Project Management Methodologies – An Overview

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There’s method in his madness, goes the oft-quoted Shakespeare line. There’s a reason it’s used so often. It’s true. Not just in the case of “Hamlet,” of course, but in explaining any purpose or reasoning behind an action.

The motivation behind the process of managing a project can seem inexplicable to some, especially if they’re not aware of the many methodologies that have been developed to organize complex plans. But there is a rule that governs all successful projects. However, that process isn’t the same for every project.

Project management methodology is just a fancy way of describing a system used to do something. Before you begin any project, you need the right project management tools, a good team, and you must know how you’re going to run the project. Some projects lend themselves to certain methodologies. Sometimes it’s at the preference of the project manager.

To choose the right methodology for you and your project (or even decide on a hybrid methodology), you should know what they are. There are many, so let’s get started on a summary of the most widely used.

there are many ways to manage a project

PMI/PMBOK

What It Is: This is the granddaddy of methodologies, if it’s a methodology at all. The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a not-for-profit membership association, project management certification and standards organization. They publish guidelines, rules and characteristics for project, program and portfolio management.

For off, PMBOK® is an acronym for Project Management Body of Knowledge. It’s a book, published by PMI, that collects the processes, best practices, terminologies and guidelines that are the accepted norm in the industry. It was first published in 1996 and is about to publish its sixth edition in the fall of 2017.

The text breaks down a project into five process groups: initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing. So, is it a methodology or an agreed upon structure for projects? That’s the debate. What’s clear, though, is that by creating these phases of a project, one can begin to manage the unruly thing into a clear and effective pathway to success.

When To Use It: Almost any project can benefit from PMBOK, as all projects big and small are going to go through the various stages outlined in the book. It’s a great way to keep everyone on the same page, so to speak, and offers a clear definition of how a project is managed.

Another use is that is creates a standardized method to keep working methods consistent across different companies. It is also the basis for PMP certification, which is the gold-standard among project managers, and recognized all over the world. PMBOK is a great traditional framework to run a project.

Waterfall

What It Is: This may be the most straightforward and linear of all the approaches to managing a project. The name is apt, as the waterfall methodology is a process in which the phases of the project flow downward. The model requires that you move from one phase to another only once that phase has been successfully completed.

The method originates from a symposium on advanced programming held in 1956. It wasn’t until 1970, though, that the first formal description of the waterfall model was published by Winston W. Royce, though the term waterfall wasn’t used. That word to describe this method was first used in a paper by Bell and Thayer, published in 1976.

The model is in six parts, beginning with capturing requirements in a document, creating models to analyze them, designing, coding, testing and installing and maintenance of that system.

When to Use It: Waterfall is great for manufacturing and construction projects, which are highly structured and when it’s too expensive to pivot or change anything after the fact. Waterfall often makes use of a Gantt chart for planning and scheduling; an example is below.

gantt chart for waterfall PM methodology

Critical Path Method (CPM)

What It Is: In CPM, you build a model of the project, including all the activities listed in a work breakdown structure, the duration of those tasks, what if any task dependencies there are and marking off milestones to indicated larger phases of the project or points in which your deliverables are due. With this information, you determine what is the path to finish the project with the least slack. Basically, you’re figuring out how long the tasks that make up the project will take.

The critical path method was developed in the late 1950s by Morgan R. Walker of DuPont and James E. Kelley, Jr., of Remington Rand. DuPont was already using a precursor of CPM as early the the 1940s, and it was applied to the Manhattan Project.

The technique starts with a list of all activities, or a work breakdown structure, the duration of each task, what dependencies there are and then mapping milestones and deliverables.

When to Use It: CPM works better with smaller or mid-sized projects. The larger the project, the more difficult it can be to take all the data you need to diagram and make sense of it without software.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)

What It Is: In CCPM, you’re focusing on resources that you’ll be using to complete the project, such as teams, equipment, office space, etc. It’s a less technical method of project management that doesn’t put as much emphasis on task order or scheduling, but rather on balancing resources and keeping them flexible.

