How to Choose a Project Management Methodology
A survey published in the Harvard Business Review revealed that time was a major obstacle to team collaboration.
Respondents listed time as the third biggest challenge to collaboration, following workplace culture and senior management.
Projects are incredibly fast-paced, with competing deadlines, limited resources, and interdependent tasks.
It may seem like collaboration, working closely with the team to solve problems, is just another drain on your time. After all, who has time for more meetings or video calls?
However, engaging with the team can increase productivity and save time in the long run.
Though it sounds counterintuitive, collaboration increases when the team knows what to do and can act independently as much as possible. Rather than wasting time figuring out responsibilities or what part of the project comes next, the team can just work.
A simple way to make more time for team collaboration is to pick a standard method for your project during the planning phase.
A methodology is like a roadmap or a set of blueprints for your project, providing teams with a set of instructions and processes to deliver successful projects.
Having the methodology in place will help the team get to work quickly, standardize deliverables, and accelerate decision-making.
There are many different types of project methodologies which have evolved to meet the needs of various industries and organizations.
In this article, I will briefly outline seven popular approaches – PRINCE2, Critical Path Management, Waterfall, Agile, Scrum, Hybrid, and Kanban – before concluding with some tips to determine which methodology to use.
7 Popular Project Management Methodologies
PRINCE2 (an acronym for PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is a process-driven approach with a focus on business justification and a defined structure for teams.
Developed in 1989 by the UK government and used in over 150 countries, PRINCE2 breaks a project into stages and treats each stage as its own entity with a plan.
The methodology consists of 7 Principles, 7 Themes, and 7 Processes to ensure that projects are fully planned and controlled from the outset. Key principles include:
- Learning from every stage.
- Clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
- A focus on quality.
PRINCE2 is applicable to all project types.
2. Critical Path Management
First developed in the 1950s, this methodology uses the duration of project tasks to plan the timeline.
The project is broken into phases with associated tasks. An estimated duration is assigned to each task and phase, which creates the overall timeline. This is typically based on the duration of the longest task.
Critical Path Management enables teams to focus on shorter tasks first, manage risks, allocate resources, and compare planned progress against actual progress.
This approach increases accountability and transparency around task ownership and clarifies the impact of delays on the timeline.
The Waterfall methodology was created in the 1970s for construction and manufacturing projects and follows a sequential approach to project management.
The project is divided into a series of processes with each stage beginning only with the completion of the previous stage. Once a phase is completed, it cannot be revisited.
Waterfall typically involves in-depth requirement analysis and planning – all of which is thoroughly documented.
There are several benefits to this approach:
- Gathering accurate requirements and setting deadlines before commencing work makes planning much easier.
- Progress is easy to measure using defined milestones.
- A clear understanding of the final deliverables often leads to better quality products.
- The emphasis on project documents makes it easy to add new team members as work progresses.
However, Waterfall is often viewed as inflexible and slow to adapt to new technologies. As the plan depends on clear requirements, issues can arise if the customer wants something new during the project.
Customers are often not involved in the process between requirements analysis and final delivery. This can lead to negative feedback.
Risk and unforeseen changes are also difficult to accommodate within the agreed schedule.
Waterfall is ideal for short-term projects with defined requirements that are unlikely to change.
The Agile methods and practices for software development emerged in 2001, with a focus on iterative cycles and team collaboration.
Agile is increasingly popular across a range of industries, such as finance, insurance, healthcare, and government.
Using customer requirements and business value, projects are divided into sprints with defined durations and expected deliverables.
Agile allows teams to start quickly and remain flexible in response to customer input. This also means less re-work is needed during each sprint.
Agile helps teams to deal with change quickly whilst also streamlining project processes.
There are a few drawbacks to Agile. Progress is difficult if customer requirements are not clear or if the customer is not willing to commit time to provide feedback during sprints.
The lack of long-term plans or a well-defined scope and constant revisions can also lead to project overrun.
Agile is often divided into two frameworks: Scrum and Kanban.
A lightweight process, Scrum focuses on 30-day sprints to deliver priority tasks and requirements. Work is managed via two backlogs: the list of prioritized features in a product backlog, and the sprint backlog, taken from the product backlog.
Tasks are managed using a scrum board with lists for ‘to-do’, ‘in progress’, and ‘done’.
A Scrum team comprises of a Product Owner who represents the customer; the Scrum Master, who implements the scrum, and the team, responsible for delivering the work.
Scrum encourages increased collaboration between team members and the project customer. This is achieved using four Scrum ‘ceremonies’:
- Sprint planning
- Sprint demo (work completed in a sprint)
- Daily stand-up
- Sprint retrospective.
Kanban, a Japanese word for “a card you can see”, is a visual method for managing tasks in an Agile manner.
Typically, teams use four cards (To-do, in progress, review, done) on a board, moving cards as work progresses.
Kanban is based on three key principles:
- Visualize project work on a board.
- Limit the number of items in progress (Work In Progress or WIP)
- Maintain flow by moving the next item into WIP when a task is complete.
Kanban requires a shift in how teams work together, encouraging collaboration in a number of ways.
Firstly, the team continuously optimize the workflow, allowing conversations around different ways of working and viewpoints.
Secondly, taking a visual approach to task management reduces the need for multiple meetings and emails to figure out what task is due next. When the team do meet, the focus is on upcoming work and potential blockers.
Thirdly, teams can avoid bottlenecks and focus on high-quality work by limiting work in progress. As work is moved into execution, the team discuss who will take on the new tasks.
7. Hybrid Methods
Hybrid models, often mixing Waterfall and Agile, are becoming increasingly popular. Combining the best elements of two methods, a hybrid model allows organizations to implement the right approach for the project.
Additional project methods and frameworks
PMBOK refers to the ‘Project Management Body of Knowledge’, a set of processes, best practices, terminologies, and guidelines for project, program, and portfolio management. These guidelines are compiled by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and are accepted as standards within the project management industry.
PMBOK is based on five project management Process Groups (initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing) and 10 project management Knowledge Areas including communications, risk management, and scope.
PMBOK is often viewed as a standard or framework rather than a methodology for project management.
How to Choose a Project Management Methodology
Often, project teams change established methodologies to create an approach appropriate to customer needs, the project and the skillset of the team.
Some criteria to consider when evaluating project management methodologies include:
- What is the final goal of the project?
- How complex is the project?
- What are the required benefits of the final deliverable?
- What methodology is currently in use in the organization?
- Are there any learnings or outcomes from previous projects that should be considered?
- How involved does your customer want/need to be in the project?
- Do your stakeholders prefer a particular methodology?
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2016 and has updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.