The Ultimate Manual to Project Management Methodologies

There are over 8,400 project management methodologies you could choose to use for any given project. However, not every method will be the right fit for you, your team, and your project. Read on as we discuss project management methodologies and how you can use one to improve efficiencies and reduce workflow bottlenecks.

What Are Project Management Methodologies Anyway?

Project management methodologies refer to a defined set of guiding principles, processes, and methods intimately tied to how your projects unfold.

Every method has its own unique blueprint, along with factors like workflow, checks and balances, team roles, deadlines, and expectations for how you will execute projects and tasks from start to finish. Naturally, your choice of project management methodology will define every aspect of your project’s lifecycle.

Project management methodologies also help structure, standardize, and organize work methods.

With predefined templates, definitions, and guidelines in place, you can quickly get all involved parties on the same page. The fact you can identify weak points, mistakes, inefficiencies, and opportunities for improvement to tweak work methods and increase efficiency is another benefit.

Some examples of more widely known PM methods include waterfall, agile, scrum, Kanban, lean, and the critical path method–all of which we’ll go into further in this guide.

How Project Management Methodologies Work

As mentioned, every project management methodology has its own rules, principles, processes, and best practices. The methodology you implement should depend entirely on the type of project you undertake. As a project manager, you will likely use many methodologies in your career to tackle various kinds of projects.

In this section, we’ll outline some of the more popular methodologies to help you understand how each works and the kind of projects they would be best suited for.

Project Management Methodology 1: Waterfall

According to the waterfall or “traditional” methodology, all tasks and phases should be completed in a linear, sequential manner. In other words, each project stage must be completed before the next begins.

You must have a crystal clear idea of project demands before proceeding, as there’s no scope for corrections once the project is underway.

Waterfall is divided into discrete stages:

  • First Stage: Collecting and analyzing requirements
  • Second Stage: Designing the solution and your approach
  • Third Stage: Implementing the solution and fixing issues

This methodology is heavily requirements-focused, where every process is self-contained. It’s best for software development, with short and simple projects that have clear and fixed requirements and documentation.

Project Management Methodology 2: Agile

Agile project management is a more dynamic methodology that’s far more adaptive and accommodating toward changes taking place throughout the project instead of following a linear approach.

Put simply, agile is the opposite of the waterfall method. It has no top-heavy requirements-gathering and is instead iterative with small incremental changes that allow a team to respond to changing requirements through frequent testing, reassessment, and adaptation.

Interestingly, the concept of agile management has paved the way for other methodology frameworks, such as lean, scrum, and Kanban. All of these methods are quick, collaborative, and open to data-driven change.

Thanks to its flexibility, the agile approach is very versatile and can be used for diverse projects. It works particularly well for projects where you only have a general idea of a product and hence, need to accommodate quick changes, updates, and adjustments.

We also recommend agile for project management teams with average project planning skills.

Project Management Methodology 3: Waterfall-Agile Hybrid

As the name suggests, this hybrid approach is a combination of the waterfall and agile methodologies. It uses the best of waterfall and agile to create a unique method that’s flexible yet structured, making it more efficient and versatile.

Under this methodology, you start by gathering and analyzing requirements (waterfall), after which you adopt a more flexible approach with an emphasis on rapid iterations (agile). This way, you get the best of both worlds.

You may have to compromise on requirements and flexibility since you are trying to reconcile two polar opposite approaches.

Keeping this in mind, we would recommend the hybrid methodology for projects that have middling requirements, i.e., projects that require structure and flexibility. This would include medium-sized projects with moderately high complexity and fixed budgets, where you likely have an idea of the end product but are still open to experimentation.

Project Management Methodology 4: Scrum

Scrum is a form of agile project management that features heavily in software development. While the methodology may borrow agile principles and processes, it has its own methods and tactics for project management.

Under scrum, all work is split into short cycles (called sprints) that usually last about 1-2 weeks. For every sprint, work is taken from the backlog.

Scrum places the project team front and center of the project and does away with a project manager. Instead, teams are expected to be self-managing and self-organizing and are led by a scrum master for the duration of each sprint.

Performances are reviewed in a “sprint retrospective” at the end of every sprint, and changes are issued and implemented before the next sprint starts.

The scrum method is best suited for highly focused and skilled teams who can set their own priorities and understand project requirements.

Project Management Methodology 5: Kanban

Kanban is another agile framework that focuses on early releases with collaborative and self-managing teams—just like scrum.

It’s a visual project management methodology that strives to deliver high-quality outcomes by painting a picture of the workflow process to identify bottlenecks early on in the development process.

All tasks are visually represented as they progress through different columns on a Kanban board, where every column represents a stage of the process. Work is continuously pulled from a predefined backlog based on the team’s capacity and progresses through the columns on the board.

Kanban is great for giving everyone an instant visual overview of where each work item stands at any given time. Work-in-progress limits restrict the number of tasks in play, meaning you can only have a certain number of tasks in each column—or on the board overall.

Kanban works best for smaller teams and even to boost personal productivity. It isn’t the most appropriate option for large and complex projects with multiple stages and milestones.

Project Management Methodology 6: Lean

The lean methodology promotes maximizing customer value while simultaneously minimizing waste—all aimed to create more value for the customer by using fewer resources.

