Every project manager knows that selecting the right methodology is crucial to getting the job right. While there are project management methodologies a-plenty, we’ve narrowed it down to seven popular ones and what they’re best suited for.
Project management methodologies in practice
Let’s kick things off with a project management methodology definition, so that we’re all on the same page:
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a methodology is defined as ‘a system of practices, techniques, procedures, and rules used by those who work in a discipline. Lean practices, Kanban, and Six Sigma are project management methodologies examples.’
They are essentially processes that aim to assist project managers with guidance throughout the project, and the steps to take to completing the tasks. Different methodologies have different strategies that aid in managing issues should they arise during the project’s delivery.
So, which one should you choose?
There are many methodologies to choose from, each with their own set of rules, principles, processes, and practices. Which methodology you should implement depends entirely on the type of project you will undertake. The point of selecting a project management methodology is to maximize the use of resources and time.
One thing to keep in mind is that while there are a number of methodologies to choose from, there is not such thing as the ‘right’ methodology. Meaning, there won’t be the one methodology that is perfect to use for every single project. Projects vary in scope and requirements, which means the right methodology to implement will also vary.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the more popular methodologies, and do our own project management methodologies comparison.
One of the more recognizable project management methodologies, Agile is best suited for projects that are iterative and incremental. It’s a type of process where demands and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customers. Originally created for software development, it was established as a response to the inadequacies of the Waterfall method (info on it later below), the processes of which did not meet the demands of the highly competitive and constant movement of the software industry.
Agile project management stems from the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto. A declaration cemented in 2001 by 13 industry leaders, its purpose is to uncover better ways of developing software by providing a clear and measurable structure that fosters iterative development, team collaboration, and change recognition.
Made up of four fundamental values and 12 key principles, here’s what they are:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
Customer satisfaction through early and continuous software delivery
Accommodate changing requirements throughout the development process
Frequent delivery of working software
Collaboration between the business stakeholders and developers throughout the project
Support, trust, and motivate the people involved
Enable face-to-face interactions
Working software is the primary measure of progress
Agile processes to support a consistent development pace
Attention to technical detail and design enhances agility
Self-organizing teams encourage great architectures, requirements, and designs
Regular reflections on how to become more effective
Because of its adaptiveness, Agile methodology is commonly used to deliver more complex projects. It uses six main deliverables to track progress and create the product which are the product vision statement, product roadmap, product backlog, release plan, Sprint backlog, and increment. With these features, it establishes itself as a methodology that places an emphasis on collaboration, flexibility, continuous improvement, and high quality results.
Best suited for: Projects that require flexibility and have a level of complexity or uncertainty. For instance, a product or service that hasn’t been built by the team.
Agile is a methodology that has methodologies within itself, such as Scrum and Kanban. While some may argue that they should be considered more as frameworks, they are used to develop and deliver a product or service and carry their own set of characteristics and terminology which I think makes them worthy enough to be included on this list.
Scrum is comprised of five values: commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect. It’s goal is to develop, deliver, and sustain complex products through collaboration, accountability, and iterative progress. What distinguishes Scrum from the other Agile project management methodologies is how it operates by using certain roles, events, and artifacts.
Scrum team roles
Product owner: Product expert who represents the stakeholders, and is the voice of the customer.
Development team: Group of professionals who deliver the product (developers, programmers, designers).
Scrum master: Organized servant-leader who ensures the understanding and execution of Scrum is followed.
Sprint: Iterative time boxes in which a goal is accomplished. Time frame does not exceed one calendar month and are consistent throughout the development process.
Sprint planning: Where the entire Scrum team get together — at the beginning of every Sprint — to plan the upcoming sprint.
Daily Scrum: 15 minute time boxed meeting held at the same time, every day of the Sprint, where the previous day’s achievements are discussed, as well as the expectations for the following one.
Sprint review: An informal meeting held at the end of every Sprint where the Scrum team present their Increment to the stakeholders, and discuss feedback.
Sprint retrospective: A meeting where the Scrum team reflect on the proceedings of the previous Sprint and establish improvements for the next Sprint.
Product backlog: Managed by the Product Owner, it’s where all the requirements needed for a viable product are listed in order of priority. Includes features, functions, requirements, enhancements, and fixes that authorize any changes to be made to the product in future releases.
Sprint backlog: A list of the tasks and requirements that need to be accomplished during the next Sprint. Sometimes accompanied by a Scrum task board, which is used to visualize the progress of the tasks in the current Sprint, and any changes that are made in a ‘To Do, Doing, and Done’ format.
Best suited for: Projects that consists of teams of less than seven people who need a flexible approach to delivering a product or service.
Kanban is another popular Agile framework that, similar to Scrum, focuses on early releases with collaborative and self-managing teams. A concept that was developed on the production line of Toyota factories in the 1940s, it is very visual method that aims to deliver high quality results by painting a picture of the workflow process so that bottlenecks can be identified early on in the development process. It operates on six general practices, which are:
Limiting work in progress
Making policies explicit
Using feedback loops
Collaborative or experimental evolution
Kanban achieves efficiency by using visual cues that signal various stages of the development process. The cues involved in the process are a Kanban board, Kanban cards, and even Kanban swimlanes for those looking for that extra bit of organization.
Kanban board: What’s used to visualize the development process, a Kanban board can be either physical (a whiteboard, sticky notes, and markers) or digital (like Zenkit’s online project management tool).
Kanban cards: Each Kanban card depicts a work item/task in the work process. Used to communicate progress with your team, it represents information such as status, cycle time, and impending deadlines.
Kanban swimlanes: Flowing horizontally, Kanban swimlanes are a visual element on the board that allows you to further distinguish tasks/items by categorizing them. Their purpose is to offer a better overview of the workflow.
While there are no set rules of Kanban per-se, it works by using a Kanban board to represent the stages of development from the beginning when ideas are produced, to the work in progress, to when the work has been completed. The board’s basic structure is three columns labelled as ‘To-Do, Doing, and Done’ — which is rather self-explanatory.
Kanban: one of the many project management methodologies
If Kanban is the project management methodology of choice, you get to use one of these!
Like most Agile frameworks, Kanban made its mark within the software development industry. However, due to its flexibility it has gained traction in other industries, and is one of a few project management methodologies that can be applied to any project that requires continuous improvement within the development process.
Best suited for: Like Scrum, Kanban is fitting for projects with smaller teams, who need a flexible approach to delivering a product or service. Kanban is also great for personal productivity purposes.
Lean methodology promotes maximizing customer value, while minimizing waste. It aims to create more value for the customer by using fewer resources. Stemmed from the Japanese manufacturing industry, its values suppose that ‘as waste is eliminated, quality improves while the production time and cost are reduced.’
It identifies three types of waste; muda, mura, and muri, also known as the 3Ms.
Muda is about getting rid of waste, and refers to an activity or process that does not add value. It can either be something that is a physical waste of your time or something that is a waste of your resources. Characterized as seven original wastes, they are:
‘Transport: The movement of product between operations and locations.
Inventory: The work in progress (WIP) and stocks of finished goods and raw materials that a company holds.
Motion: The physical movement of a person or machine whilst conducting an operation.
Waiting: The act of waiting for a machine to finish, for a product to arrive, or any other cause.
Overproduction: Over producing product beyond what the customer has ordered.
Over-processing: Conducting operations beyond those that customer requires.
Defects: Product rejects and reworks within your processes.’
Mura is about eliminating variances in the workflow process at a scheduling and operation level so that everything flows evenly. For example, when publishing a magazine, if an editor spends too much time editing an article, it means that the design team will have less time to create the spread before the publishing deadline comes. Therefore, you would reduce the editing time and ensure every department’s timeframe spent on the article is the same.
