We often describe Project Management as a methodology-driven profession. And it’s true to a degree: there are a lot of Project Management methodologies.
There’s a temptation to get into a ‘stamp collecting’ mindset. To try to collect a set of all of the project management methodologies out there. But the truth is that no project manager can hope to master them all.
But what I would expect any professional project manager to know is what the range of project management methodologies is. And also a little about all of the principal ones, so that you can shift gear and get the training you need, when your situation demands a new approach. I also think it’s good to keep an eye open for new methodologies that may appear.
So, in this guide, we’ll go through all of the main Project Management methodologies and give you:
- an assessment of where each methodology is useful
- the ‘Cliff Notes’ basics for each
- a reference to where you can learn more
What We Will Cover in this Guide to Project Management Methodologies
- What do We Mean by Project Management Methodologies?
- ‘Project Management Methodologies’ that aren’t Methodologies – The Principles
- Predictive Project Management Methodologies
- Agile Project Management Methodologies
- Hybrid Project Management Methodologies
- ‘Project Management Methodologies’ that aren’t about Project Management
What do We Mean by Project Management Methodologies?
‘A system of practices, techniques, procedures, and rules used by those who work in a discipline.’The PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition, Glossary.
I think what is important here for a methodology is the combination of both:
- Principles, guidelines, concepts
That is, a methodology is rooted in a coherent set of ideas
- Processes, practices, techniques
That is, a methodology must also contain practical guidance
Why are Project Management Methodologies Valuable?
Many people will have many reasons to like or mistrust methodologies and the discipline they impose. However, I would argue that the principal benefit arises directly from that discipline: certainty. A strong methodology offers a level of confidence about how to proceed, and the route to getting desirable results.
In addition to – or maybe, flowing from – that certainty, we also have:
- Consistency between projects and also the repeatability of processes. This also means that a variety of people will easily share an understanding of how you are working.
- Ability to measure performance in a consistent way, to benchmark your performance against other projects.
- This gives a basis for improving the methodology, or the way you apply it. Methodologies that stay fixed will become obsolete, as new approaches better fit the prevailing needs of the PM community.
- The methodology can also contain tools, templates, and other resources that make delivery more effective and efficient. If you know a load of methodologies, you then have a bigger toolbox of tools that you can call upon. I know of no law that says you cannot use a tool from methodology A in a project that draws mainly from methodology B!
Selecting the Right PM Methodology
Clearly, the right methodology for a project will depend on the circumstances:
- Type of project.
For example, software, heavy engineering, civil engineering, business change…
- Organizational culture.
For example, risk-aversity, agility, hierarchy…
For example, Government, finance, manufacturing, not-for-profit…
- Characteristics of the project.
For example, complexity, scale, risk level, urgency…
The starting place is to ask:
‘What principles should guide our project management approach?’
Then you will need to ask:
‘What set of practices and processes will give us the right balance of control, certainty, flexibility, governance…’ All of the things that matter to you.
Based on these, you will select the project methodology that best matches your needs. But you may need to:
- Accept that any choice of methodology will introduce some measure of compromise. None is likely t be ‘perfect’ for any situation.
- Adapt your methodology to the situation, by making small (maybe large) adjustments to manage the compromises. This may involve selecting aspects of an alternative methodology, to create a form of hybrid.
- Recognize that adapting a methodology introduces additional complexity, uncertainty, work, and risk.
‘Project Management Methodologies’ that aren’t Methodologies – The Principles
Let’s start with some things that appear in lists of Project Management methodologies that, by our definition, shouldn’t really be there. And these are underlying project management principles that do not prescribe processes, practices, or techniques.
Waterfall – or better: Predictive Project Management
Actually, there is a core ‘Waterfall’ methodology, which I’ll refer to below. But, as the term is most commonly used, it refers to any project management methodology that follows a staged lifecycle with a plan.
I prefer the term ‘Predictive’ or ‘maybe ‘planned’ Project Management, because this set of approaches is governed by a simple principle. An important part of the success of many types of projects is having a clear plan before you start implementation.
The other name you’ll hear is ‘traditional’, recognizing that the principal alternative, Agile Project Management’, is a creature of the 21st Century.
