A methodology is any way of doing things; the process or procedure you take to accomplish a task or goal.
You could have a strict methodology for anything, including how you shower. Your process might involve washing your body first, then your hair, and then focusing attention on shaving.
Over time, project managers have developed a plethora of methodologies for how they orchestrate and control their project, as well as the productivity of their project team members.
A methodology is a way of doing things, or an approach one takes in order to achieve a goal. In project management, a methodology is the specific style of plan a team uses to successfully achieve project deliverables.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list of possible methodologies grows constantly as innovative leaders think of new ways to conduct their projects efficiently. It can feel overwhelming just looking at a list of these many methodologies, wondering which will lead your team to project success.
In this article, I’ll do my best to break the various methodologies down for you and help determine what you should use for which projects.
Every list you’ll find on the internet regarding project management methodology types will vary. That’s because this term is fairly fluid, and everyone’s definition of “methodology” is different.
In this article, I’ve compiled 13 of what I believe are the most commonly used methodology types in the hopes that you can find something that works well for your team.
Additionally, feel free to check out our project management software page to see if there's a solution meant for you .
Kanban falls under the lean project management umbrella, and is most closely compared to the scrum methodology. Kanban focuses on maintaining strict processes so as to make the project go smoothly.
Kanban requires real-time communication through something called a kanban board, a project management scheduling tool that makes work transparent between departments. Kanban is Japanese for “visual signal,” which makes sense as you come to understand how necessary the visual board is to the methodology.
Kanban board courtesy of Atlassian
Kanban is most typically used to implement agile software development, as well as in lean manufacturing projects. As you can see from the image above, a kanban board consists of visual signals, columns, commitment points, delivery points, and work-in-progress limits.
Some professionals swear by kanban boards, while others aren’t so keen. Kanban is a great methodology for teams that are looking to reduce the amount of time it takes for them to get a project from start to finish. Kanban is also a good fit for production support.
Scrum is a popular project management methodology, and is a feature of the agile method. Therefore, it is not a standalone methodology. “Scrum” is originally a rugby term. That’s right, even project managers use sports analogies. Scrum is a rugby play in which teammates lock arms with their heads down and push against the opposition together.
The project management definition varies some. The scrum framework, in a professional setting, focuses on teamwork, personal accountability, and group progress toward the same objectives.
Scrum has three pillars: transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Teams who choose scrum operate their projects in two-week or month-long increments referred to as “sprints.” With a focus on accomplishing short projects constantly, the scrum methodology makes large, multi-faceted projects feel easier to accomplish.
Within the scrum methodology, teams are manage themselves. The team divvies up the work between project members and focuses on finishing it within that sprint. The deadline and workload is always clearly communicated, allowing employees to divide responsibilities as needed.
One important aspect of the scrum methodology is the daily standup meetings wherein team members deliver updates on progress, blockers, or ideas. With such teamwide transparency, a project manager is not needed 24/7, leaving managers to control project direction and focus.
Scrum is a fast-paced methodology that works best within flexible teams who can adjust quickly adjust. This is true not only of the project, but also within the company as a whole.
Scrum is best for teams with experienced managers who are skilled in prioritization. This methodology works well for independent leaders who can navigate their projects without hand-holding.
Because of its swift deadlines and a narrowed focus, scrum is not ideal for larger teams that have to manage a multitude of employees. It is, however, an effective methodology for organizations with smaller, more focused groups who are ready and willing to take on larger projects.
Scrumban is, as you may be able to tell, a combination of the scrum and kanban methodologies.
Why would you want to combine two separate methodologies, you ask? Well, project management is all about finding what works for you and your team. If you get there by taking the best features of two varying methods, so be it.
Image courtesy of Agile Alliance
Scrumban is being used more and more within the service industry, which has to focus on both upkeep, and production. Scrumban takes hints from the scrum methodology so as to remain agile and flexible. It combines that agility with continual improvement philosophy from kanban in order to create the scrumban method.
Scrumban is a good idea for maintenance type projects, as well as for teams who work in sprints and are developing new products or services.
|Learn more about kanban vs scrum.|
Critical chain project management does not go as far back as many of the other methodologies. Rather, it was developed more recently as an alternative for those who weren’t getting their money’s worth with the critical path method (CPM).
In this methodology, you work backward to go forward. Essentially, you take your deliverables — or the items you want this project to produce — and use those to create a detailed and accurate project schedule.
Image courtesy of LucidChart
In critical chain project management, planning revolves around resources, or the people and equipment you have available to carry out tasks. This methodology takes stock of task order and deadlines, but doesn’t use those parameters as its driving force. CCPM is a relatively newer methodology which asserts focus toward sustainability of resources.
Administrators are responsible for analyzing a project’s deliverables and working backward to determine which resources are necessary to a job’s completion. CCPM is an effective way for companies with limited resources to accomplish their goals. CCPM has been known to help organizations complete projects faster, and without spending as much money.
In CCPM, focus is placed on mono-tasking, or allocating energy to one task at a time. This is the opposite of multitasking, which requires people to split focus between varying project components. Studies have proven that multitasking is an inefficient way to get things done, as it’s impossible to fully devote your attention to separate things.
Critical chain is an alternative solution to the critical path analysis method, which we will discuss in a bit. You may choose to use CCPM if you are looking to allocate all resources and energy toward a single effort.
CCPM would be a fitting methodology for a company that is trying to roll out a live-chat solution. Such a project requires one team’s full attention as they work to deploy a new tactic. It is difficult to enact CCPM across departments and teams because there will always be conflicting priorities.
Lean project management is all about maximizing value, and minimizing waste. Every business, everywhere, hopes to increase profits and decrease the amount of resources spent to produce their goods and/or services.
Image courtesy of Smartsheet
Lean management can help you do this with its five principles. These principles aim to help companies reduce costs, improve the quality of their goods and services, and increase consumer happiness. Whether that’s happiness with the product, or happiness in life, I’ll let you decide.
The lean methodology’s five principles are as follows:
To learn more about each principle, click the link above. This methodology is a great option for companies that have limited resources, or that wish to reduce their resource usage. Lean management enables organizations to reduce cost without reducing quality.
Extreme programming (XP) is an agile approach to software development. Its main goal is to improve software quality while also improving the lives of those who are working on the projects, ie, the developers.
Image courtesy of LucidChart
This methodology accomplishes that by allotting focus to determining the best engineering practices to pursue.
According to Don Wells, extreme programming should be used in times of:
XP has five core values: communication, courage, feedback, respect, and simplicity. These core values keep the ship running tight, and prioritize treatment of team members in pursuit of achieving goals.
XP is conducted through varying practices, which were originally outlined by Ron Jeffries. The practices of XP continue to value the team effort and care for the individual. Click the link to learn more about these practices and why they matter.
The waterfall methodology is one of the oldest tricks in the book. This method of project management was developed in the 1970s and is still being used today, more widely in the software and engineering industries.
The waterfall strategy consists of creating a sequential order of stages or steps in which to proceed. Those leading a waterfall project should have the stages and steps they intend to follow laid out beforehand. Project managers and team leaders are required to have a clear understanding of the project design from the beginning.
This strategy is not flexible to change, and it should not be used for projects with an extensive timeline. The stages used will vary depending on your team structure and preferred workflow, but they can look something like this:
Image courtesy of Robert Half
Have you ever made plans to train for a marathon? Plan a wedding? Buy a new house? Then you may have used this method without even knowing it.
The waterfall method can be used in any such situation. It’s simply the process of listing deliverables and completing them sequentially.
If you’re working with a project team, then some tasks might be delegated to other employees. Each step in the waterfall method is completed before you continue to the next, which provides enough time to check results and ensure everything was done correctly.
This method does not allow for doubling back and redoing previous steps. It requires that you get things right the first time around, which can make it a risky choice for projects riddled with uncertainty. You will want to take this into account when deciding if the waterfall method is right for you and your team.
If something is agile, it is able to move quickly and easily. If you have a rapidly developing strategy and employees who need to be able to keep up, your project management methodology should be agile too.
The agile structure is more cyclical, as opposed to other methodologies which are more linear. It is opposite the waterfall method, and instead puts a focus on continuous improvement. The order of things in the agile method can look something like this:
Plan - Design - Create - Test - Analyze - Launch - Plan
Like any project, you begin with an idea. Then you implement that idea, and make changes and improvements in real time. The agile methodology is quite flexible, giving employees space to collaborate and create better solutions.
For example, let’s say your company is rolling out a new live chat feature. You may find soon enough that having one employee man the tool is ineffective, and bounce rates remain high.
Within an agile setup, you’d regroup to find a new solution. Maybe the next week you try having four people work the live chat feature, or test a new away message that allows you to gather visitors’ contact information.
Image courtesy of ReQtest
One challenge with the agile methodology is that everything is essentially an educated guess. Your deadlines aren’t hard and fast, and neither is your budget. As time goes on, you may need to rewire some strategies, change due dates, or even ask your stakeholders for additional resources.
For those operating under extremely fixed resources, this methodology may not be a good choice. Agile is often effective for creatives, or any team that collaborates regularly.
This strategy requires constant communication so project managers are able to fix what’s gone wrong. If you’re on a team that utilizes agile, you are also responsible for speaking up when processes aren’t working or could be better.
A hybrid methodology refers to a combination of waterfall and agile. This strategy consists of front-loading a lot of the work. There is heavy analysis and a focus on discovering the problem.
Once the problem has been clearly determined, hybrid develops into an agile workflow. Some professionals refer to the hybrid approach as, “structured agile.”
Hybrid requires teams to take their time before jumping into a project. This allows teams to remain flexible in later project stages, but to initially begin with more direction.
Image courtesy of Binfire
Hybrid projects are structured, while remaining flexible. The project’s problems may be mapped out in advance, but helpful iterations can be continually added on. This keeps teams from having to restart projects completely just to make a few changes.
To some, this strategy can feel like a compromise. It’s neither completely structured, nor completely freeform. This approach is a good choice for teams that generally know what they want, but aren’t 100 percent sure how to get there. This approach is effective for teams that have a clear budget in place and are able to iterate without going off the deep end.