Muri is about removing overload so that the nothing slows down. It refers to managers and business owners imposing unnecessary stress on their employees and processes due to things such as poor organization, unclear ways of working, and using incorrect tools.
Instead of implementing certain processes, Lean is more about adhering to a set of principles. The five main principles are; specify value by the customer, identify steps in the value stream, make product flow continuously, allow customers pull value from the next upstream activity, and manage towards removing unnecessary steps.
Best suited for: Often mistaken for specializing in manufacturing industries, Lean methodology is ideal for any business or organization that is not looking for a process as such, but is interested in transforming how they conduct doing business.
One of the more traditional project management methodologies, Waterfall is a linear, sequential design approach where progress flows downwards in one direction — like a waterfall. Originating in the manufacturing and construction industries, its lack of flexibility in design changes in the earlier stages of the development process is due to it becoming exuberantly more expensive because of its structured physical environments.
The methodology was first introduced in an article written in 1970 by Winston W. Royce (although the term ‘Waterfall’ wasn’t used), and emphasizes that you’re only able to move onto the next phase of development once the current phase has been completed. The phases are followed in the following order:
System and software requirements
Waterfall is a project management methodology that stresses the importance of documentation. The idea is that if a worker was to leave during the development process, their replacement can start where they left off by familiarizing themselves with the information provided on the documents.
Pre-Agile saw the Waterfall methodology being used for software development, but there were many issues due to its non-adaptive design constraints, the lack of customer feedback available during the development process, and a delayed testing period.
Best suited for: Larger projects that require maintaining stringent stages and deadlines, or projects that have been done various times over where chances of surprises during the development process are relatively low.
- Six Sigma
Six Sigma is project management methodology first introduced by engineers at Motorola in 1986. It aims to improve quality by reducing the number of errors in a process by identifying what is not working and then removing it from the process. It uses quality management methods, which are mostly empirical and statistical, as well as the expertise of people who are specialists in these methods.
There are two major methodologies of Six Sigma carried out by Six Sigma Green Belts and Six Sigma Black Belts, and are supervised by Six Sigma Master Black Belts. They are DMAIC which is used for improving business processes, and DMADV which is more for creating new processes, products or services. The letters stand for:
‘Define the problem and the project goals
Measure in detail the various aspects of the current process
Analyze data to, among other things, find the root defects in a process
Improve the process
Control how the process is done in the future’
‘Define the project goals
Measure critical components of the process and the product capabilities
Analyze the data and develop various designs for the process, eventually picking the best one
Design and test details of the process
Verify the design by running simulations and a pilot program, and then handing over the process to the client’
There is also a Lean Six Sigma methodology which is committed to improving team performance by systematically eliminating waste and reducing variation.
Best suited for: Larger companies and organizations that want to improve quality and efficiency through a data-driven methodology.
PMI stands for the Project Management Institute which is a not-for-profit membership association, project management certification, and standards organization. Through the PMI, comes the PMBOK which is not quite a methodology but a guide detailing a set of standards that characterize project management.
PMBOK stands for the Project Management Body of Knowledge and is a set of standard terminology and guidelines for project management. It states that there are five process groups that are prevalent in almost every project. They are;
Initiating: Defining the start of a new project or new phase of an existing project.
Planning: Where the scope of the project, objectives, and how the objectives will be achieved.
Executing: Actually doing the work defined in the project management plan.
Monitoring and Controlling: When you need to track, review, and regulate the progress and performance.
Closing: Concluding all activities across all Process Groups to formally close the project or phrase.
Along with this, it includes best practices, conventions, and techniques that are considered the industry standard. Regularly updating their guide to ensure that they echo the most up-to-date project management practices, the PMBOK is currently up to its sixth edition which was published in print and online in 2017.
Best suited for: Because it’s more of a reference guide than an actual project management methodology, you can’t implement PMI/PMBOK to a project. However, it can be used for when you want to weigh in on the best practices for your project.