Agile – or better: Adaptive Project Management
Agile takes as its defining principle the idea of constant adaptation to meet the needs of customers or users. Over the last 20 years, a large number of methodologies have been both:
- developed to embody the Agile principles, or
- co-opted into the ‘Agile family’, having embodied some or all of those principles since before the formal creation of the Agile Manifesto
The Manifesto for Agile Software Development sets out the four principles that guide agile methodologies. The processes and practices that characterize them include:
- small teams with light-touch leadership
- frequent interaction with users and customers
- short cycles of incremental development
- iterative refinement of ideas
Agile-Waterfall Hybrid Project Management
While some people see traditional and agile principles as competing philosophies, most seasoned practitioners prefer to see them as two ends of a spectrum. The consequence is that this opens up the possibility of hybrid approaches that lie somewhere between the extremes.
While I am not aware of any formally-articulated methodologies that are in this hybrid space, many projects are successfully using hybrids of an agile and a predictive methodology.
Comparing Predictive and Adaptive Approaches
We have a comprehensive article that compared predictive (waterfall) and adaptive (agile project management approaches (and their hybrids). If you aren’t familiar with the distinction, I do recommend you take a look at that before continuing with this article.
You may also like a more opinion-led video, Waterfall vs Agile: The Big Principle at Stake | Video
Lean Project Management
For my money, Lean is a principle (or better, a set of principles) that we can apply to project management to improve our practice, rather than a specific methodology. There have been moves to develop a lean project management methodology, going all the way back to a fine PMI conference paper by Aziz Moujib.
However, I am not yet convinced that there is a solid Lean Project Management methodology available. It’s also worth noting that much of the thinking in the ‘five principles of Lean’ has found a comfortable home in Agile project management and the methodologies that support it.
The Five Principles of Lean
- Define ‘value’ from the point of view of the customer
- Map out the value stream for the product or project from idea through creation, to delivery and usage.
- Improve the flow of value by eliminating waste
- Allow the customer to control the flow of the value stream (pulling) rather than pushing the flow
- Make continuous improvements to maximize productivity and efficiency
Predictive Project Management Methodologies
Predictive project management methodologies all have clear project stages. And one or more of those stages will focus on planning the bulk of the work to deliver the project. Hence the use of the terms ‘predictive’ or ‘planned’.
There are plenty of methodologies and what I’ll term ‘near methodologies’ here.
PMI’s – PMBOK Guide
The Project Management Institute’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide) is not and does not offer a formal project management methodology. Rather, it described itself for a long time as:
…a foundation upon which organizations can build methodologies, polices, procedures, rules, tools and techniques, and life cycle phases needed to practice project management.The PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition, Section 1.1
However, as I indicated above, methodologies need to evolve. And the PMBOK Guide went through its biggest-ever evolution, with the publication, in 2021, of the seventh edition. In many ways, this marked a revolutionary change. It is now even less of a methodology.
The focus is very much on a set of guiding principles (the first part of its own definition of a methodology). It does also contain practices and techniques. However, it does not spell out a process for how to manage a project – even to the extent that earlier editions did. In fact, it is fundamentally ‘methodology-agnostic’. That is, almost everything in PMBOK 7 can apply equally to almost any Project Management methodology – whether predictive, adaptive, or hybrid. And that, in case you are wondering, is very much by design!
As you’d expect, we have a lot of coverage of PMBOK 7. The places to start are:
- Top 10 Things to Know about PMBOK 7 – the 7th Edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge
- PMBOK Guide 7th Edition: Your 20 Most Important Questions Answered (Update)
– this also points you to our more in-depth resources.
- PMBOK 7: 7th Edition of the PMI’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – with Nader Rad
So, what’s the PMBOK Guide doing here?
I’ve included it for two reasons; one of perception and the other of substance.
- Despite PMI’s clear statement that the PMBOK Guide is not a methodology, many people do think of it as such. And in many ways, it does conform to our definition. It embodies a set of principles and contains a lot of clear practical guidance and processes.
- And the substance of this is that many organizations lift their procedures, rules, tools and techniques, and life cycle phases directly from the 5 Process groups that featured in the ANSI Standard within editions 1 to 6 of the PMBOK Guide. And they often document them with little or no customization. Following the publication of the 7th edition, PMI has moved these to their new book, Process Groups: A Practice Guide.
