Top 17 project management methodologies — and how to pick the best for success

Choosing the right project management methodology for the job is essential. Our guide to evaluating project management methodologies will ensure you pick the perfect fit for your next project.

Choosing the right project management methodology for your team is the first step to success.

But with so many different — and in some cases, overlapping — approaches to managing the complexities of any given project, how can you know which project management methodology is best?

Project managers can assist their organizations in improving how they implement projects in an effective and efficient manner while reducing risks. But this requires more than recognizing organizational priorities. You need a deep understanding of how each project management methodology can have the greatest positive impact — and how each can derail your organization’s likelihood of success.

Here, we outline the most popular project management methodologies (PMMs) in practice today, comparing their focus and principles, and showing you how to evaluate which is best for your project and organization. Once developed, a process for evaluating and choosing the right project management methodology can be documented and repeated, enabling your organization to spend less time haggling over how to structure and manage your projects, and more time on achieving objectives and deliverables.

Top 17 project management methodologies

Waterfall

Waterfall has been a mainstay project management methodology for years. It is sequential in nature and is used across many industries, most commonly in software development. It comprises static phases (requirements analysis, design, testing, implementation, and maintenance) that are executed in a specific order. Waterfall allows for increased control throughout each phase but can be highly inflexible if a project’s scope changes after it is already underway. It offers a more formal planning stage that may increase the chances of capturing all project requirements upfront, reducing the loss of any key information and requirements in the initial stages.

Agile

Agile takes a significantly different approach to project management. It was initially developed for projects that require significant flexibility and speed. To achieve this, agile is composed of short delivery cycles, aka “sprints.” Agile may be best-suited for projects requiring less control and real-time communication within self-motivated team settings. As a project management methodology, agile is highly interactive, allowing for rapid adjustments throughout a project. It is commonly used in software development projects in large part because it makes it easier to identify issues quickly and to make modifications early in the development process, rather than having to wait until testing is complete. Agile offers repeatable processes, reduces risk, allows for immediate feedback, provides fast turnaround and reduces complexity.

Hybrid

While many teams will favor either waterfall or agile, the benefits of both approaches can create a case for a hybrid project management methodology solution, one in which the planning and requirements phase is undertaken under a waterfall approach and the design, develop, implement, and evaluate phases follow the agile methodology.

Critical path method

Critical path method (CPM) is a step-by-step methodology used for projects with interdependent activities. It contains a list of activities and uses a work-breakdown structure (WBS) and a timeline to complete, as well as dependencies, milestones, and deliverables. It outlines critical and noncritical activities by calculating the “longest” (on the critical path) and “shortest” (float) time to complete tasks to determine which activities are critical and which are not.

Critical chain project management

Critical chain project management (CCPM) differs from CPM in that it focuses on the use of resources within a project instead of project activities. To address potential issues with resources, buffers are built in to ensure projects are on-time and that safety is not compromised.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma was originally developed by Motorola to eliminate waste and improve processes and profits. It is data-driven and has three key components:

  • DMAIC: Define, measure, analyze, improve and control
  • DMADV: Define, measure, analyze, design and verify
  • DFSS: Design for Six Sigma, which can include the previous options, as well as others, such as IDOV (identify, design, optimize and verify).

Six Sigma is sometimes debated as a methodology in the project management community.

For more, see “What is Six Sigma? Streamlining quality management.”

Lean development (LD)

Originally designed by Toyota, Lean was developed to focus on reducing waste while maximizing output and increasing stakeholder value. While Lean got its start in the manufacturing industry, it is applied in various industries today because its focus is not sector-specific. Lean follows seven key principles: reduce waste, improve quality, share knowledge with others, remain in a state of continuous improvement, faster turnaround, removing silos, and maintaining an environment of respect.

Lean Six Sigma

This hybrid of Lean and Six Sigma focuses on the customer with the goal of improving business efficiency and effectiveness.Identify and understand how the work gets done (the value stream). Lean Six Sigma strives to improve processes, remove unnecessary waste, and reduce defects.

For more, see “What is Lean Six Sigma? Blending methodologies to reduce waste and improve efficiency.”

Scrum

Named after a play formation in rugby, Scrum is part of the agile framework and is also interactive in nature. “Scrum sessions” or “30-day sprints” are used to determine prioritized tasks. A Scrum master is used to facilitate instead of a project manager. Small teams may be assembled to focus on specific tasks independently and then meet with the scrum master to evaluate progress or results and reprioritize backlogged tasks.

