The field of project management is constantly evolving. New project management approaches are being developed daily as the scope, scale, and project requirements become more complex. However, some methodologies are more suited to specific projects, industries, and teams than others.
Learning about popular and emerging project management methodologies and frameworks is essential for seasoned and beginner project managers. Forward-thinking leaders don’t stick to a single method or project management approach for their entire careers.
To become an industry expert, project managers should know the ins and outs of several different methodologies and how they can use a mix of frameworks to achieve their goals and satisfy their client’s needs.
Whether you are unfamiliar with project management methodologies, you are interested in learning about new frameworks, or you’re a professional looking for a brief refresher, this guide will take you through how seven methodologies work and how to apply them to your next project.
What is a Project Management Methodology?
A project management methodology or a framework is a step-by-step process that is recycled and refined to optimize results. Project management methodologies and frameworks streamline business processes and provide a structure that carries out a project successfully.
One important thing for businesses new to implementing project management methodologies is that there is no one-size-fits-all framework. There are many different methodologies and frameworks because project requirements vary across industries and even from business to business.
It doesn’t matter which one you choose, as long as it consistently produces the results you want and meets your organization's needs.
Reasons that projects fail
Ultimately, project managers implement methodologies to improve their project success rate. Firms will have difficulty satisfying their clients without clear communication, planning, and unified processes. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why projects fail.
Lack of resource planning. Recently, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell indicated that business debt is at historically high levels. A lack of resource planning can lead to increased borrowing and reduced profits.
Obscure goals and objectives. Having clear goals and objectives that outline project details from start to finish is essential. Vague goals and objectives leave room for mistakes, inefficiencies, and failure.
Gaps in communication. Project managers must have clear and consistent communication with teams, stakeholders, contractors, suppliers, and anyone involved in a project’s completion.
Lack of project visibility. Visibility into every aspect of a project is necessary when many moving pieces and numerous personnel are involved.
Unrealistic Expectations. Unmet expectations are the number one reason that projects fail. Success is more likely when teams and clients are on the same page about the final deliverables.
How do project management frameworks and methodologies work?
Planning, organizing, and executing projects require a process that unifies everyone involved. Project management frameworks and methodologies provide a structure and strategy that PMs can repeatedly use to allow projects to run more smoothly.
The terms project management methodology and project management framework are often used interchangeably to describe clear project strategies that keep the entire team on track. Many PMs can’t seem to agree on categorizing frameworks and methodologies, so we won’t attempt to here.
Project managers will agree on this: it doesn’t matter whether a concept is more of a framework or methodology at the end of the day. All that matters is that your approach is suited for your specific project and goals.
For simplicity, we will mainly be referring to these different approaches as project management methodologies.
Types of Project Management Methodologies
Now that we’ve discussed how project management methodologies work, we can break down some of the most popular approaches project managers use to achieve successful results.
Here is a list of project management methodologies that we’ll discuss in detail:
eXtreme Programming (XP) methodology
Adaptive Project Framework (APF) methodology
Let’s dive into the details of these seven popular frameworks and methodologies that work for project managers across sectors.
The Waterfall methodology is one of the more traditional PM methodologies. First introduced in 1970, this linear sequential approach to project management tracks progress downward like a waterfall.
This methodology consists of a strict flow of steps where teams can only move onto the next phase once the current stage is completed.
Waterfall methodology phases
Teams should follow these phases in this order:
System and software requirements
The Waterfall methodology also emphasizes the importance of documentation from all involved parties. The goal is to keep such detailed notes and documentation that if someone were to leave in the middle of a project, their replacement could have a cohesive understanding of the project and enter the workflow seamlessly.
Who is this methodology for?
This methodology was widely used for software development before the introduction of Agile, the next method on our list. However, its non-adaptive design, lack of feedback during the development process, and delayed testing periods have made it inefficient for today’s software development needs.
Large projects that must adhere to strict stages and deadlines can benefit from the rigid structure of the Waterfall methodology. Its focused stages and strict regard for time frames are also a good choice for familiar projects with a low chance of springing any surprises during the development process.
Considering its recent rise to fame, it’s likely that you have already heard of the Agile methodology. This methodology allows for flexible solutions to evolve through self-organizing and cross-functional teams. It is being adopted in several industries since its values and principles can be more broadly defined.
The Agile methodology comes from the values and principles explained in the Agile Manifesto, written in 2001 by a board of 13 industry leaders to discover better ways to develop software.
By providing a measurable structure that encourages iterative development and team collaboration, the Agile methodology helps teams find solutions on their terms while meeting critical deadlines and satisfying project requirements.
The four values of the Agile methodology 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
This methodology focuses on creating the ideal conditions for positive results and fostering an environment to allow those results to grow and change over time.
The 12 principles of Agile methodology are:
Customer satisfaction through early and continuous software delivery
Accommodate changing requirements throughout the development process
Frequent delivery of working software
Working software is the primary measure of progress
Collaboration between the firm, stakeholders, and developers throughout the project
Support, trust, and motivate the people involved
Enable face-to-face interactions
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
Teams can apply this adaptive framework to numerous project types, and its values align to streamline the development of complex projects.
The Agile methodology also uses six main deliverables that track progress:
Product vision statement
These deliverables bring the project into focus for the client and allow teams to measure their progress tangibly.
Who is this methodology for?
Agile project management was created for software management but has been helpful in marketing and advertising, construction, event planning, product development, and finance. It was created as a response to the deficiencies of the Waterfall method (above) that limited the software industry’s progress.
Today, the Agile methodology is applied to projects that require flexibility due to their complex and uncertain nature. For example, incremental and interactive tasks are ideal for Agile because they need a clear execution plan and plenty of room for flexibility.
Scrum methodology is a flexible and team-based approach to project management similar to Agile. It is often referred to as an Agile framework. Scrum adheres to the 12 Agile principles and emphasizes empowering self-directed teams and producing quality work. However, Scrum is slightly more structured than the Agile methodology.
The Scrum methodology uses short blocks from two to four weeks to enforce time constraints during project execution. These blocks of time, better known as Sprints, represent a timeframe where an iteration must be fully developed and delivered according to the customer’s specs. Things like time tracking, spending reports, client updates, and everything in between should be at project managers’ fingertips.
Each Sprint is a process with a measurable starting point, a list of clear objectives and requirements, and a quantifiable result. Product development using Scrum is focused on meeting customer needs while balancing the value against the cost and effort of development.
The goal of Scrum is to deliver and sustain complex projects through a combination of collaboration, accountability, and iterative progress. The methodology aligns itself with the following values:
Scrum team roles
The interconnected Scrum team roles provide the personnel structure of the methodology:
Product owner — The product expert or owner will represent the stakeholders as well as act as the voice of the customer during the development process.
Development team — The development team comprises programmers and designers that will develop and deliver the product.
Scrum master — This role keeps teams on track with Scrum methodology by working closely with the product owner to provide coaching, mentoring, and training required to execute the project.
The following events are points where teams develop products and realign with project goals:
Sprint — Consistent chunks of time in which teams must accomplish an achievement.
Sprint planning — A planning meeting involving the entire Scrum team at the beginning of each Sprint.
Daily Scrum — A daily meeting capped at 15 minutes that occurs at the same time of day every day for the duration of the Sprint. The day-to-day achievements, goals, and expectations are communicated with the whole team.
Sprint review — A meeting at the end of every Sprint where the Scrum team presents their iteration to stakeholders and receives feedback to apply to the next Sprint.
Sprint retrospective — This is an event that occurs at the end of a Sprint where the team reflects on how the previous Sprint went and how they can improve and enhance their product and processes during the next Sprint.
These artifacts are important documents that include critical project information for reference and guidance:
Product backlog — This artifact contains the requirements needed for the product and is managed by the Product Owner. This prioritized list includes any features, functions, enhancements, and fixes that dictate any changes and developments of the product.
Sprint backlog — This is a complete list of tasks and requirements that teams must achieve within a single Sprint.
Scrum task board — This artifact serves as a visual for teams to focus on their progress and outstanding tasks for the current Sprint. Tasks are organized in a “to-do, doing, done” format.
Who is this methodology for?
Another methodology created for the software development space, Scrum is now a widely used methodology across numerous industries. It plays well with Agile since it follows the same 12 principles. It’s suitable for teams already implementing Agile procedures and frameworks.
Scrum works best for small teams of seven to ten that need a flexible, iterative, and manageable approach to meet aggressive development goals.
Another popular methodology often referred to as an Agile framework, Kanban focuses on collaborative, self-managing teams. This visual approach to project management was developed in car manufacturing factories in the early 1940s and aimed to deliver early, high-quality results.
Kanban methodology works by painting a picture of the workflow process to align teams and identify bottlenecks during the early stages of development.
Kanban operates on six general practices, which are:
Clear, explicit policies
Using feedback loops
As we mentioned before, Kanban is a methodology that relies heavily on visual cues to signal the various stages of development. Those visual cues are:
Kanban board — Either a physical or digital board used to visualize the development process from beginning to end.
Kanban cards — These cards depict a task in the workflow and are used to communicate progress across the team.
Kanban swimlanes — These horizontal workflows allow teams to break down their tasks further and offer a simple visualization to guide the work.
Kanban doesn’t have any set rules that teams must follow, but using a Kanban board for the visual aspect of project management is essential to the Kanban methodology.
Who is this methodology for?
Like other Agile frameworks, Kanban is very popular among project managers in the software development industry. Its flexibility and visual nature are ideal for projects that require continuous improvement throughout development.
Like Scrum, Kanban is a good fit for smaller teams that need a more flexible approach to deliver a final result. It should also be noted that Kanban is gaining popularity in the personal time management space.
A note on Scrumban
Scrumban is another offshoot of Agile methodology that combines aspects of both Scrum and Kanban. It implements a sprint cycle similar to Scrum but breaks down tasks into digestible workflows like Kanban swimlanes.
If you like Scrum but prefer a visual approach to project management, then Scrumban could be the best framework for your project.
eXtreme Programming (XP) methodology
XP was created in the 1990s when software developers realized that the success of their organization was dependent on how fast the company could bring products to market. As such, XP was built to reduce the software development lifecycle by releasing iterations frequently and in short development cycles to respond to customer expectations and changing technologies.
The XP methodology is another popular Agile process that stresses customer satisfaction and quality results with a flexible, self-organizing structure. The methodology outlines simple rules that define the working environment and empower team collaboration.
XP is based on maximizing the following values:
XP also encourages organizations to add their values to the list to align team members and outcomes with an overarching business model.
XP isn’t all about following rules. Instead, it seeks to nurture harmonious personal interactions based on company values. If the rules don’t align with your values, there is flexibility to make your own rules.
Here are the official XP methodology rules based on the stage of development:
Communicate plans through User Stories.
The release schedule is determined at the beginning of the project.
Plan to release often and make iterations over time.
Each iteration needs its planning stage.
Give the team a dedicated open workspace.
Set a steady, sustainable pace.
Start each day with a Stand-Up meeting.
Measure the project velocity.
Fix XP when it breaks down.
Simplicity is the core of all design.
Use a system metaphor.
Create Spike solutions to reduce risk.
Refactor wherever possible.
Code according to SLA.
Test drive all units before deploying code.
Use pair programming with serial integration.
Implement continuous integration.
Use collective ownership.
All code must pass all unit tests before it is released.
Tests are created as soon as a bug is found.
Run acceptance tests frequently and publicly publish the scores.
Who is this methodology for?
Teams that prioritize collaboration and continuous development will have a smooth transition when implementing the XP methodology. Based on Agile principles, XP works best in a smaller group of programmers that work closely with their clients and stakeholders so that teams can use continuous feedback to improve each product iteration.
For projects with constantly changing requirements and not clearly defined functionality, XP can create a structure that uses creativity and collaboration to produce results on time.
Adaptive project framework (APF) methodology
Adaptive project framework (APF) methodology is a more systematic and adaptive approach to project management. Like Scrum and Kanban, this iterative process relies on continuous feedback and gradual improvement with each development cycle.
This newer PM approach is about adapting to changes throughout the project lifecycle. One of the unique features of APF methodology is that the client essentially runs the show. Before the next step can begin, the client must approve the work to move forward.
The most crucial aspect of this methodology is that it can change over time according to the project scope and customer requirements. Generally, each product cycle is produced from the following steps:
1. Project Scope
First, identify the objectives of the project, including:
Identify conditions of satisfaction (CoS)
Outline project overview statement (PoS)
Create work breakdown structure (WBS)
Prioritize scope triangle: Cost, Scope, and Schedule
2. The Cycle Schedule
Now it’s time to break down the project into smaller iterations. Each iteration cycle should aim to produce at least one deliverable. Here are the four steps for creating a cycle schedule using APF:
Define all tasks from the work breakdown structure.
Establish task dependencies and outline them accordingly.
Group tasks and then assign groups to members of the team.
Create an effective schedule and timeline.
3. The Cycle Build
The third stage of APF methodology is where the work begins. At this point, team members can start working on their assigned tasks, and managers can adjust the cycles as the team progresses toward the client’s goals. This phase includes:
Shifting tasks to subsequent cycles
Meeting or adjusting deadlines
4. The Client Checkpoint
Because the adaptive framework is client-focused, this phase is essential for using the APF methodology. The client will evaluate the deliverables and outcomes of the cycle build phase and provide feedback.
Depending on the customer’s product analysis, the product may require numerous iterations. Corrections and suggestions are given to team members in great detail, and a new iterative cycle begins until the customer is satisfied with the outcome and the project is complete.
5. The Final Report
Project managers, team members, and clients should evaluate the project's success and workflows. Stakeholders should also share their experience with the project. In this final report, successes and failures are documented to improve and enhance future projects.
Who is this methodology for?
This flexible and outcome-focused methodology benefits both project teams and clients. Organizations with customer-centric values might be drawn to this methodology because it includes the client at every project phase. Open communication is a critical part of the adaptability of this methodology, and continuous feedback is central to the progress of builds.
This is a good approach for teams of all sizes as long as unified communication and a streamlined chain of command at scale. Creative industries such as marketing and advertising can also benefit from this methodology since it solely focuses on delivering positive outcomes for clients.
Lean methodology is one of the most widely recognized project management methodologies. It promotes maximum customer value while simultaneously minimizing waste. Lean got its start in the Japanese manufacturing industry and suggests that quality, production time, and cost is improved as waste is eliminated.
Instead of adhering to strict guidelines, Lean methodology is more about sticking to a cycle of principles, which are:
Identify the value according to the client,
Identify steps in the value stream,
Make product flow continuously,
Allow customers to draw value from the next activity, and
Remove unnecessary steps in the process.
Types of Waste
So what is waste according to the Lean methodology? There are three types:
This term refers to a task or process that doesn’t add value. This could be a waste of time or resources, so long as it does not add value. Muda is traditionally characterized as the seven original wastes:
Motion (either by a person or a machine)
This type of waste describes workflow bottlenecks at the scheduling and operational level that can cause disruptions and delays.
This term refers to unnecessary stress, constraints, or processes that slow workers down. This can include unclear directions, improper tools, or poor organization.
Who is this methodology for?
Although the Lean methodology is an excellent tool for the manufacturing sector, teams can apply this methodology to nearly any industry. Any organization that seeks process transformation and workflow optimization over process implementation to create more value is a good fit for Lean
How to Choose the Right Project Management Methodology
It’s not about choosing the best project management methodology so much as it is about choosing the right methodology for your project and organizational values. While there is no one-size-fits-all project management methodology, it can be helpful to select a proven business model to organize your team and deliver incredible results for your clients.
Consider the following to choose the right project management methodology:
Your industry: Does your industry change frequently? Or is it less dynamic?
Your project focus: What are your values? What are your desired outcomes?
Your customer requirements: Does the customer want to be involved in the process? Or are they only concerned with the outcome?
The level of complexity: Does your project include many moving pieces and multiple roles? Will you only require a small team to achieve a positive outcome?
What are three commonly used project management methodologies?
The three most commonly used project management methodologies are Agile, Scrum, and Kanban.
What is the best project management methodology?
The best project management methodology is the one that is best suited for the project, organization, and team.