So, for all intents and purposes, the PMI publishes the world’s most widely-used project management methodology.
Learn more about the PMI and the PMBOK Guide
The Association for Project Management’s Body of Knowledge (APMBoK) – which I’ve reviewed in detail – is not a methodology. Like the PMBOK Guide, it doesn’t aspire to be. And, in my reading, it offers far less guidance about how, and far more in the way of thought-provoking knowledge to help project managers understand their discipline and make reasoned choices.
So, I’m including this in my list, not because it is a project management methodology – it is not. But because any thoughtful project manager may otherwise ask why it wasn’t here.
PRINCE2 is probably the most widely-used predictive project management methodology. Its focus is on governance and control and it is:
- highly structured
- comprehensively documented
- supported by solid qualifications
PRINCE2 was developed by the UK Government and is owned and managed by Axelos.
Again, as you’d expect, we have a lot of resources for you…
Learn more about PRINCE2
The European Commission’s PM2
This is an astonishing methodology. It’s simple, straightforward, good practice, and totally FREE.
PM2 claims to be ‘lean and easy to implement’ and it looks that way to me. And being owned by the European Commission, it’s fully open source. You can get loads of resources, including the 147-page manual, from the PM2 Alliance website.
If you are looking to adopt (or adapt) a fully-formed methodology, with no license costs, this is a great place to start. Check out the publications page.
It is also exceptionally good as the basis of a lightweight methodology. I especially like their Project Canvas tool.
And, on top of all of this, there is a five-stage certification program!
The methodology we now call Waterfall was proposed as an exemplar of a poor approach to software development projects. It is, in effect, a straw-dog model of a predictive project management lifecycle.
But Winston Royce’s original model is worth presenting as an example of the structure lifecycle model that has a number of clearly defined phases:
- Capture Requirements
- Analyze requirements
- Design the end-solution
- Develop the end solution
The waterfall model proposes that we move to a new phase only when we have completed its preceding phase.
At OnlinePMCourses, we use a simpler life cycle model (below) as the basis of our training in predictive project management.
Earned Value Management (EVM)
I would usually argue that Earned Value Management is a toolset that can be applied within a range of project management methodologies. However, it has a set of principles and a process, so we can easily see it as a methodology for managing a predictive project.
Critical Path Management (CPM)
The Critical Path Method (CPM) is a project management methodology for planning and monitoring projects with well-characterized dependencies between activities.
You start by creating a list of activities (often using a Work Breakdown Structure – WBS) and then document the dependencies between them to create a network chart. Critical activities lie on the critical path. This is the longest route through the network. Activities that can overrun without delaying project completion have ‘float’ or ‘slack’.
The CPM is ideal for planning, understanding the schedule risk, and monitoring a project.
Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) is a development from the CPM. It focuses on resource constraints and their impact on a sequence of dependent activities.
The emphasis of CCPM is on building buffers into these sequences of activities, to reduce the risk of schedule over-run. And you can equally apply the principle to budgeting for your tasks.
For more detail, we have a full feature article: Beyond Gantt Charts: How to Boost your Project with the Critical Chain Method.
Event Chain Methodology (ECM) (?)
Event Chain Methodology (ECM) is a still more sophisticated development of the CPM. Here, the focus is on understanding risk, using statistical methods and Monte Carlo analysis. We do this by focusing on the impact of external events on the network, rather than on the activities.
ECM is distinctly less common than CPM or CCPM. As a result, we’ll keep it simple here, and refer you to the excellent Wikipedia article for more detail.
PRiSM stands for Projects integrating Sustainable Methods. It is a project management methodology that focuses on a project’s environmental impacts. It considers a life cycle that extends beyond the delivery of the project into use and decommissioning. The intention is to focus definition, design, planning, and implementation on sustainability and minimizing environmental impact.
PRiSM is a rather specialized project methodology, which is most prevalent in the civil construction and manufacturing industries. The developers of PRISM are Green Project Management, and their website contains more information about PRiSM.
Integrated Project Management (IPM)
Integrated Project Management (IPM) is a project management methodology most often used in creative industries. Like other methodologies, it encourages information sharing and standardization across the organization. Integration here refers to bringing many small projects into one framework, to create coherent campaigns. It also aims to reduce the impacts of functional and departmental silos within the organization.