Originally, this waste minimization referred to reducing physical waste in the manufacturing process. But now, it also targets other wasteful practices in the project management process known as the 3Ms:

  • Muda (wastefulness) – When there’s any consumption of resources that don’t create any value for the customer.
  • Mura (unevenness) – When you have overproduction in a particular area that results in chaos in other areas of your workflow, leaving you with too much inventory or inefficient processes.
  • Muri (overburden) – When there’s too much strain on resources (people, equipment), resulting in breakdowns in either machines or humans (machine breaks or the human is overworked).

Lean seeks to change the traditional way workers operate by making them more value-focused. It shifts the focus from optimizing individual technologies, assets, and vertical departments to optimizing project flow through entire value streams that flow horizontally across assets, technologies, and departments.

This project management methodology is excellent for reviewing the project delivery process, helping cut out waste, and optimizing project flow. While it adds value for the customer, it also helps lower overall costs.

Project Management Methodology 7: Critical Path Method (CPM)

Under the CPM methodology, you categorize all activities needed to complete the project within a work breakdown structure. You can then map the projected duration of every activity, as well as any dependencies between them.

Following CPM will help you map out activities that can be completed simultaneously and activities that must be completed before others can start. You can then use the information to determine which path would enable you to finish the project with the least slack.

This method is more suitable for non-software projects with interdependent parts. If you want some tasks to be completed simultaneously but others to end before others can begin, CPM would be a good fit.

But while CPM can work wonders for industries with complex but repetitive activities, it’s less suited for dynamic areas such as creative project management.

The Best Tools For Project Management

Once you select a project management methodology for your needs, you will want to implement a tool that works best for that specific methodology.

Nira has reviewed many project management tools and researched to find the best ones for various needs. In our article on the best project management tools, you’ll find tools for multiple methodologies and why we like them.

Trello is an affordable option for the kanban and agile methodologies due to its intuitive interface and visual use of boards to track tasks and project progress. If you are using agile for a larger or more complex project, Trello may not be the best option, as it is more lightweight and not meant for highly complicated projects with many stages.

Wrike works very well using the waterfall methodology, using Gantt charts to track progress. It is also very scalable and has a ton of customization options.

Smartsheet is also suitable for waterfall, with its multiple views and included waterfall templates. It is also adaptable enough to be great for lean methodology.

Jira and Asana are robust options for agile methodology, with Jira being a leader in the space. We’ve even put together an article on how to integrate the two.

As for critical path management, Wrike and Jira are both versatile tools that can work here, too.

How to Choose the Best Methodology for Your Projects

Let’s discuss how you can choose the most appropriate project management methodology to ensure your project’s success.

Step 1: Evaluate the Project Thoroughly

Before choosing a project method methodology, you should know precisely what the final deliverable should be like and what you’ll have to do to get those results.

If you have a clear idea about the end result, opt for a structured methodology like waterfall. However, if the end result is vague, choose an iterated methodology like agile.

In addition to the final deliverable, you should also consider other factors like project budget, timeline, type and industry, size and complexity, and stakeholder expectations.

Try to gather your initial requirements for the project. If you find the requirements indicate you need a large and diverse team, pick a project management method that‘s flexible and vice versa.

Step 2: Consider Your Team Members

The whole point of selecting a project management methodology is to have a blueprint for your project that will tell your team what to create and when to create it. But before any of this happens, your team members should be able to read the blueprint.

Learning any methodology involves time—something your team members might be resistant to—resulting in delays. So if your team isn’t familiar with the method, you won’t see any results, or at the very least, you’ll struggle to see anything positive.

In addition to your team’s expertise, you should also consider its composition.

If your team thrives on collaboration, a structured approach like agile would be a better fit. However, if your team is highly motivated and self-monitored, adopting scrum can work well. Similarly, the CPM methodology would make a better choice if you have limited resources.

Choose a methodology that fits with your team instead of pushing your team to fit the method.

Step 3: Analyze Your Organizational Structure

When choosing a project management methodology, consider your company structure, culture, available resources, operating industry, and past records.

If your past records show all your scrum projects have been delayed and poorly received, it would make no sense to implement the method again.

The same logic applies to your company’s organizational structure. While some project management methodologies work well with large organizations having established hierarchies, others are more appropriate for smaller and leaner firms.

Step 4: Consider Stakeholder Requirements

Stakeholders are crucial for a project’s success, which is why you should always consider their requirements to ensure the success of all your projects.

First, you have to factor in stakeholder involvement. Some methodologies require stakeholders to be regularly involved at every stage of the project. For example, with agile, stakeholders must be regularly available for feedback. Therefore, if your stakeholders are busy people, choose a methodology that requires lower stakeholder involvement.

Next, you have to factor in stakeholder requirements. Dive deep into the different aspects of your stakeholders’ requirements. How do they work? What expectations do they have from the project manager? Do the stakeholders frequently change project scope?

If your stakeholders want daily updates, pick a methodology that can accommodate this demand. If you have indecisive stakeholders, choose something more flexible.

Step 5: Review All Your Tools

Project management tools are usually designed to work with a specific methodology. Therefore, your existing software tools play a huge role in influencing your choice of method.

Make a list of all tools you currently use. Follow this by listing the capabilities and limitations of each tool, and then compare your list against the requirements for a prospective project management methodology. Naturally, you want a methodology that works well with your existing two sets and systems.

If you have the budget to buy new tools, that’s great. But remember, you will lose critical time in retraining your team.

We hope the above guide helps you pick the best PM methodology fit for your project, team, organization, toolset, and stakeholders. You’ll see an immediate change with your projects running faster, smoother, and more efficiently.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira