Choosing the right project management methodology is essential. Here are the 20 most popular project management methodologies (PMMs) in practice today.
With the right project management methodology, project management offices (PMOs) can assist their organizations in improving business outcomes — but this requires more than recognizing organizational priorities. For most companies, recent external forces such as COVID-19 and industry disruptions brought about by the pace of digital change have shifted company goals and priorities, making it necessary to re-evaluate whether the project methodologies they have in place can effectively and efficiently achieve new business goals while reducing risks
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? Here, we outline the most popular project management methodologies (PMMs) in practice today, comparing their focus and principles.
Top 20 project management methodologies
When considering these project management methodologies, it is important to note that there isn’t always a single solution in all cases, even within the same organization. The following table provides a brief snapshot of the focus of the 20 most popular project management methodologies, with the benefits — and drawbacks — of each defined more broadly below.
Waterfall is recognized as a traditional sequential methodology and has been a mainstay project management methodology for many years. It is used across many industries, but most commonly in software development. It comprises static phases (requirements analysis, design, testing, implementation, and maintenance) that are executed in a specific, linear order.
Waterfall allows for increased control throughout each phase. It offers a more formal planning stage that may increase the chances of capturing all project requirements upfront. It reduces the loss of any key information and requirements in the initial stages. One downside is that waterfall can be highly inflexible if a project’s scope changes after it is already under way.
Agile takes a significantly different approach to project management. It was initially developed for projects that require significant flexibility and speed, and it is focused on providing continuous improvement to delivering better quality solutions. To achieve this, agile is composed of short delivery cycles, aka “sprints.” Agile may be best-suited for projects requiring less control and more 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. Drawbacks of agile include a greater time commitment needed from stakeholders when going through each iteration and potentially less documentation compared to waterfall.
Waterfall and agile 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 (CPM)
CPM is a step-by-step methodology used for projects with interdependent activities. It is focused on maximizing project activities and finding the shortest path (timeline) to task and project success using 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. One downside to CPM is that some teams may not always recognize the critical path, especially in larger more complex projects.
Critical chain project management (CCPM)
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. It requires ensuring everyone is up to speed on critical chain and effort to gain buy-in into this methodology from all stakeholders.
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. This methodology adds some potential rigidity that can stifle creativity or delay project delivery.
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. Larger teams may have trouble adapting to Scrum and it can fail or be subject to scope creep, especially if all team members are not fully engaged and committed. To avoid duplication and confusion, roles need to be well-defined.
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 relies on full stakeholder commitment, which can be problematic when stakeholders are reluctant to change or afraid of change. This can result in delivery inconsistencies.
Lean Six Sigma
This hybrid of Lean and Six Sigma focuses on the customer with the goal of improving business efficiency and effectiveness in identifying and understanding how the work gets done (the value stream). Lean Six Sigma strives to improve processes, remove unnecessary waste, and reduce defects, but it can be costly and time-consuming for companies to implement in-house.
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. Overloaded or outdated boards, however, can create confusion or result in failure.
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. Geared toward larger teams, the success of Scrumban relies on a stable supply of products or components and team roles need to be well-defined.
Event chain methodology (ECM)
As an additional option to CPM or CCPM, 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. Some teams may not recognize that an event can trigger an opportunity rather than just a potential problem.
Extreme programming (XP)
This methodology is intended to improve the quality and functionality of software as stakeholder needs change. XP uses short development cycles and requires constant collaboration, due to frequent releases. Advantages: XP can do wonders for productivity for a project team that needs a high production level. Teams are kept on their toes and find XP less focused and structured.
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 for determining how to do the work more effectively.
Crystal might not be suitable for some remote teams due to the need for close and frequent communication and brainstorming.
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. FDD may not work best for smaller teams, and limited written stakeholder documentation may become an issue.
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
Costly implementations using DSDM makes it less suited to smaller businesses.
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. ASD requires a significant amount of resourcing and higher costs making it more suitable for larger organizations.
Rapid application development (RAD)
Rational unified process (RUP)
RUP helps teams simplify product development and helps reduce risks. It works well in software development projects. It is similar to Waterfall, but RUP has four iterative phases: inception, elaboration, construction, and transition. Each stage involves regular and frequent stakeholder feedback while exploring ideas and defining requirements. One potential issue is, RUP is process-dependent and relies heavily on stakeholder feedback.
Combines waterfall and an iterative mode to make it easier for teams to adapt. Spiral is divided into four stages: analysis, risk evaluation, execution, and planning. It works best for long-term and higher-risk projects. Within every stage there are multiple risk assessments and review processes. Spiral is costly and is less suitable for smaller projects.
Author: Moira Alexander
Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder of PMWorld 360 Magazine and Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and digital workplace freelance columnist for various publications and former contributor to Price of Business Talk Radio and USA Business Radio. Moira has 20+ years in business (IS&T) and project management for small to large businesses in the U.S. and Canada.