Extreme Project Management (XPM)
Extreme Project Management (XPM) straddles the divide between Predictive and Adaptive project management. It aims to address the weaknesses of traditional project management methodologies in their rigidity, but retains the disciplines of planning and budgeting.
So, to create flexibility, plans, budget, resourcing, and sequencing of releases can change throughout the project to accommodate external changes and user preferences.
Think of XPM as traditional project management with Change Control moved front and center.
Agile Project Management Methodologies
The development of the Agile Manifesto in 2001 has led to an explosion in Agile Project Management methodologies. These include older methodologies like Extreme Programming (XP) and Rapid Application Development (RAD) which had been around through the 1990s.
Learn more about Agile Project Management
- Video: What is Agile Project Management?
- Guide: I want to Study Agile Project Management
Scrum is by far the most widely used Agile methodology. It originates in the world of New Product Development and gets its name from the metaphor of the game of rugby.
Scrum starts with a backlog of features that users need or want. The users prioritize these and the team draws down a fixed number to work on during a fixed-duration sprint.
At the end of the sprint, the team demonstrates the working functionalities, which then go into production Then they repeat the cycle. There is no Project Manager. Rather, a Scrum Master facilitates the process.
Learn more about Scrum
- Videos and Articles
The origins of Kanban are in Japanese motor manufacturing. But this Agile project management methodology is now widely used in ‘heartbeat’ project environments, like IT operations.
Project teams use a Kanban board to show the progress of projects through a life cycle, and to control the amount of work in progress (WIP).
It’s a great methodology for day-to-day collaboration because the team can easily visualize daily tasks, balance work in progress, and manage their backlog.
Scrumban provides both product development and support teams with a project methodology that combines the best features of Scrum and Kanban. From Kanban it gets control of WIP and from Scrum, short cycles and backlog prioritization.
The methodology is flexible and nimble. It allows teams to apply lessons learned, reduce waste, shorten development time, and deliver higher-quality products and services.
It describes itself as a ‘process decision toolkit that describes how agile software development, DevOps, IT, and business teams work in your enterprise.’
I think we can be confident that PMI has plans to use this as the basis for the next iteration of their practice standards in Agile Project Management. So, for Agile practitioners, this is a methodology to watch. Head over to the Disciplined Agile website for more information.
PRINCE2 Agile lets you combine the strong governance principles of PRINCE2 with the flexibility and responsiveness of agile methods, such as Scrum and Kanban. The methodology is supported by a certification structure.
PRINCE2 was developed for the UK Government and is owned and managed by Axelos.
Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe)
If you need to apply Agile principles at an enterprise scale, the starting place is the SAFe methodology – the Scaled Agile Framework. As methodologies go, this is a big one and there’s a lot of information on the Scaled Agile Framework website.
Crystal is an Agile methodology developed by IBM. Its focus is on the people aspect of projects: skills, abilities, and team collaboration. Crystal is based on the principle that each project is unique, so the team is in the best position to find ways to improve productivity and effectiveness.
eXtreme Programming (XP)
eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development project management methodology with similar principles to Scrum: simplicity, team communication and feedback, and collaboration. It predates the Agile Manifesto, yet is exceptionally able in handling changes.
Where it differs is that XP sets clear rules for the technical practices around coding and testing. These rules cover things like:
- User stories
- Elegant design
- Test-driven development (TDD)
- Pair programming
- Continuous integration
Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM)
DSDM is particularly good at aligning development projects with enterprise-wide strategic goals. It focuses on delivering business benefits, following eight key principles:
- Staying focused on business requirements
- Quality as a top priority
- On-time delivery
- Collaborative working
- Building incrementally on a sound foundation
- Using an iterative development approach
- Continuous clear communication
- Strong control
Feature-driven Development (FDD)
Feature Driven Development was designed to address some of the complexities of larger projects – particularly in remaining agile enough to develop fast, repeatable processes in short time spans. It’s also good for coordinating the work of teams across an organization, by:
- Developing an overall model
- Compiling a list of features
- Planning based on features
Adaptive Software Development (ASD)
The Adaptive Software development methodology aims to keep teams continually learning and developing. This builds better processes and greater agility in a changing business environment. ASD works around three phases:
Rapid Application Development (RAD)
Rapid Application Development is based on testing prototypes and gaining input on the experience from users. The development process is, crudely:
- Identify requirements
- Rapid construction of a prototype
- Get user input through user testing
- Build a new version
- Cycle as needed then…
- User testing so you can deliver the final product
Adaptive Project Framework (APF)
Adaptive Project Framework starts with the principle that ‘nothing is fixed‘. every project has its own requirements and, more critically still, the client has constant control over changes to scope and specification.