PRiSM is an acronym which stands for Projects integrating Sustainable Methods. The PRiSM approach uniquely focuses on how a project can and will affect the environment. Originally developed by Green Project Management (GPM), this methodology has achieved awards for its green focus and overall resource maximization.
The PRiSM strategy challenges people to not just consider the project life cycle, but also to think about the project’s after-effects. The PRiSM methodology is more commonly used in communities that prioritize environmental protection.
Image courtesy of Green Project Management
This doesn’t mean that all PRiSM projects are centered on environmental preservation. PRiSM can be used in any project. However, it certainly is popular within organizations that generally prioritize sustainability efforts.
What kinds of industries, then, might utilize PRiSM? Is there one type of organization that should consider the environment when drafting their project plan? Or should this be a more universal practice?
Oil and gas are just two industries that could make a huge difference by considering long-term environmental effects in their project charters. Any type of company that requires deforestation should also consider the PRiSM methodology. Examples of these are real estate companies, construction industries, and any manufacturing company.
PRINCE2 is an acronym for Projects in Controlled Environments. (Project management has a LOT of terms —acronyms are necessary!) This methodology was, funnily enough, developed for and used most often by government officials in the UK. It is now more widely distributed and has spread to other European countries, as well as Australia.
PRINCE2 requires users to divide projects up into smaller, more approachable stages. This is the standard methodology for information systems projects in the U.K. PRINCE2 is a structured methodology with seven principles that are consistent across any organization.
The seven principles of PRINCE2 are:
1. Continued business justification: Is the project continually viable?
2. Manage by exception: Communication is utilized when necessary (i.e. when a problem arises).
3. Learn from experience: Team members maintain a consistent lessons log throughout the project. Project team members should refer to the current and previous lessons logs to speed up processes.
4. Defined roles and responsibilities: Individuals may take on many roles. The four levels of roles are: corporate or program management, project board, project manager level, and team level.
5. Manage by stages: The PRINCE2 plan is controlled one stage at a time. Before they can transition into a new stage, team members have to document new risks, the overall plan, or any updates to the next stage in relation to recent discoveries.
6. Focus on products: Focus on what a project has to deliver, or its deliverables as defined by executives and/or consumers. Everyone working on the project should be making moves toward one desired outcome.
7. Tailor to suit the project environment: This methodology should be tweaked according to its environment. In other words, continue to operate according to your normal structures.
Image courtesy of Global Edulink UK
Similar to the waterfall method, PRINCE2 does not accommodate change easily as other methods. Any change made in the middle of the project requires a redo of almost all documentation. As a document-heavy methodology, this could add up to hours of work. Project managers should consider this before choosing the PRINCE2 method.
This method is primarily suited for government projects in the U.K., considering that is its intended purpose. However, it can also be a useful method for projects which have their requirements pre-sorted. Again, with so much necessary documentation, PRINCE2 is not something you’ll want to make up as you go.
In integrated project management, companies fully standardize their project management strategies. This is an especially relevant strategy in creative industries, so as to structure the development of various collateral.
This strategy makes way for clarity across the board by having employees across departments follow the same structure. It simplifies progress communication, as all teams operate off of a similar agenda.
Image courtesy of ITLab365
IPM might be a good strategy to choose if your organization plans to publish content across various platforms and devices. The “integrated” aspect means all parts of the process work together to make each other more effective.
This methodology is driven by an algorithm that determines a project’s schedule and activities. Project administrators who utilize CPM are required to understand the activities that a project needs to accomplish, the time allowed for each task or activity within the work structure, project deliverables, and dependencies.
Once you have a grasp on the variables, you can use estimated durations for each task, plus any dependencies, to help structure the project. This helps determine a project’s overall timeline and delegates tasks more efficiently. CPM allows you to determine what can be completed in tandem and which tasks depend on prior steps’ completion.
Image courtesy of LucidChart
Organizations waste a lot less time when they provide detailed project schedules. CPM is, unfortunately, not a great choice for beginners. It necessitates the experience of those who have been around the block. If you’re leading a project for the first time, this is not the right methodology.
CPM is a good methodology for projects with interconnected responsibilities. One good example would be residential construction. It’s impossible to put carpet in a home while you’re still laying the foundation. However, team members can take to working on other aspects of home building, such as cutting wood or creating more insulation.
Phew - that was a lot of information. Hopefully you understand your options and are a few steps closer to choosing the methodology that is right for you.
The best part? You don’t even have to stick with one of these after you’ve decided. If you try it out for a while, only to realize it’s not a fit, you can go back to the drawing board. Just try not to do that too many times, as you’ll end up depleting vital resources, patience being one of them!
Wondering whether a project is right for you right now? Learn how to conduct a feasibility study to save you time and money in the long run.
Grace Pinegar is a lifelong storyteller with an extensive background in various forms such as acting, journalism, improv, research, and content marketing. She was raised in Texas, educated in Missouri, worked in Chicago, and is now a proud New Yorker. (she/her/hers)
Trying something new is a challenge at any age.
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