Kanban

Kanban focuses on ongoing collaboration and fosters an environment of continuous learning and improvement. It uses visual boards and cards to help teams see tasks that are complete, in progress, and outstanding. All activities are based on being able to visualize daily tasks, carefully balance work in progress, and manage backlog.

For more, see “What is Kanban? Workflow management simplified.”

Scrumban

Scrumban provides product development and support teams with the best features from Scrum and Kanban. By combining Kanban’s pull system and Scrum’s backlog prioritization and short cycles, teams are not only able to complete work quickly and effectively, but also improve processes by exposing areas of weakness. By leveraging the benefits of both frameworks, teams eventually reduce waste, shorten lead time, turnaround time, and deliver higher quality products and services.

Event chain methodology (ECM)

As an additional option to critical path method or critical chain method, ECM is focused on identifying, analyzing, and managing any potential risks at the start of a project. The goal is to determine the chance of a risk becoming a reality, when it might strike, and what the impact might be to the project. There are six major principles that guide ECM: identifying a chain of events, identifying their timing and status, identifying critical events, mapping out or diagraming the chain of events, monitoring the chain of events performance, and quantifying the impact.

Crystal

As an agile approach, Crystal was designed by IBM as a way to improve project results by focusing efforts on the people-side of projects. Specifically the focus is placed on the skills, abilities, and collaboration of team members. Crystal is based on two core beliefs.

  • Teams are likely to identify and develop workflow improvements
  • Projects are unique, making it more likely that project teams are the most suited to determining how to do the work more effectively.

Feature-driven development (FDD)

Developed for larger-scale projects but applicable to projects of any size, FDD helps to address some of the complexities that larger projects might pose by developing fast, repeatable processes that can be accomplished in smaller spans of time by various teams throughout an organization. This approach follows some key processes that include developing an overall model, compiling a list of features, planning based on each of the identified features, designing the features, and building the features.

Dynamic systems development method (DSDM)

Developed as a way to align with companywide strategic goals, DSDM focuses on the delivery of proven business benefits. This approach focuses on eight key principles:

  • The need to stay focused on business requirements
  • On-time delivery
  • Collaboration is essential
  • Quality as a top priority
  • Building incrementally based on solid pillars
  • Using an iterative development approach
  • Using clear and ongoing communication
  • Maintaining control

Adaptive software development (ASD)

This approach works to help teams become more agile when dealing with change. Teams are encouraged to remain in a state of continuous learning in order to improve development. ASD is built on a three-phases, speculation, collaboration, and learning.

Rapid application development (RAD)

RAD focuses on the user’s input based on testing, and how well a product is working compared to its intended goals. RAD first identifies the requirements, quickly builds prototypes and garners user input. Then based on the input, identifies requirements and builds prototypes again. User testing is then conducted and the final product is delivered.

Project managment methodologies by focus

When considering project management methodologies, it is important to note that there isn’t always a single solution in all cases, even within the same organization. Project management experience comes into play, and this is where a project manager’s knowledge of the pros and cons of each methodology can greatly assist organizations in successfully navigating projects in ways that allow them to maximize the potential for stakeholders.

Here is a breakdown of each methodology’s primary focus.

Methodology Focus
Waterfall The linear and sequential approach to development
Agile Continuous improvement and delivering better quality
Critical path method Maximizing project activities and finding the shortest path (timeline) to task and project success
Critical chain project management Optimizing resources usage
Six Sigma Eliminating waste and improving processes and profitability
Scrum Delivering higher quality
Lean Six Sigma Customer-focused
Kanban Customer-focused, fostering ongoing collaboration and continuous learning
Scrumban Reducing waste, shorten lead time, turnaround time, and deliver higher quality products and services
Lean development Reducing waste while maximizing output and increasing stakeholder value
Event chain methodology Identifying, analyzing, and managing any potential risks as early as possible in the project life cycle
Crystal Improving project results by focusing efforts on the people-side of projects
Feature-driven development Address some of the complexities that larger projects might pose by developing fast, repeatable processes
Dynamic systems development method Aligning projects with companywide strategic goals
Adaptive software development Helping teams become more agile when dealing with change
Rapid application development Focusing on user input based on testing, and how well a product is working compared to its intended goals

Credit: Moira Alexander, CIO.com

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