A team using open source project management software.
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A project management methodology is a set of techniques and practices used by an organization and project teams to effectively manage a project and increase the chances of meeting intended goals. Before settling on a particular methodology, you should consider two important things:

  • Several internal and external factors can affect the methodology you choose.
  • A process should be in place for assessing each methodology to ensure it’s the best fit for your needs.

SEE: Use our project manager hiring kit to find the best person to lead your project teams.

While there are a number of different methodologies used, all of them tend to focus on the same goal: the efficient and effective management of projects of all sizes.

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Types of project management methodologies

There are a number of different project management methodologies you can apply to your projects. Here’s a shortlist of some of the more popular types:

  • Agile focuses on collaborative, fast, iterative projects and values individuals over processes. Primary tools for this methodology are scrum and kanban.
  • Lean focuses primarily on optimizing resources, effort and energy to create value for the customer or client. One of the key tenets of Lean is to eliminate the seven wastes, which are overproduction, inventory, motion, defects, over-processing, waiting and transport.
  • Waterfall is straightforward and linear, where work cascades down in a specific, organized, sequential order: requirements, analysis, design, coding, testing and operations. This methodology depends heavily on a well thought-out project plan.
  • Scrum isn’t just a tool; it’s a methodology that depends on short, time-constrained sprints used to iterate a project. Scrum focuses on meetings, demos and post-mortems. Communication is key to a successful Scrum.
  • PRINCE2, or projects in controlled environments, uses the waterfall methodology to create clearly defined stages for a project. The main principles of PRINCE2 are: starting a project, directing a project, initiating a project, controlling a project, managing project delivery, managing a stage boundary and closing a project.
  • Six Sigma is more a philosophy than an actual methodology and is used primarily for quality management. Often, Six Sigma uses a phased approach which is define, measure, analyze, improve and control.
  • Critical path methodology focuses on identifying and scheduling a project’s more critical tasks. To successfully apply CPM, one must place a priority on creating task dependencies, tracking project goals and progress, prioritize deliverables, and closely manage due dates.
  • RAD, or rapid application development, depends on a structured prototyping process to identify and refine the ideal parameters for the project. RAD places a high priority on quick updates.

How to choose the right project management methodology

In order to choose the right methodology, you must first understand the goals of your project and the resources you have to focus on the project. Before you make a decision on which methodology to use, you’ll want to collect all the pertinent information for your project and determine what is the most important factor, such as speed, iteration, repeatability and cost.

Many factors will affect the success of your selection and will, in turn, be affected by your selection. Before making your decision, be sure you’ve answered these questions:

  • How is your company structured?
  • What are your company’s objectives?
  • What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in your business?
  • Who are your primary customers?
  • How does each methodology risk the success of projects?
  • How complex is the project?
  • What is the size and cost of the project?
  • Do internal infrastructure, technologies and processes support the methodology?

With that information in hand, you can then compare it to the different methodologies to see which might be the best fit. One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to apply only a single methodology.

Say, for instance, your project involves both a back end for a web-based service as well as a mobile app. You might find the Lean approach is best suited for the back end, whereas an Agile approach is better for the mobile app. Or, you may find the entire project can be managed via a single kanban board.

In the end, the most important factor is selecting a method that is best-suited for the project at hand and the abilities of your team.

How to assess methodologies

Once you’ve evaluated those key factors, the next step is to develop a process to identify all of the project-specific drivers, so you can zero in on the best choice. Drivers include:

  • Stakeholder needs and desired goals.
  • Deliverables.
  • Timeline.
  • Quality aspects.
  • Budget limitations.

As each methodology is intended to address specific goals, like quality, efficiency, cost reduction and waste reduction, it’s critical to match the methodology with your project goals. For instance, selecting the Lean methodology isn’t the best choice if quality is the top priority; Agile would be a better option because it’s intended to produce higher levels of quality.

Define and document success criteria

Capture all success criteria, and measure them against the relevant methodologies. This step is essential for making the right decision. Compare and contrast each project management methodology in relation to the project to produce the desired results.

In addition, take the time to document your success criteria, assessment process and the approach you used. This will help clarify your reasons for choosing a particular methodology in case the rationale behind the selection needs to be revisited at a later date. Documentation will also save time and frustration on future projects if a different decision needs to be made.

Quick glossary: Project management

Every discipline has its own vocabulary, and project management is no exception. This list of terms and definitions will help ensure your project management communications are clear and understood by everyone. Free for Tech Pro Research subscribers.

What are your options?

Numerous project management methodologies are available, each offering strengths in different areas. Here are the most widely recognized and commonly used methodologies.


Agile employs an interactive process to enable rapid adjustments throughout a project and is used extensively for software development; although, it is used in many other sectors as well. Agile processes are repeatable and help expedite development while reducing risk and allowing increased focus on quality.

SEE: Get certified in Agile project management.


Kanban uses visual boards or cards to display the status of work being done. It helps teams easily get a glimpse of the progress being made on work. These visual boards help simplify processes and trigger the next step for individuals and teams.


Lean originated around the 1980s when it was used by Toyota. The goal behind Lean is to create value for customers while reducing waste, with a significant focus on processes and resource optimization. This methodology has been applied within many industries, not just manufacturing.

Project Management Body of Knowledge

PMBOK was developed by the Project Management Institute and is made up of five process groups:

  • Initiating.
  • Planning.
  • Executing.
  • Monitoring and controlling.
  • Close-out.

Teams work through each phase in a structured and orderly manner.


PRINCE2 is aimed at maintaining organization and control of projects through processes. Process stages are formally structured, and PRINCE2 is guided by seven principles:

  • There is an existing business justification.
  • Team learning must take place throughout the project.
  • All roles are clearly defined.
  • All work is planned in stages.
  • Board members manage issues by exception.
  • Quality must be a continuous focus.
  • The approach is tailored to each project.


Scrum, part of the Agile framework, uses 30-day sprints to prioritize tasks. Instead of a project manager, a scrum master facilitates and oversees small teams. These teams focus on specific tasks independently, then meet with the scrum master to assess progress before moving on to the next step.

SEE: Develop Agile and scrum project management skills with this deal from TechRepublic Academy.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach. It uses proven tools and techniques aimed at helping businesses successfully implement process improvements. The goal is to reduce defects, waste and time while lowering costs and enhancing customer satisfaction.


Waterfall has been around since the 1970s and is a widely recognized, sequentially structured methodology primarily used for software development. The phases are executed in this order:

  • Requirements analysis.
  • Design.
  • Testing.
  • Implementation.
  • Maintenance.

Other choices

These are not the only methodologies being used today. Others include critical chain project management, critical path method, extreme project management, Extreme Programming and event chain methodology.

When weighing methodologies, a hybrid solution may produce optimal results. In fact, project management offices can and often do adopt more than one methodology or approach. A 2017 project management survey by KPMG showed that 80% of organizations are using more than one project management methodology in a hybrid approach.

Circle back

Methodologies should not be a “set-it-and-forget-it” exercise. From time to time, as environmental factors, objectives and organizational structures shift and reduce the effectiveness of currently used methodologies, it’s important to reevaluate those methodologies to make sure they are still the best fit.

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Subscribe to Project Management Insider for best practices, reviews and resources. From project scheduling software to project planning apps, stay up to date with the latest in project management tools. Delivered Wednesdays