Project management is tricky, but a very important part of any business. Learning about various ways to run your project can help you achieve success. While failing to do so causes delays and issues that could have been avoided altogether. Therefore we invite you to learn about the various practices and ways for improving your business with a handy project management methodology cheat sheet.
A project management methodology is a set of principles and practices that guide you in organizing the projects to ensure the best possible outcome.
Not all project management methodologies are built the same. Some are more specific and cover the entire project management process from initial idea to final delivery, others focus only on specific parts of the project. There is no saying which project management methodology is the best, as they all carry different strenghts and are best suited for particular scenarios.
In fact, according to some statistics up to 60% of project managers are using hybrid project management approaches to deliver their projects. Mixing together two or more project management methodologies in order to create a perfect blend for their needs.
Sounds great, right? To do this effectively, however, you need to be well versed in project management methodologies. And this is what this article will help you achieve – learn about different project management methods, how they work, and what they are best suited for.
There is a variety of project management approaches to choose from. Some are more defined, others are merely practices used to help the team in certain project stages. However, they are all created and used with the same goal in mind – helping the project succeed. Thus, all the approaches compared in this article will be referred to as methodologies. Even if they are not regarded as full-on systems in other sources.
To narrow your selection and bring the most value, we have selected 10 most popular project management methodologies used today – Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, Lean, Waterfall, Six Sigma, PMI/PMBOK, PRINCE2, and Crystal. While excluding some approaches that are only used in particular industries (for example, eXtreme programming).
You can continue reading to learn more about each of these practices, or navigate to the end of the article for the project management methodology cheat sheet that covers the basics for all. Ready? Let’s begin.
Waterfall is the first and the most traditional project management methodology on this list. It is a linear management approach that says the project should be executed in several stages that follow each other. Once one stage is over, the next one can begin, and so on. As such, this project management methodology is easy to understand and follow. However, as the business environment gets faster and faster, some companies struggle to keep up with the requirements of a changing market while using Waterfall.
Most waterfall projects will follow steps like – Conception, Initiation, Analysis, Design, Construction, Testing, and Deployment. The steps can differ depending on the project specifics, but this gives you a good idea of how Waterfall works. Each step is carried out fully before the next one begins. This means, for example, that the design for the whole project will have to be done before the construction phase can commence.
To map out these stages on a timeline and divide them into smaller tasks, most teams use the Gantt chart. Which makes it easy to define dependencies between project stages, tasks, and see how the project schedule changes if something is late.
One of the biggest concerns regarding the Waterfall project management methodology is the lack of flexibility. Because of the linear approach, it is not easy to introduce changes to the project once it has already begun. As such, this methodology is best suited for large and complex projects that have little to no changes or variables. While projects with more uncertainty and unpredictability will not find Waterfall truly complimentary to their process.
PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is one of the best-described project management methodologies you could choose from. It covers ideas, principles, and processes, thus giving its users a fully developed methodology to use. To make sure it does not fall to similar faults as Waterfall, PRINCE2 also offers a way for the teams to prepare for and react to possible changes or unforeseen events. It is a fully developed and ready to use project management methodology.
PRINCE2 has originated in the UK. In fact, it was developed by the UK government in 1996 and stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments or PRINCE2. There is no surprise, this project management methodology is still widely used in the UK, especially in government projects. The two core ideas behind this method are organization and control. Everything in the project should be done with these two in mind.
The project process is managed in stages similar to Waterfall. However, PRINCE2 checks if each finished product meets the quality criteria. Thus, creating more room for feedback in its process. The key roles of PRINCE2 are the project manager and the project board, which is composed out of the customer, the user, and the supplier (or their representatives). The project manager regularly reports to the project board with the latest information and the project board decides where the project should be going next and what decisions should be made.
PRINCE2 is a complex and thorough project management methodology perfect for large projects with fixed requirements. While it does have some Agile aspects it will not hold up well in cases where everything is changing constantly. Similarly, PRINCE2 will be too complex and too big for small projects to bring value.
PMBOK is an abbreviation that stands for the Project Management Body of Knowledge. It may be a stretch to call PMBOK a project management methodology when it is more of a collection of the best project management practices, standards, and terms provided by the PMI. However, PMBOK is often used as and referred to as a project management methodology because it covers various techniques on how to best execute projects from start to finish.
Being a collection of practices and industry standards, PMBOK does not offer a clear guide on how to run projects. Instead, teams have to pick which practices they will take on and at which time. Therefore, this project management methodology is best suited for teams with project management professionals aboard. They can more easily sort through the provided options and pick which of the applications the team should be using.
According to the PMBOK, the projects are run in 5 stages – Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring, and Project Close. As such it is clear that PMBOK is a linear project management methodology similar to PRINCE2 and Waterfall.
PMBOK will work best for projects in need of standardization. It will also bring credibility to the team and the company as they will be using practices that meet the industry standards. However, for those seeking a project management methodology with clear rules, PMBOK might not be the best fit.
Six Sigma was first introduced as a way to improve the manufacturing process at Motorola in 1986. It is focused on identifying and removing errors in the process to ensure that 99.9996% of the efforts are error-free. As such, this project management methodology focuses on eliminating variations and creating a highly standardized process.
To achieve this goal, the Six Sigma practitioners follow this path – Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, and Control. Depending on whether Six Sigma is applied to a new or an existing project, there are two processes to choose from – DMADV or DMAIC. They vary a little in wording but follow the same ideas to optimize the team efforts. Through these 5 steps, Six Sigma companies can identify and remove current and future errors from their processes.
Six Sigma is hard to implement as it looks at the whole process instead of focusing on certain parts of it. However, this approach offers a more comprehensive issue solution and a higher success rate. Therefore it is more appealing to large companies that can invest the time and money needed to get a bigger reward.
Agile has been one of the biggest buzzwords (or curse words) in the project management industry for the past decade. The Agile manifesto brought some much-needed change to the project management practices for development teams, but as the usage of Agile grew, many failed to implement the ideas successfully and thus felt it was just another hype.
In reality, Agile cannot be called a project management methodology on its own. As it only describes certain principles for teams to follow and lacks in defining clear processes or practices. Instead, teams following Agile, have to still describe those practices for themselves. It is also a common misconception, that Agile is Scrum, Kanban, or other similar practices. While in fact, they were developed or transformed to create processes that fit the Agile values and principles.
Agile describes 4 key values for it’s teams to follow:
1 – Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
2 – Working software over comprehensive documentation.
3 – Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
4 – Responding to change over following a plan.
These values along with the 12 principles guide the teams to an iterative process that prioritizes customer needs and the creation of value over anything else. As such, Agile works great for fast-changing environments where flexibility is key. Agile is also great for fostering active communication between the team members and collaboration throughout the project to achieve the best result. However, before taking Agile on, teams should understand it is more of a mindset change, rather than a set of rules to follow.
Scrum is one of the best-known and widely used applications of Agile principles. It offers a more defined view on how to run small projects that require teamwork, delivery speed, and improved communication between the project team and the stakeholders. This method was first introduced as a project management framework for software development teams but has since been applied to various other industries.
Scrum defines three key roles for the project – Project Team delivers the work from the Sprint backlog, the Product Owner prioritizes the work in the Product Backlog and the Scrum Master coaches the team and facilitates the application of Scrum practices. Scrum projects are run in short iterations called Sprints. The Sprints usually last around 2 weeks and it is during this time that the team commits to and delivers a certain number of tasks.
Before each sprint, the team and the Product owner hold a Sprint planning meeting. Where the most important tasks are pulled from the Product backlog, defined, and committed to by the team members. Once the Sprint is over, the team and the Product owner present the finished work to the client and gathers comments and requirements for the next Sprint. This cycle continues until the project reaches its end.
One thing to remember with this project management methodology is that a Product Owner is not the same as a project manager. The Product Owner is not leading the team, but rather working together with a highly focused and self-organizing team to guide them on which project tasks should take priority next. Thus, Scrum works great for smaller teams (or large ones divided into several teams) with highly motivated teams in need of a flexible approach to deliver the end product.
Kanban is another project management methodology under the Agile umbrella. As such, it carries similarities towards Scrum, but you should not be mistaken, as the two methodologies are quite different.
Compared to Scrum, Kanban is less descriptive and more focused on visualizing the process. As such, the main Kanban tool is the Kanban board which visualizes everything that the team is working on. The process is set up with columns. Most teams start with something simple like To do, Doing, and Done. And all of the project tasks are visualized as cards that move through the process columns as the work is being done.
