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The 5 Most Popular Project Management Approaches That Work

April 2, 2019

If you’re not succeeding at a challenge, you might try to change your approach.
Come at it from a different angle, employ a different ingredient to get the taste just right, or use a different kind of wood to make sure the house holds up through a hurricane. 

Project managers are experts in changing up their approach, which is just one thing you can learn in this report on project management statistics. Their success relies on their ability to assess what isn’t working, and seek out alternate solutions. These alternate methods are referred to as different project management approaches.

Project management approach

Before we get started, I want to further clarify how project managers can use an approach. An approach influences how project managers lead the rest of the project.

Some approaches are flexible, while others require strict deadlines and processes that are non-negotiable. If you try one approach and realize halfway in that it isn’t working for you and your team, don’t be afraid to switch it up and try something different!

The following are five of the most commonly recognized project management approaches. Read on and discover which one sounds like your team’s best fit!

Looking for tools to help you implement these approaches? Check out G2's reviews of the best project management software .

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1. Traditional

A traditional project management approach is fairly bare bones. It’s a way for project managers to achieve their desired deliverables and outcomes in a set period of time, under a pre-established budget. This approach is most beneficial during projects where a lot of change is not expected. 

traditional project management approach

Image courtesy of ActiveCollab

For example, if you’ve done a certain project 12 times and have a solid understanding of how things go, you may choose to use traditional project management. In this approach, projects follow five concrete stages of the project lifecycle: initiation, planning, execution, control/monitor, and project closing.

Related: Kick off your project on the right foot by learning how to write an effective business case.

2. Agile

Agile project management is as the word implies: flexible. It’s also constantly changing. With the agile approach, there are less traditional timelines and projects work more fluidly. As updates or changes are made, decision-makers and managers receive feedback in real-time that allows them to begin making changes for their next roll-out of features or services.

“Scrum” is a popular framework within the agile approach, while the lesser-known framework is “kanban.”

3. Waterfall

The waterfall approach is good for projects that have linear steps. Doing your makeup in the morning is a silly example of a “linear project.” Foundation goes on first, then blush, then mascara. You don’t start another step until you’ve finished the previous step, and you don’t return to previous steps after completion.

4. Systems

Systems project management is a methodical approach that can best be explained through an image. In the system project management framework, project planning, project monitoring, and project adapting steps work in a continuous project control loop until the project is complete. 

After that, the project manager or managers review the project in order to assess what they have learned. This leads into the next project, where the cycle starts all over again. 

System project management approach

 Image courtesy of MIT OpenCourseWare

5. Program Management

Program management is an approach to project management that is useful for managers who have to handle many projects at once. Program management is most often used in relation to projects where functional improvement is the main goal, e.g. change management, or industrial engineering.

The right approach

As I’m sure you well know, communication is all in the delivery, and projects are all in the approach. Choosing to go at a project the right way can make the difference between a success and a failure.

Unsure if a project is worth your time? Learn how to conduct a feasibility study before you waste valuable time and resources.

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