Project Management Methodologies Every PM Should Know – Forbes Advisor
Editorial Note: Forbes may charge a commission on sales made from partner links on this page, but this does not affect the opinions or ratings of our editors.
While you might think that there are only two or three approaches to project management, the crazy people in the industry have, in fact, come up with dozens of methodologies over the years.
Many of these models arose out of a need for flexibility in software development, but the principles and practices of these methodologies can be applied to a range of fields.
Basic project management methodologies
Two fundamental organizational philosophies guide all project management methodologies: cascade (or linear) and agile (or iterative).
The waterfall model is a traditional linear project management methodology developed in the 1950s. The model typically has five or six independent phases, and each phase builds on the deliverables from the previous phase. You must complete each of them before you can move on to the next.
- Conditions: Create a Product Requirements Document (PRD) that lists what the end product (typically the software) is expected to do.
- Design: Create the software architecture, which describes how the product will meet the requirements.
- Implementation: Developed the software, including coding and system integration.
- Verification: Test the software to discover and fix bugs and defects and identify risks.
- Maintenance: Install the software and make occasional changes to fix flaws, improve performance, and add functionality.
Benefits: The waterfall model includes a clear plan from start to finish, and setting requirements early in the process can save time later. The emphasis on documentation at every stage promotes continuity no matter who is working on the project and at what stages.
Disadvantages: This methodology does not take into account factors which are unknown at the start of the process and which become known later. The linear process leaves no room to iterate when new requirements or constraints are known. This could lead to a less efficient design or a less efficient process if you have to start over.
Best for: Customers who know exactly what they want from a product can define it clearly and know that it won’t change.
Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)
Developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI) as an improvement on the waterfall, this oft-cited framework includes these five phases of project management, which are similar to the phases of the waterfall:
PMBOK is not a methodology per se, but a set of project management principles and skills included in certification through PMI, which is used as the basis for many project management methodologies.
Originally developed by Toyota for automotive manufacturing, Lean Project Management focuses on value creation and waste elimination, which it identifies into three categories by their Japanese name:
- Muda: waste of time, resources or effort that does not add value to the end user
- Mura: overproduction and excess inventory accumulated through irregular workflow
- Matured: overloading employees at any stage of a workflow
Kanban is a lean method of project management that gives visual insight into the process from start to finish, which helps manage the workflow by showing exactly who is working on what and where resources are needed most.
The main component of the Kanban method is the Kanban board, typically a digital project management tool that includes columns for the different stages of a workflow and “cards” for each project moving through the workflow.
Agile project management methodologies developed in response to the rigidity of the waterfall model and were inspired by the speed and flexibility of lean methods. They are intentionally iterative and collaborative, and they focus on creating good products for customers.
Agile in itself is not a methodology but a set of principles that underpin several methodologies stemming from the need for adaptive project management. The core agile principles, as spelled out in the Agile Manifesto written in 2001 by a group of renegade software developers, include:
- Individuals and interactions on processes and tools
- Work software on complete documentation
- Customer collaboration on contract negotiation
- Respond to change no more following a plan
Benefits: Fast iteration increases productivity and efficiency as it allows requirements to be changed throughout the project lifecycle.
Disadvantages: Eliminating documentation and relying on one-on-one interaction can hamper scalability and continuity and lead to silos of teams, especially within large organizations.
Best for: Small teams within agile organizations where developers and stakeholders are on the same page on the needs and constraints of the business.
Here is an overview of popular agile methodologies.
Designed for small teams, a Scrum framework guides a simple process of communication, planning, execution, and feedback.
Scrum teams work in “sprints” of two to four weeks. The team plans the goals for the sprint and agrees on the deliverables to be completed during this period. The team meets daily for a 15-minute “scrum” or “stand up”, where each team member shares progress and obstacles to reaching the goal.
At the end of each sprint, the team holds a longer sprint review meeting to present completed work and get feedback and suggestions for future work.
Scrumban is a hybrid of the Scrum and Kanban methods. It follows a Scrum workflow and visualizes the work on a Kanban board with three columns: To Do, Doing and Done. To avoid being overwhelmed, team members extract tasks from To Do because they have bandwidth, rather than being assigned a backlog of tasks.
Extreme programming (XP)
Focused on software development, XP project management emphasizes communication and simplicity. It relies on “feedback loops,” where coding occurs continuously – without waiting for full design or preplanning – and iterations follow test feedback.
The method is best suited for teams where programmers are in sync with stakeholders, as the lack of formal management and documentation increases the risk of miscommunication and endless change.
Crystal is an agile method that focuses on a core value: people and interactions rather than processes and tools. It allows teams to optimize their own workflows and adjust them by project.
The Crystal framework emphasizes communication and empowerment within a team, but a lack of direction and documentation can hamper continuity and communication outside the team in large organizations.
Agile structured AKA hybrid
Hybrid methodologies make the most of waterfall and agile philosophies to create a structured yet flexible workflow.
Hybrid methodologies typically include documenting requirements and potentially declaring constraints in advance, as in the case of the waterfall. Then, they take an agile approach to workflow, including quick implementation, feedback, and iterations.
Benefits: Documenting a plan in advance prevents scoping – that is, endless changes or additions to a project – and keeps all developers and stakeholders on the same page wave. Allowing rapid iteration avoids wasting time and resources.
Disadvantages: As with Waterfall, documenting requirements in advance can be difficult for customers who can’t articulate what a product needs to do until they see it in action. However, integrating iteration into the workflow should make room for new requirements down the line.
Best for: Larger teams that require clear documentation and communication, but need flexibility for projects to evolve throughout their lifecycle.
Dynamical Systems Development Method (DSDM)
DSDM is the most structured of the agile methodologies and an example of a hybrid methodology. It was developed to add discipline to unstructured methodologies while retaining the adaptability of agility.
Like the waterfall model, DSDM sets constraints in terms of requirements, costs and time at the start of a project. Like Agile, it then uses timeboxing, like with Scrum sprints, to complete the project incrementally with regular feedback and iterations.
Other project management methodologies
Dozens of unique methodologies for software development and other industries have grown from agility since the mid to late 1990s, including:
- Critical Path Method (CPM)
- Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
- Rapid action development
- rational unified process
- Integrated project management
- Six Sigma
- Feature Based Development (FDD)
- Adaptive Project Framework (APF)
- New Product Introduction (NPI)
- Reengineering activated by package (PER)
- Mapping of results
Each of these includes tweaks to popular methods for taking their own approach to the agile model, and they tend to appeal to particular industries or team types.
How to choose a project management methodology
Your biggest decision in choosing a strategy is between waterfall and agility, or a hybrid approach. In each approach, you can choose a methodology that provides the functionality that your project or team needs.
To choose the project management methodology that is right for any team or project, consider:
- What methods are typical of your industry?
- How complex is the project?
- How big is the team?
- How many stakeholders are involved?
- Which methods correspond to the skills of the company?
- Which methods correspond to the skills of the team?
- What metrics and documentation does the project, team, company or industry need to be successful and compliant?
What is the project management methodology?
A project management methodology is a set of principles, values and processes that determine how a team will carry out a project. It dictates such factors as the level of planning, design and documentation; methods of communication inside and outside the project team; deadlines; and methods of evaluation.
What is the best project management methodology?
Which model and method is best for you will depend on the unique characteristics of your team and your project. Take into account the methods typical of your industry, the skills of your team and the complexity of the project to choose the best methodology.
What are Project Lifecycle Models?
The life cycle of a project is the complete duration of a project through each phase of the process, from planning to delivery. Project lifecycle models are various project planning methodologies that dictate what happens in each phase and how a team moves through the process to complete the project.