room for experimentation. Thus, it works incredibly well for projects that require a high level of innovation and creativity. 

Interestingly enough, while some critics may have claimed that its ideology was too unpredictable to generate effective implementation in the past, Agile methods can lower the risk during development. In 2018, a PWC study revealed that 28% of projects relying on Agile were more successful compared to those using traditional approaches like the Waterfall. Its other advantages include a fast turnaround, constant feedback, and increased productivity.

Conversely, some of the downsides are a lack of fixed plans and estimates, financial management difficulties, and scheduling setbacks. And while some favor interactivity, others may not have the time to commit to constant collaboration. Moreover, this methodology doesn’t rely on predictability, which means costs, effort, and time will not be as simple to quantify if using other approaches like the Waterfall. 

Who Should Use It and Why? 

Agile’s flexibility ensures that you can implement the methodology into various projects, industries, and products. It is incredibly well-suited for projects with significant levels of uncertainty and collaboration. Despite its prominence in software development, other industries are adopting it. 

The frameworks are prevalent in marketing, product development and manufacturing, construction, finance-related fields, event planning, as well as the automotive industry. All in all, Agile can facilitate rapid manufacturing with increased collaboration, and it is highly attentive to the growing demand and market evolution. 

3. Scrum

Many consider Scrum to be the simplest and most-widely used Agile-related framework. It is mainly based around sprints that last from two weeks and even up to thirty days. This approach serves to prioritize tasks while putting the emphasis on the team. During the sprints, team members will hold 15-minute meetings to re-examine their deliverables. Here’s how the sprints work: 

  • The team uses a board to track a list of tasks. 
  • The tasks are separated into several lists. 
  • Individuals can receive tasks from the board and begin working.
  • Each finished task gets inspected for quality. 
  • After inspection, the task is marked DoD (Definition of Done) by the Product Owner.  

The goal here is to avoid overworking and exhaustion. The Scrum methodology aims to stimulate flexibility, creativity, and offer high-quality results.

In contrast to a project manager, this approach employs a "scrum master". The role sets out to eliminate any obstacle and thus increase productivity for the self-managing team. Scrum borrows many processes and principles from Agile, but it utilizes a special set of tactics and values. 

Here are five core Scrum values that focus on the individual and the team:

  1. Commitment
  2. Courage
  3. Focus
  4. Openness
  5. Respect 

Scrum Methodology

With these principles, the Scrum methodology sets out to promote collaboration, successful delivery, and sustainability of complex products. And just like other Agile approaches, it encourages iterative development. However, this model utilizes a set of special rules.

Roles, Artifacts, and Events 

A successful Scrum implementation relies on the combination of the following components: 

  1. Roles — Product Owner, Development Team, Scrum Master
  2. Events — Sprint, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Review, Retrospective
  3. Artifacts — Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog

Strengths and Weaknesses

Scrum’s sprint-focused workflow facilitates communication and management. During the designated sprint period, a team can dissect its goals step by step. The approach focuses on actionable tasks, fast collaboration, and effective coordination. It is one of the lightest methodologies with a clear definition of responsibilities and roles. 

The approach relies on continuous improvement and optimization. However, the flexibility it provides is also a major limitation. For instance, a self-managing Scrum team may not be able to complete the requirements of organizations and industries that require a fixed scope, set budgets, strict timelines, along with other heavy constraints. That is why the methodology often works better with a hybrid method. Many organizations and agencies use the self-managing and evaluative techniques provided by Scrum in combination with other approaches. 

Who Should Use It and Why? 

In theory, Scrum would be useful to smaller teams (ten people or less) that require high levels of flexibility. 

The approach is best for industries with high uncertainty levels, changing environments, and those that require entirely new products or solutions each time. Some examples where Scrum can be useful outside of software development are marketing, law, strategy implementation, and product design. However, industries that rely on repetition and predictability would need to utilize another method.

4. Lean

The roots of the Lean methodology date back to the 1950s when some of its principles were applied in Toyota manufacturing. This approach left a substantial impact on physical goods production, and after that, it was implemented into knowledge work. Lean was used by organizations to reduce work waste, i.e., irrelevant processes or activities, and many say that it focuses on the less-is-more approach. 

In essence, the Lean methodology attempts to maximize value through improvement and eliminate extraneous skills or processes. By eradicating dysfunctional processes with no future value, Lean can be used to optimize the workflow. Also, by discarding unnecessary waste and irrelevant processes, Lean sets out to add more value while using fewer resources. 

The Three Ms

Much like Agile, this approach revolves around principles and values as opposed to a fixed methodology and strict processes. 

Lean’s principles address the three main forms of waste, or, the three Ms

  1. Muda — Lean defines seven different kinds of Mudas that can be eradicated. Some include product transport, employee or machine movement, overprocessing, and overproduction.
  2. Mura — This principle sets out to optimize workflow by reducing variations and eliminating the overhead.
  3. Muri — Muri relates to the removal of overworking, stress, and employee overload. It can be a result of inadequate organization, instruction, or improper tools. 