First introduced in 1997, in the book “Critical Path” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, it has been credited with making projects anywhere from 10-50% faster and/or cheaper.

When to Use It: Can be applied to both large and small companies, and for projects that include industries such as construction, software development and tech research and development.

Agile

What It Is: Controversial is what it is. There’s a passionate argument as to whether agile should even be considered a methodology, but as it’s used to run projects we’ll include it here. In a nutshell, it’s an evolving and collaborative way to self-organize across teams. The work is adaptive in planning, evolutionary in development, seeking early delivery and is always open to change if that leads to improvement. It’s fast and flexible.

The use of an iterative and incremental software development method dates back to the 1950s, and adaptive software development came about in the early 1970s. But what we think of as agile really appeared in 2001 with the publication of the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development,” authored by 17 software developers.

The core values of agile can be summed up as follows: individuals over processes, working software over detailed documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation and responding to change over rigid planning. Read about the 12 principles of agile for more information.

When to Use It: The practice originated in software development and works well in that culture. How do you know if agile is for you? It has been applied to non-software products that seek to drive forward with innovation and have a level of uncertainty, such as computers, motor vehicles, medical devices, food, clothing, music and more; and it’s also being used in other types of projects that need a more responsive and fast-paced production schedule, such as marketing.

Scrum

What It Is: Scrum is a short “sprint” approach to managing project. It’s ideal for teams of no more than 10 people, and often is wedded to two-week cycles with short daily meetings, known as daily scrum meetings. It’s led by what is called a Scrum master. It’s works within an agile framework, though there have been attempts to scale Scrum to fit larger organizations.

The term scrum was introduced in a “Harvard Business Review” article from 1986 by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka. It became a part of agile when Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle wrote the book “Agile Software Development with Scrum” in 2001. Schwaber formed the Scrum Alliance in 2002, a certified scrum accreditation series. Schwaber left the Scrum Alliance in 2009 to start a parallel accreditation organization called Scrum.org.

When to Use It: Like agile, scrum has been used predominantly in software development, but proponents note it is applicable across any industry or business, including retail logistics, event planning or any project that requires some flexibility. It does require strict scrum roles however.

Kanban

What It Is: Kanban is visual approach to project management. The name is literally billboard in Japanese. It helps manage workflow by placing tasks on a Kanban board where workflow and progress is clear to all participants. Kanban helps improve inefficiencies, and has been used to schedule lean manufacturing in Agile projects.

Kanban has been around since the late 1940s, when it was studied by Toyota to use the rate of demand to control the rate of production of its vehicles. The car company applied it to their main plant machine shop in 1953.

With the dawn of visual planning boards in software in our era, like Trello, there are now new uses for Kanban tools and Kanban methods. Agile teams use Kanban boards for story-boarding user stories and for backlog planning in software development.

Related: Kanban vs. Scrum: Which is Better?

When to Use It: Another process developed initially for manufacturing and for software teams, the Kanban method has since expanded and has been used in human resources, marketing, organizational strategy, executive process and accounts receivable and payable. Almost anyone can plan with Kanban boards, adding cards to represent project phases, task deadlines, people, ideas and more. Kanban software makes this methodology especially accessible.

kanban software for kanban methodology

Extreme Programming (XP)

What It Is: It sounds like some dangerous sport the kids are into, but in fact XP is a type of agile software development with short development cycles and multiple releases to improve productivity. Customer requirements are sought and can adapt the course of the project.

Created by Kent Beck while working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System payroll project, he literally wrote the book (“Extreme Programming Explained”) in 1999. But many of its practices have been around for awhile.

When to Use It: When requirements change frequently, then you’ll want to use a methodology such as XP. It’s good for when your customer doesn’t have a clear idea of what they want.