Rational Unified Process (RUP)
Rational Unified Process (RUP) is an agile project management methodology that feels a lot like a predictive approach. RUP splits the project life cycle into four phases:
You must finish each phase before moving to the next. In each phase, there are six development disciplines:
- Business modeling
- Analysis and Design
What makes this an agile methodology is the iteration of these disciplines within each phase, until you have met a satisfactory objective.
Hybrid Project Management Methodologies
Since writing the original version of this article, back in 2019, I have had the pleasure to learn from three fabulous PM educators about the hybrid methodologies they have created. These do not start from either a predictive or an adaptive paradigm. Rather, they embrace a wide variety of ideas and tools from each, to craft something new. Their methodologies have this in common, but are, in other ways, very different.
P3.express and micro.P3.express
P3.express is a minimalist, practical project management system developed by Nader Rad and Frank Turley. They designed it to be a simple tool that people can use intuitively.
P3.express follows a cyclical approach with a set of simple and regularly recurring activities. They follow monthly, weekly, and daily cycles, each focusing on one aspect of managerial activities.
In addition to the cycles, the P3 methodology:
- Starts with a set of project initiation activities at the beginning
- Finishes with project closure activities at the end
- And has a cycle of post-project management activities after the project is finished, to evaluate the benefits.
P3.express is free to use and adapt on a Creative Commons License.
- P3.express website
- My interview with P3.express founder, Frank Turley: Getting Started in Project Management – with Frank Turley | Video
- My interview with P3.express founder, Nader Rad: P3.express – The Perfect Lightweight Project Management Methodology? With Nader Rad
For the smallest projects, the founders of P3.expres wanted to simplify their project management methodology further still. So, micro.P3.express is a flavor of P3.express that works best for micro-projects with approximately 1 to 7 team members.
But you can use (or adapt) it to work in various environments, from mega- to micro‑organizations (including single-person ones). Similar to P3.express, micro.P3.express is minimalist by design. But it has fewer activities and no monthly cycle.
micro.P3.express is also free to use and adapt on a Creative Commons license, so find out more at https://micro.p3.express.
The FLEKS Model
The FLEKS model is also open source. And it is designed around the principles of:
– Working at levels from enterprise portfolio to program, to project, to product
– A design principle for FLEKS
– All processes link to the delivery of value
– the clue is in the name. Use what parts you need, discard the parts you don’t, and adapt the parts that aren’t quite right
The FLEKS Model is the brainchild of Hélio Costa. You can learn more about it and download resources from the FLEKS model website. Or check out our resources:
- Hélio Cosat writing about FLEKS on this site: Hybrid Project Management: Get Better Results with the Free FLEKS Hybrid Model
- My video interview with Hélio Costa: Fleks Hybrid Model – with Hélio Costa | Interview
‘Project Management Methodologies’ that aren’t about Project Management
Two methodologies often appear on lists of Project Management methodologies, despite having little more than a nodding relationship with Project Management.
Six Sigma is a process improvement and quality management methodology. It offers higher quality levels, less waste, and improved processes and profits.
You can mount a six sigma project. And you can adopt six sigma disciplines to improve your project process. But I don’t believe it is a project management methodology.
Getting Things Done (GTD)
This is one of the most popular (and most discipline-heavy) methodologies for personal time management.
Yes, personal time management is a hugely valuable skill for project managers and their team members. And yes, like other time management and productivity approaches, GTD leans to a degree on underlying project management principles.
But, is this a project management methodology that you could use for managing a project? No; not for anything much bigger than a personal project.
Have We Missed Any of Your Favorite Project Management Methodologies?
Please do let us know how we can improve this article. Have we missed any Project Management methodologies that we should add? Or is there something important that we should say about one of our PM methodologies, which is missing? Please do tell us in the comments section, below.
For a deep dive into Project Management methodologies, here are two conference papers on the PMI’s website: