What Are The Best Project Management Methodologies?
Ever found yourself faced with 14 million possible project management methodologies and need to find the one that will help you defeat Thanos? Or maybe the odds are a little lower and you only need to get your software project delivered on time. Either way, making the right choice is critical.
The truth is that there is no ‘one way’ to manage projects and the methodology that will help you most will depend on the project, company, and the people working on it. To help you choose the right project management methodology for you and your team here is a list of some of the different types of project management methodology, and when they are best used.
What is a Project Management Methodology?
Back in the 1950s leading managers in the construction and engineering fields took the project management techniques they’d been using for decades and formalised them into methodologies. These methodologies include the values, principals, and processes that leading project managers have developed to achieve great results.
As time has moved on, these methodologies have been adapted for use in different industries and refined. The world has moved on a lot since the 1950s and project management has kept pace, which is why it’s a good idea to keep your knowledge of methodologies current.
Types Of Project Management Methodologies
There are methodologies that have been specifically designed for use in software development, and others that have been created for other uses, but can easily be adapted to work for a development team. We’ve separated them out for you in the general methodologies and those that are suitable for IT.
General Project Management Methodologies
|Methodology||Best For||Not For|
|Agile||More complex projects||Slow-paced projects|
|CPM||Large projects with potential bottlenecks||Small or simple projects|
|Extreme Programming||Undefined Projects||Clearly specified projects with clear requirements|
|Kanban||Emphasising personal productivity||Large teams or complex processes|
|Lean||Process re-engineering||Fixed ways of working|
|PMBOK||Understanding Project Management||Established PMs|
|Prince2||Larger projects or organizations||Small teams|
|Scrum||Small teams||Large projects|
|Six Sigma||Large organizations||Small businesses or startups|
|Waterfall||Highly structured projects. Easy onboarding.||Smaller projects or where a more responsive approach is needed|
6 General Project Management Methodologies Explained
Critical Path Management, or CPM, was first used in the 1950s to manage the building of a chemical processing path and it’s remained popular since.
Its key difference is that it uses a mathematical algorithm to calculate the critical path, the longest chain of events that need to occur for successful completion. Keeping an eye on these can help you keep timelines from slipping.
Best suited to large organizations with complex projects, CPM can take some understanding but has been the methodology behind some very successful projects.
Proper nerds will also recognize a reference to it in Terry Pratchett’s The Nome Trilogy where Pratchett defines ‘the doctrine of the critical path’ as meaning ‘there’s always something that you should have done first’. We miss you, pTerry.
CPM is one of the more complex methodologies that uses an algorithm to schedule tasks assigned to a project. It can be useful when you need to compress a schedule, helping you focus on the necessary tasks to make progress.
When to use it: If you’re facing a tight deadline and you need to focus your team on what is truly necessary, CPM can be an invaluable tool.
Developed in the 40s and used by Toyota to streamline their manufacturing process, the name ‘kanban’ translates to ‘billboard’. If you’ve used a Trello board, then you’ve used Kanban.
It’s a highly visual method of managing a project, that can be done simply with post-it notes, physically with a t-card system, or online using any one of the project management solutions. It’s best suited to smaller teams and processes as with larger numbers the boards can quickly become unwieldy.
Kanban is based on six general practices:
- Limiting work in progress
- Flow management
- Making policies explicit
- Using feedback loops
- Collaborative or experimental evolution
It is perhaps the visual element of kanban that has made it so influential which can be seen in project management tools like Trello, Monday.com, and Clickup who all support kanban style interfaces.
When to use it: Smaller projects with simpler process flows.
Once Toyota had finished with Kanban, they moved on to Lean which is one of the types of project management methodology that has spawned a lot of sub-types, like Agile.
Lean was originally intended for use in manufacturing, and as the name implies it helps to keep processes as streamlined as possible.
It’s recently been adapted for use in software development as it can be helpful to develop prototypes and MVPs as quickly as possible. A flexible methodology, Lean is applied to many different types of projects including manufacturing, construction, and development.
Lean focuses on removing three different types of waste from any process, which are categorised as:
Muda – Things that don’t add value
Mura – Logjams in the process flow
Muri – Overload that can slow the process
This isn’t license to start calling your colleagues Muda, though
When to use it: Early in the project lifecycle when you are working on an MVP or developing prototypes..
While not strictly speaking a methodology itself, the PMBOK is worth mentioning if you are totally new to project management and need to gain a fundamental understanding of the methods of project management.
Developed and updated by the Project Management Institute (PMI) the BOK means ‘body of knowledge’. The book contains the sum of information from the organization on how to be an effective project manager including tools, processes, and methods of working.
Considered the gold standard of project management, the BOK is well worth looking at for any project as it includes best practices, conventions, and tools that can support any project. It’s also the material you need to study for your PMP Certification.
When to use it: The BOK is worth referring to at any point where you have a problem to solve and you’re not quite sure how to approach it.
5. Six Sigma
If you’ve ever heard someone proclaim they are a Six Sigma Black Belt and decided not to get into a fight with them due to their martial arts prowess, you missed a trick. Six Sigma is actually the most used project management methodology for big business.
Originated by Motorola engineers in the 80s, Six Sigma uses two different methodologies, DMAIC and DMADV to identify errors in processes and help to streamline them. It’s a useful tool for setting up and refining processes.
Six Sigma is very data driven and uses a lot of data crunching and analysis to identify and suggest changes to processes using the two separate methodologies which are:
Define the problem and the project goals
Measure in detail the various aspects of the current process
Analyze data to, among other things, find the root defects in a process
Improve the process
Control how the process is done in the future
Define the project goals
Measure critical components of the process and the product capabilities
Analyze the data and develop various designs for the process, eventually picking the best one
Design and test details of the process
Verify the design by running simulations and a pilot program, and then handing over the process to the client’
When to use it: Large projects, and where you are looking to streamline or simplify processes.
Waterfall was first used for software development in the 1950s and is still used today where it is a major project and the progress will be relatively linear. As the name suggests, the process flow is downwards, with one task cascading to the next.
It is useful for highly structured projects that are timeline driven, as a key part of the methodology is the Gannt chart. It isn’t suited for smaller teams or projects, or where there may be a need to respond to rapid change.
70 years on from its first use, most people think that waterfall isn’t the ideal solution as it doesn’t allow for the responsiveness, particularly to customer feedback, that developers need.
Waterfall places an emphasis on documentation, making sure that developers document at each phase to manage the risk of losing key personnel. This means that onboarding new team members is easier, as there is a central repository for knowledge.
The phases of Waterfall in software development are
- System and software requirements
Where to use it: Waterfall works best for larger teams and linear tasks, and is particularly helpful if you anticipate onboarding new team members as documentation makes this easier.
3 IT Project Management Methodologies Explained
If you are looking for a dynamic and responsive solution, then Agile is worth considering. It allows for adaptation and evolution as a project moves forward, and focuses on early delivery and process improvement.
Agile was developed specifically to manage software development projects and is a response to some of the issues found with Waterfall (see below), the main difference is that Agile is an iterative methodology, supporting the testing and modifying part of the lifecycle.. Agile itself has spawned a series of variants, some of which also make it to this list.
Agile is based on four key values and twelve principals:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
- Customer satisfaction through early and continuous software delivery
- Accommodate changing requirements throughout the development process
- Frequent delivery of working software
- Collaboration between the business stakeholders and developers throughout the project
- Support, trust, and motivate the people involved
- Enable face-to-face interactions
- Working software is the primary measure of progress
- Agile processes to support a consistent development pace
- Attention to technical detail and design enhances agility
- Self-organizing teams encourage great architecture, requirements, and designs
- Regular reflections on how to become more effective
Where to use it: This can be a useful methodology for startups, guiding you through the process of creating your prototype or MVP with regular feedback cycles.
2. Extreme Programming (XP)
A sub-type of Agile, Extreme Programming has been designed to help improve quality through responsiveness to customer feedback. It’s considered one of the most radical types of Agile methodologies.
Like other Agile methods it’s based on an iterative process, but with Extreme customer feedback and requirements are what drives the cycle. It works on smaller sections of code, releasing them to end users for feedback and refinement before moving on.
XP is underpinned by five values which are intended to be adopted by the whole team as a mindset to improve the quality of the end product. There are:
When to use it: XP can be useful when the end user doesn’t have a clear idea of what they want from the software at the outset, allowing you to design and refine as you go.
Projects IN Controlled Environments, or PRINCE, was created by the UK government in the 80s for IT projects and revised in the 90s to PRINCE2. It’s used by large organizations, including governments, so you can imagine that it is well-suited to bigger and more complex projects.
Based on principles, themes, and procedures it offers a more flexible approach to project management than some of the older methodologies like Waterfall. As it’s used by so many organizations, training is easily available and popular amongst freelance PMs.
PRINCE2 follows seven basic principles for each project:
- Learning from mistakes.
- Clear role distribution.
- In stages management.
- Product focus.
When to use it: PRINCE2 was designed for larger projects and that’s certainly where it shines, however smaller projects where the environment is particularly complex can benefit too.
Scrum is a project management methodology that works within the Agile model but is best suited for smaller teams with a defined task. For example, the development of the entire piece of software could be managed with Agile, with individual team leaders using Scrum to meet their goals.
Scrum is generally broken down into two-week ‘sprints’ and is characterized by ‘daily scrum’ meetings’ to keep the team informed and motivated. It is a methodology with defined roles, all of which combine to maintain short bursts of intense productivity.
Project roles are what really sets Scrum apart, and here are some of the key roles used in the methodology.
- Product owner: This person represents the customer and looks at issues from their perspective.
- Development team: Designers, developers, testers etc.
- Scrum master: The team leader or project manager who drives the project forward.
Where to use it: Scrum helps to keep a team motivated by breaking a larger project down into smaller sprints. This helps keep workloads feeling manageable and builds a sense of accomplishment as each sprint is complete.
How To Choose the Right Project Management Methodology
While making the wrong choice of methodology probably won’t be catastrophic, there’s no doubt that picking the right one can greatly enhance the experience of the team, your customers, and the quality of the end product. Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting the methodology:
- There may be teething problems, so it’s worth testing out a few approaches on smaller, low-impact projects first.
- What is the flexibility in the requirements? Does the work need to be coded to spec, or will you be looking for rounds of user feedback?
- What is the size of the project and the team?
- What tools can you use to support the methodology?
- If your team is remote and working in different timezones, how will communication be managed?
- What are the personalities of the developers?
The graphic below summarises where the different methodologies sit in terms of project and organisation size to give you some guidance on where to start looking.
Time to Choose
We hope that the information above has given you some idea of which types of project management methodology might work for you and your team. The truth is that there is no one way, and it may take some trial and error to find the right methodology, and the right tools to use to implement it.