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.
So, in this guide, we’ll go through all of the main Project Management methodologies and give you:
‘A system of practices, techniques, procedures, and rules used by those who work in a discipline.’The PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition, Glossary.
I think what is important here for a methodology is the combination of both:
Many people will have many reasons to like or to 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:
Clearly, the right methodology for a project will depend on the circumstances:
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:
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.
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 project 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 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:
The Manifesto for Agile Software Development sets out the four principles that guide agile methodologies. The processes and practices that characterize them include:
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.
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.
For my money, Lean is a principle (or better, a set of principles) that we can apply to project management to improve our practice. 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 five principles of Lean has found a comfortable home in Agile project management and the methodologies that support it.
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.
The Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge is not and does not offer a formal project management methodology. Rather, it describes itself 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
I’ve included it for two reasons; one of perception and the other of substance.
So, to all intents and purposes, the PMBOK Guide contains the world’s most widely-used project management methodology.
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:
PRINCE2 was developed by the UK Government and is owned and managed by Axelos.
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:
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.
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.
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 over-run 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) 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.
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) 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) 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.
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.
Scrum is by far the most widely used Agile methodology. It originates in the world of New Product Development and gets its name from a metaphor with 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.
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.
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) 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:
DSDM is particularly good at aligning development projects with enterprise-wide strategic goals. It focuses on delivering business benefits, following eight key principles:
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:
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 is based on testing prototypes and gaining input on the experience from users. The development process is, crudely:
Adaptive Project Framework starts with the principle that ‘nothing is fixed‘. every project has its own requirements and, more critical still, the client has constant control over changes to scope and specification.
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:
What makes this an agile methodology is the iteration of these disciplines within each phase, until you have met a satisfactory objective.
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.
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.
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:
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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