Adaptive Project Framework (APF)

What It Is: Rejecting the more structured project management methodologies as not adaptable to evolving projects with uncertain requirements, APF is open to change. In fact, it thrives on change, learning by iterative delivery and driven by a deep client involvement. What APF does is take agile and try to make it more pragmatic.

This methodology has a long history, dating back to ancient civilizations, though as a management concept, it was brought to attention by Frederick Taylor in the early 1900s. It has been adopted over the last few decades for use in environmental practices.

When to Use It: APF was developed for IT and works best in those flexible environments.

Event Chain Methodology (ECM)

What It Is: ECM emphasizes identifying and managing events that impact the project schedule. It’s related to the critical path method and critical chain project management, and helps with more accurate estimating and scheduling plans.

ECM is based on six principles: moment of risk and state of activity, event chains, Monte Carlo simulations, critical event chains, performance tracking with event chains and event chain diagrams. The methodology simplifies risks associated with project schedules, and is closely related to Gantt charts, so can be used as a support with other techniques of project management.

When to Use It: It’s ideal for projects with great uncertainty throughout the life cycle, which means that it can be applied to almost any project.

Extreme Project Management (XPM)

What It Is: XPM is another response to the rigidity of traditional project management. It’s of short duration and open to flexibility, so plans, budget and more can change throughout the project to fit changing needs.

XPM helps manage the unknown factors in your project, installs confidence in your stakeholders and is an holistic approach to project management, based on facts and using experts to get the job done.

When to Use It: Because of its emphasis on short duration, XPM is best for projects that are only weeks or even days long.

Lean

What It Is: Lean is what you’d think from its name: a way to cut waste and in so doing increase value. So, lean focuses on key processes to continuously be impacting positively on value. It does this by optimizing separate technologies, assets and verticals.

Related: What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean as a method of project management goes back to Henry Ford and his flow production for automating the process of building cars. Toyota picked up on the idea, as well, extending their idea beyond manufacturing to the process of the product. Today, software development teams run lean processes to focus on end user feedback and increased value, which means Lean methodology has taken on a new meaning, particularly with the publishing of Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, who advocates for rapid prototyping, end user feedback and early and rapid product delivery.

There are five main principles to lean: specify value by the customer, identify value stream, make product flow continuously, introduce pull through each step and manage towards removing unnecessary steps.

When to Use It: Lean was first developed by Toyota and is obviously a great methodology for manufacturing, but it has been adopted by construction and education industries, among others in the manufacturing space and countless startups and software development firms looking to drive products focused on the end user.

Six Sigma

What It Is: Introduced by engineers working at Motorola in the mid-1980s, Six Sigma works to improve quality by identifying what is not working in the project. It applies quality management, including empirical statistics, and employs personnel who are experts in these disciplines. There is also a Lean Six Sigma that adds lean methodology to eliminate waste.

As a doctrine, it says that continues efforts to achieve results that are stable and expected are most important to success. Processes can be defined and improved. It takes the whole organization, from the top down, to sustain quality in a project.

When to Use It: This methodology works best in larger organizations. Even companies with a few hundred employees are likely too small to take advantage of its benefits. It requires a certification to practice. Learn about six sigma certification here.

PRINCE2

What It Is: PRINCE2 stands for Projects IN Controlled Environments, and is a structured certified methodology. It was initially created by the UK government for IT projects. PRINCE2 is not like other traditional methods like waterfall, in that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but follows seven principles, themes and procedures.

When the UK government adopted standards for IT systems in 1989, they called in PRINCE. PRINCE2 came about in 1996 as a more general project management method. It is now a popular project management methodology throughout all UK governmental agencies and the United Nations.

When to Use It: Adopted by many other country’s governments, PRINCE2, so, as you can imagine, it’s not always suitable for smaller projects.

There are more project management methodologies, but these are some of the most popular. Regardless of which you use, you need a project management tool to best manage all your processes and projects. ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based PM tool, so whatever methodology is right for you our software will help you apply it to a successful end. Try it free for 30 days and see for yourself.

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