A Beginner’s Guide to Project Management Methodologies

Originally created to help project teams get work done more efficiently, project management methodologies have multiplied. Here's a crash course.

Chances are, you’ve heard about project management and project management methodologies, but your knowledge on the topic might end there. What exactly are project management methodologies and how do they help teams work better? gantt-chart

What are project management methodologies?

With their roots in engineering, construction and military defense projects, project management activities have taken place on an ad-hoc or informal basis for thousands of years. However, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that formal, disciplined project management methodologies began to be defined and used in a widespread fashion among organizations. Project management methodologies are all about specifying the best way to initiate, plan and execute projects.

With the rise of so many different types of project management methodologies, it soon becomes obvious that few can agree on what methodology actually is best. In the software development and IT operations realm, the debate has become particularly heated over which is better, Agile or Waterfall methodologies.


What is Waterfall?

Waterfall has evolved from what has been termed more traditional project management methodologies, employing a sequential, top-down approach to project management. Under the Waterfall project management methodology, project managers strive to eliminate risk and uncertainty by outlining all the steps in a project and defining its scope, budget, and schedule upfront.

One of the main ideas of Waterfall is that by investing time in the early stages of a project to ensure the proper design and requirements have been met ultimately saves significant time and effort correcting problems later on. This is accomplished by ensuring that one phase of a project is 100-percent successfully completed before moving onto the next phase.

Agile vs. Waterfall

While Waterfall is one of the most widely used project management methodologies today, Agile seems to be trending with its skyrocketing popularity as a more iterative or change-driven approach. As the name implies, Agile positions itself as a project management methodology that lends itself to faster turnaround and the dynamic ability to quickly adapt to needed changes or course corrections. The Agile approach tends to take a more people-centric perspective, implementing short, iterative phases called sprints that rely on ongoing feedback that continuously reshapes and refines the project path.

The success and nimble nature of Agile in the software development realm has led to a rapid rise in marketing groups to also adapt Agile over other project management methodologies. Agile-driven marketing and creative teams indicate that it frees them from the endless development cycles that often occur with more traditional project management methodologies, while giving their creativity a major boost. Some creative teams attribute Agile marketing to causing productivity increases of 400 percent. If you’re interested in learning more about Agile methodology, we recommend you check out our post “A Beginner’s Guide to Agile” or even read the Agile Manifesto for yourself.

To find out how Workfront lets Waterfall and Agile teams work in the same space, click here.

One or the Other?

agile or waterfall

Such dramatic results might lead some to believe that they should completely abandon Waterfall, or other more traditional project management methodologies, in favor of the Agile approach. The truth is you can’t successfully rely on a one-size-fits-all approach. The Waterfall and Agile project management methodologies each have their advantages in different types of scenarios. Those considering moving from Waterfall to Agile might want to consider implementing a hybrid approach instead, using Agile where its dynamic nature can shine and Waterfall where its more deliberate approach makes sense.

While implementing a mixed project management methodology approach will have its challenges, it can be greatly simplified by using a project management solution that can handle both Agile and Waterfall, including integrating and enabling the communication flow between the different project management methodologies.

Other Project Management Methodologies

The following represent a few other popular project management methodologies or associated project management processes and frameworks:

  • Critical Path Method (CPM)
  • Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)
  • Event Chain Methodology (ECM)
  • Six Sigma
  • Scrum
  • XP (Extreme Programming)
  • Crystal
  • FDD (Feature Driven Development)
  • DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development)
  • Adaptive Software Development
  • RUP (Rational Unified Process)

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