In software development or other digital industries, the three Ms could reduce waste by getting rid of superfluous revisions, balancing timeframes for each department, streamlining the approval process, taking on fewer projects, etc. 

Principles

The Lean methodology revolves around five core principles — Value, Value Stream, Flow, Pull, and Perfection.

Lean Methodology

For example, a project would begin with the definition of its customer value. Then the value stream is mapped out from start to finish. Here, each step of the value stream undergoes analysis for waste identification and reduction. After that, the project should flow smoothly, without any setbacks.

The pull principle is unlike traditional approaches: the team never pushes ahead and only acts if the customer asks for it. The perfection principle further emphasizes the importance of improvement and waste elimination. 

Strengths and Weaknesses

Lean’s doctrine for eliminating unnecessary processes can lead to reduced costs and higher profits. 

The Lean methodology focuses on customers. Thus, a project could use this approach to increase interactions. The method also reduces overproduction and workplace overload, which could lead to higher quality. Also, the approach emphasizes planning and collaboration.

On the other hand, this approach could potentially harm a project due to oversimplification. The method also requires a thorough transformation of work processes. It may not suit all those involved. Companies that have never used this approach or are experiencing significant changes should avoid it. One way to jump over these pitfalls is to decide which Lean principles to use.

Who Should Use It and Why?  

This approach could be ideal for optimizing large, long-term projects that have consistent results with carefully calculated deadlines and low risk of surprises. Its concepts are rather versatile, meaning that the methodology is applicable in various fields, including healthcare, the food industry, manufacturing, and others. 

5. Kanban

The Kanban methodology is a framework based on multiple Agile and Lean principles, along with additional values of Scrum. 

The key difference to Kanban lies within its strong emphasis on visualization during the development process. 

The term hails from the 1940s and refers to a “signal card.” At first, Kanban cards were used by Toyota to reorganize resources and maximize efficiency. Nowadays, Kanban uses virtual visualization methods through management systems and other project management tools

Visual Cues

The Kanban methodology aims to visualize the workflow to identify bottlenecks and improve performance. Progress is mapped out visually through various cues: 

  1. Kanban Board — The board (digital or physical) depicts the stages of development or management. 
  2. Cards — Kanban cards are issued for each task or item. They can track progress and collaboration while offering data (deadline management, status, etc.).
  3. Swimlanes — The swimlanes represent a special form of tracking and categorizing tasks. Usually, they have a horizontal layout and flow. 

Kanban Methodology

Aside from visualization, Kanban also follows other principles such as flow management, feedback loops, collaborative improvement, etc. Aside from those principles, Kanban does not have a fixed set of rules and stages or prescribed roles.

Strengths and Weaknesses

This methodology promotes visual engagement. It can eliminate the hassles related to workload management and prioritization. The method results in increased productivity as it enables executives to monitor the workload more efficiently. 

Moreover, the methodology and its tools are simple to grasp. It also reduces work in progress levels and leads to an optimized and faster workflow. Teams using Kanban can also adapt to change much quicker. As for the cons, a team could have trouble navigating and maintaining the Kanban board and other tools. With poor handling, the visualization cues may lead to over-complication and a messy workflow. 

Who Should Use It and Why? 

Teams and projects that provide a steady output or work on quick deadlines could use Kanban to improve performance. Aside from IT, the method could benefit any business or agency that relies heavily on the completion of various tasks. It can be used to monitor and measure technical work, deadlines, urgent tasks, as well as repetitive work (i.e., meetings, reports, etc.). 

6. PRINCE2

The PRINCE2 methodology is often mistaken for PMI’s PMBOK framework (Project Management Body of Knowledge) that offers guidelines on the traditional Waterfall methodology. 

While the PMBOK is not regarded as an official methodology, PRINCE2 is a standalone method. It was actually created as a standard to be used by the IS systems of the UK government. 

It’s a full-stack, process-determined methodology based on the Waterfall. The PRINCE2 methodology divides a project into individual phases, but the inputs and outputs for each are carefully defined. Each stage has its own detailed plan, and the methodology attempts to eliminate any uncertainty. This approach lays out the deliveries, responsibilities, and roles in detail.

Processes

In most cases, a board in charge of progress and success owns a PRINCE2 project. The initial step is to identify the need and the target audience while estimating costs. 

The methodology contains seven processes divided into 45 sub-processes. The phases are exceptionally thorough and focus on all aspects of a project.

Prince2 Methodology

 

Strengths and Weaknesses

The detailed approach of PRINCE2 gives teams and executives more control over resources, performance, staff, cost assessments, and risk mitigation. What’s more, the methodology offers well-defined roles and facilitates management. It’s possible to adapt the methodology to various projects. This methodology can benefit various private-sector companies and projects.

However, it is not as flexible as some of the newer approaches outlined in this list. PRINCE2 shares some of its disadvantages with the Waterfall. For instance, technological progress can hinder its reliance on documentation.

Who Should Use It and Why? 

The PRINCE2 methodology is ideal for large-scale or enterprise-level ventures. It provides a straightforward and defined organization and eliminates possible project failures with careful planning. 