Each team modifies and specializes their boards to replicate their own process as accurately as possible. This is done with the help of columns to replicate the process steps, secondary columns to expand process steps into more accurate phases (see advanced Kanban board), and swimlanes (rows) to categorize Kanban tasks on the board. It is up to the team members to pull tasks from the backlog and assign those tasks to themselves. Thus, most teams use prioritization columns to specify which tasks should be completed first.
Lastly, to ensure a consistent workflow, Kanban limits the Work In Progress. Teams can only put a certain number of tasks into the progress columns to ensure that each team member is only working on one task at a time. This ensures a steady throughput of tasks and increases the ability to spot bottlenecks.
Kanban does not define any specific team roles but asks the team to hold regular meetings to review priorities and progress. As such, it can ensure a quick reaction to changes, the ability to spot issues early, and a shorter time from task creation to delivery. However, Kanban is mostly focused on task execution and lacks processes for dependency management and the overall scope of the project.
Scrumban is a hybrid project management methodology composed out of elements from Scrum and Kanban. Initially, it was created as a stepping stone for those moving from Kanban to Scrum or vice versa. However, it slowly became a practice on its own bridging the gap between its two predecessors.
To explain shortly, Scrumban is Scrum with fewer restrictions or Kanban with more structure. It uses the Kanban board to visualize the processes and limit the WIP and brings in daily Scrum and on-demand planning meetings to structure the work that is being delivered. Just like in Kanban, there are no predefined team roles. The team needs to work together and collaborate in task planning, prioritization, and execution.
This project management methodology is great for those that already tried Kanban and Scrum, and are looking for something in between. It offers less stress worrying about deadlines and focuses the team on the most important tasks at the moment. Thus, delivering value in an optimized and timely manner.
When it comes to Lean, most will not refer to it as a project management methodology. It is more of an idea of how a company or team should operate, which is doing more with less. Lean asks its teams to find out which of their actions bring actual value and strip the project of anything else that is just additional.
This is done with the help of 3Ms – Muda, Mura, and Muri.
Muda is all about getting rid of waste. It asks the team to review their processes and eliminate anything that does not create value. This could be additional review steps in an ad agency, having to stall the production process for some parts to be finished, and more. With Lean, all of your actions should be optimized and bring value to the table.
Mura is about standardizing the processes. Lean argues that not having a set way to do things creates variations which lead to wasted time and money. To avoid this, you should specify the most effective processes and use them continuously throughout the project.
Muri is about removing the overload. If your team has too much on their plate or are working on several projects at a time, everything slows down. Thus, Lean asks the teams to slow down and focus on fewer things at a time in order to work faster and more productively.
This project management methodology is similar to Agile in a way that there are no set processes or rules to be followed. It is more of a mindset for teams to employ and follow as they create their own processes and rules. Lean thinking is great for those looking for continuous process efficiency improvement and eliminating waste.
Crystal is another Agile project management methodology focused on delivering value through continuous improvement. Compared to other Agile methods, Crystal places most of its focus on the team. This project management methodology says that only teams can find ways to improve in each unique project.
To ensure the team has the best environment for performing, Crystal is based on several principles:
1 – Frequent delivery. To ensure the project is on track an meets the requirements.
2 – Reflective improvement. To identify what is and is not working in the process.
3 – Osmotic communication. To ensure the team is collaborating and information flows between team members.
4 – Focus. The ability to work without interruptions and concentrate on what has to be done.
5 – Personal safety. Each team member should feel secure to voice their issues and concerns.
6 – Expert customer. To validate the final result and answer questions.
7 – Technical environment and frequent integration. To ensure the everything is working according to plan and problems are identified quickly.
To accommodate different project sizes, the Crystal method offers several processes for the teams to choose from. The process suitability is defined by the team size, criticality, and priority of the project. The range of Crystal methods varies from Clear dedicated for teams of 6 people to Sapphire created for especially large teams over 200 people.
The Crystal project management methodology will be great for those that want to put more focus on their teams and empower them to optimize the processes.
When deciding on which project management methodology to choose, you will likely see multiple options that could work for your process. And there should be no reason why you should pick only one. Instead, more and more project managers are implementing hybrid project management approaches where they combine practices from several methodologies into a system that works for their processes.
Not sure where to begin? Start small. Pick a team that is sure on which process will work best for them and then see how you can incorporate their project management methodology with the rest of the company processes. This will require effort on your part, but as a result, you will be left with a better and more effective process.
Grab this project management methodology cheat sheet for a quick reminder on the 10 most popular methodologies.