Project Management Methodologies: A Beginner's Guide

by Marcus Varner
, 6 min read
Project Management Methodologies

Chances are, you've heard about project management and project management methodologies (PMM), but your knowledge on the topic might end there. What are the different methodologies and how do they help teams work better?

What are project management methodologies?

With its 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 methodologies began to be defined and used in a widespread fashion among organizations. These approaches to managing work are all about specifying the best way to initiate, plan and execute projects.


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

What is Waterfall?

Waterfall has evolved from what has been termed more traditional work management methodologies, employing a sequential, top-down approach to project management. Under Waterfall, 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 technique 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 system 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 task management methodologies, while giving their creativity a major boost. Some creative teams attribute Agile marketing to causing productivity increases of 400 percent.


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One Methodology or the Other?

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

Other Project Management Methodologies

The following are a few other popular methods or associated project management processes and frameworks:

Critical Path Method (CPM) 

With this method, project managers create a model of the project using four elements: a list of all tasks required to complete the project, the amount of time each task will take, dependencies between tasks, and milestones or deliverable goals. Project managers decide which items are critical and which ones have “total float” (or can be delayed without pushing back the final project deadline) by taking into account the earliest and latest a task can be finished without delaying the finish time for the entire project.

Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM)

This method is similar to CPM, but it focuses more on the resources needed for each task in a project. Project managers identify resources—people, space, and equipment—that each task is dependent on. CCPM involves creating a chain of tasks based on precedence and resource dependence. This strategy is ideal when there are limited resources.

Event Chain Methodology (ECM)

With ECM, the emphasis is on events that have an impact on project schedules. This takes into account the idea that tasks are affected by all kinds of outside factors, called “events.” This methodology aims to manage those events so that plans are updated as needed and projects stay on track.

Six Sigma 

This common methodology focuses on the financial returns of projects and encourages decision making based on data. It holds that: projects are most successful when variation in processes is reduced; process features can be defined, controlled, measured, and improved; success is dependent on buy-in from the entire organization.

Scrum 

Scrum is an Agile framework that organizes projects into sprints, or very defined periods of time. Teams create a backlog of tasks that need to be completed in a sprint and plan realistic deadlines. During the sprint, daily stand-up meetings are held where team members report on what they accomplished the previous day, what they plan on doing that day, and any roadblocks that may hold them back. At the end of the sprint, a review meeting is held to review accomplishments.

XP (Extreme Programming) 

This methodology has teams working toward regular, frequent releases of deliverables. The theory is that short cycles of work increase productivity and regular releases allow for continual feedback on products, so things are always being improved. XP users plan for changes and don’t confine themselves to one set of unchanging requirements. This methodology is commonly used in the software development world.

Crystal 

Crystal methodology actually uses many parts of the Agile methodology as it focuses on team members—instead of tools and processes—and how they interact. This is a good fit for teams that want something they can customize and that is “lightweight.” Work is done in defined time spans, after which feedback is taken and used as the project moves forward.

FDD (Feature Driven Development) 

Another methodology that uses parts of Agile, FDD strives to implement things the client is looking for while working in repetitive rotations. There are five steps in this methodology: develop an overall model, build a feature list, plan by feature, design by feature, and build by feature. After feedback is given, the steps are repeated to improve on the final product.

DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development) 

DSDM also borrows from Agile, but defines the cost, quality, and time required for a project before it is started. Then, it prioritizes tasks into categories (“musts,” “shoulds,” “coulds,” and “won’t haves,”) as the project progresses to meet deadlines.

Adaptive Software Development 

With this methodology, users recognize that processes need to be continually adapted to fit the work that needs to be done. It has three steps to its cycle: speculate (plan), collaborate (balance work with changing external factors), and learn (implement changes based on feedback).

RUP (Rational Unified Process) 

RUP relies on three foundational elements: roles (who is involved), work products (what is being produced), and tasks (a unit assigned to a role). Project managers organize everything into four phases: inception phase, elaboration phase, construction phase, and transition phase.

PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments)

This methodology relies on seven principles, seven themes, and seven processes. The seven principles are: continued business justification, learn from experience, defined roles and responsibilities, manage by stages, manage by expectation, focus on products, and tailor to suit the project environment. These are reflected in the seven processes used by project managers: starting up a project, initiating a project, directing a project, controlling a stage, managing product delivery, managing stage boundaries, and closing a project.

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