In theory, the methodology could work with any project or company. Like the Waterfall method, it has a rigid structure. Yet, it is much more thorough due to its eight main processes. PRINCE2 also contains parables to the highly detailed PMBOK framework. Unfortunately, it may not be suitable for smaller projects or agencies working in evolving technological environments. Such projects may require higher degrees of flexibility and introspection. 

7. Six Sigma

The last management methodology we’ll cover emerged as a result of Motorola’s efforts to reduce product defects in the mid-1980s. The main idea behind it was the enhancement of quality with careful reduction of errors. Initially, the company wanted its services and products to mirror its primary specifications for the entirety of the design and manufacturing processes. Thus, many experts argue that this method is closer to quality control rather than a fully-fledged management methodology. 

Nevertheless, many of its strategies can be integrated into project management. The Six Sigma methodology is primarily data-driven. It requires empirical analysis, statistics, and engineering experience. 

Key Components 

Six Sigma operates based on three core components, including DMAIC, DMADV, and DFFSS:

  • DMAIC — Definition, Measurement, Analysis, Improvement, and Control.
  • DMADV — Definition, Measurement, Analysis, Design, and Verification.
  • DFFSS —  Design for Six Sigma is a combination of the two previous components. It can also include additions like IDOV, i.e., Identification, Design, Optimization, and Verification. 

Six Sigma Methodology

In management, the interconnected stages of DMAIC begin with the definition of customer needs and the project scope. Then, the project moves forward to performance measurement, thorough problem analysis, and system or product improvement. Lastly, the approach ends with an evaluation and a conclusion on how to gain better control in future processes. It is possible to execute this method without following other Six Sigma strategies. 

Strengths and Weaknesses

Six Sigma’s heavy reliance on data allows for easier design stabilization and improvement concerning products or systems. Its proactive strategies like DMAIC can systematically reduce or remove errors and inconsistencies through a detailed process.

The use of this approach can achieve higher product consistency and a broader understanding of customers, satisfaction levels, competitive pricing, and improved waste or non-value activity reduction. Additionally, many are on the lookout for Six Sigma certifications.

Yet, the all-encompassing strategies of the method may also be its drawback. For instance, bureaucracy could interfere with deadlines, and delays could be detrimental to performance. Plus, it may be difficult to uphold internal quality evaluation measures in favor of high customer satisfaction. 

Who Should Use It and Why? 

The Six Sigma methodology is optimal for enterprise-level projects and large organizations. Leading companies such as Boeing, Toshiba, and General Electric are some examples that use this methodology. With this data-focused approach, large companies can enhance their quality as well as efficiency. Sadly, smaller ventures may not be able to benefit from it.

The DMAIC process could prove to be too costly as it requires training and a pricey certification. Moreover, small projects that need creativity and speed could suffer from the data-driven method.

Additional Methodologies

The list of methodologies other than the widely-used approaches this article has analyzed is rather exhaustive. Other important methodologies to take note of include Adaptive Framework, PRiSM, Critical Path Method, Critical Chain Project Management, Crystal, PERT, Rational Unified Process, Extreme Programming, Rapid Applications Development, Outcome Mapping, and many more.

As mentioned, a lot of methodologies are based on Agile or Lean frameworks, whereas some projects tend to favor hybrid approaches. Some may contain their own strategies, components, and values that do not relate to other methodologies.

Choosing the Right Blueprint

The methodology that is best suited for your project can offer you an effective guide towards successful performance, one step at a time. However, as mentioned previously, a methodology can only be effective if it is suitable for the project. So how can you find the best-suited approach?

Focus on the Outcome

In most cases, to find the perfect methodology, it could be useful to consider the final deliverable. The outcomes and benefits you plan to achieve can bring you closer to selecting the right approach.

Evaluate Your Team

It is also crucial to inspect the processes that have already been implemented and assess the strengths of your team as well as its weaknesses. Determining whether your team relies on collaboration as its creative life-line or a rigid structure can also assist you in finding the optimal model. 

Consider the Entire Project

After assessing your team and the project goals, it’s worth it to analyze project constraints, its timeline, the required tools, and all the individuals involved. However, keep in mind that even if a certain methodology appears to be the correct solution, it may not always work and might need further adjustments. 

What’s more, it is essential to complete further research and keep up with the ever-changing landscape of project management and its methodologies. 

Final Thoughts 

Project management methodologies are indispensable tools that will assist you in delivering successful projects of great value. And while each approach offers many benefits, it’s worth noting that not all projects are suited for a particular methodology.

The efficiency of the method will vary depending on the industry and the project at hand. In turn, their strengths and advantages work best when you apply them correctly following the project type and its requirements. That includes the team type, project scope, goals on deliverables, as well as the available project management. 

It's no secret that project management often faces variables that are outside of its grasp. That means it’s essential to choose an ideal methodology that can complement and improve the project. But in today’s climate of ever-changing and growing demands, it may be clever to focus on a pragmatic approach to management methodologies. 

Ultimately, there is much to learn from researching and implementing various methodologies — they are among the most valuable tools in project management. 

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