Project management methodologies: 12 popular frameworks

Team Asana contributor imageTeam AsanaJuly 28th, 20218 min read
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Project management is an ever-evolving field that requires a number of approaches to be successful. Learning the most popular project management methodologies can help you become an industry expert. 

A project management methodology is a system of principles, techniques, and procedures used by those who work in a discipline. Not only do the top methodologies differ in how they’re structurally organized, but they also require different deliverables, workflows, and even project management software development. 

In order to be the best possible project manager, learn about each of these 12 frameworks to find the one that best fits your team’s needs. 

1. Agile

What it is: The Agile project management methodology is one of the most common project management processes. But the reality is that Agile isn’t technically a methodology. Instead, it’s best defined as a project management principle. 

The basis of an Agile approach is:

  • Collaborative

  • Fast and effective

  • Iterative and data-backed

  • Values individuals over processes

When it comes to putting the Agile manifesto in place, teams often choose specific methodologies to use alongside Agile. These could include Scrum, Kanban, extreme programming, crystal, or even Scrumban. That's because connecting Agile methodology with a more detailed approach produces a well-rounded project management philosophy and a tangible plan for delivering great work. 

Who should use it: The Agile framework can be used for just about any team. This is because the principle behind it is rather universal. The real trick is deciding which methodology to use with it.

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2. Waterfall

What it is: The waterfall model is also a very popular framework. But unlike Agile, waterfall is an actual methodology that is rather straightforward. The waterfall methodology, also known as software development life cycle (SDLC), is a linear process in which work cascades down (similar to a waterfall) and is organized in sequential order. 

Waterfall project management methodology

To achieve this approach, each work task is connected by a dependency. This means each task must be completed before the next task can be started. Not only does this ensure that work stays on track, but it also fosters clear communication throughout the process. 

While viewed as a traditional approach by some modern organizations, this method is good for creating a predictable and thoroughly planned-out project plan

Who should use it: Since the waterfall project management methodology is so detailed, it’s great for working on large projects with multiple different stakeholders. This is because there are clear steps throughout the project and dependencies that help track the work needed to reach goals. 

3. Scrum

What it is: The Scrum methodology involves short “sprints” that are used to create a project cycle. These cycles span one to two weeks at a time and are organized with teams of 10 or less. This is different from the waterfall approach where individual tasks are broken down into dependencies.

Scum is unique for a variety of reasons, one being the use of a Scrum master. Or, in other words, a project manager that leads daily Scrum meetings, demos, sprints, and sprint retrospectives after each sprint is completed. These meetings aim to connect project stakeholders and ensure tasks are completed on time. 

While Scrum is technically a project management methodology in its own right, it’s most commonly associated with an Agile framework. This is because they share similar principles, such as collaboration and valuing individuals over processes. 

Who should use it: Teams that use an Agile approach should use, or at least try, the Scrum methodology as well. Since sprints are divided into small teams, this approach can work for both small and large teams. 

4. Kanban

What it is: The Kanban methodology represents project backlogs using visual elements, specifically boards. This approach is used by Agile teams to better visualize workflows and project progress while decreasing the likelihood of bottlenecks. It’s also usually in the form of a software tool that allows you to change and drag boards seamlessly within projects, though it’s not a requirement. 

Since this method doesn’t have a defined process like others, many teams use it differently. The main concept to keep in mind is that Kanban aims to focus on the most important project tasks, keeping the overall framework simple.

Who should use it: Kanban boards are great for teams of all sizes and specifically remote-first teams. This is because the visual capabilities of Kanban boards help team members stay on track no matter where they are. 

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5. Scrumban

What it is: As you may have guessed, Scrumban is a methodology that draws inspiration from both Scrum and Kanban frameworks. Some think of this as a hybrid approach that incorporates the best of each. 

Scrumban project management methodology

Scrumban uses a similar sprint cycle as Scrum but allows individual tasks to be pulled into the plan like Kanban. This allows the most important work to be completed and keeps project plans simple. Scrumban also uses Scrum meetings to enhance collaboration and keep goals top of mind. 

Who should use it: If you like the idea of breaking down a project into smaller tasks, but likewise want to keep it visually simple, Scrumban might be for you. It’s the perfect intersection of simplicity and clarity.  

Read: Kanban vs. Scrum: What’s the difference?

6. PRINCE2

What it is: PRINCE2, otherwise known as PRojects IN Controlled Environments, uses the overarching waterfall methodology to define stages within a project. It was initially created by the UK government for IT projects and still primarily suits large IT initiatives over the traditional product or market-focused projects. 

There are seven main principles of PRINCE2, which include:

  1. Starting a project

  2. Directing a project

  3. Initiating a project

  4. Controlling a project

  5. Managing product delivery

  6. Managing a stage boundary

  7. Closing a project

These seven principles create a thorough project process and make for an effective enterprise project methodology altogether. It aims to define roles and back management. Not only that, but PRINCE2 can be used to streamline a ton of individual project management tasks, like controlling a stage, managing product delivery, and initiating and closing a project. 

Who should use it: Due to the particular nature of the PRINCE2 project management methodology, it’s best suited for large enterprise projects with a number of project stakeholders. Using it for small projects may create a longer and more complicated process than necessary. 

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7. Six Sigma

What it is: Unlike the other PM methodologies, Six Sigma is used for quality management and is frequently described as a philosophy rather than a traditional methodology. It is often paired with either a lean methodology or Agile framework, otherwise known as lean Six Sigma and Agile Six Sigma. 

The main purpose of Six Sigma is to continuously improve processes and eliminate defects. This is achieved through continuous improvements by field experts to sustain, define, and control processes. 

To take this method one step further, you can use a Six Sigma DMAIC process, which creates a phased approach. These phases include:

  • Define: Create a project scope, business case, and initial stand-up meeting.

  • Measure: Collect data that helps inform improvement needs.

  • Analyze: Identify the root causes of problems. 

  • Improve: Solve the root causes found.

  • Control: Work to sustain the solutions for future projects. 

Who should use it: Six Sigma is best for large organizations, usually those with a few hundred employees or more. This is when the need to eliminate project waste starts to have a larger impact on your organization. 

8. Critical path method (CPM)

What it is: The critical path method works to identify and schedule critical tasks within a project. This includes creating task dependencies, tracking project goals and progress, prioritizing deliverables, and managing due dates—all of which are similar to a work breakdown structure.

The objective of this methodology is to properly manage successful projects at scale so that milestones and deliverables are mapped correctly. 

Who should use it: The critical path method is best for small and mid-size projects and teams. This is because large projects require many deliverables with multiple stakeholders and the CPM isn’t built to manage complex projects. 

9. Critical chain project management (CCPM)

What it is: The critical chain project management framework is closely related to the critical path methodology but is even more detailed, making it one of the most comprehensive options. 

Critical chain project management methodology

Along with implementing a work breakdown structure like CPM, CCPM includes specific time requirements for each task. This helps take task tracking one step further, making it clear when tasks are going over their allotted time. It also uses resource leveling which aims to resolve large workloads by distributing work across available resources. 

Not only do these help both productivity and efficiency, but they also help connect the work needed to be completed with project goals. Many project management tools even have visual elements to better visualize these goals, creating an organized road map for team members. 

Who should use it: CCPM is a great method for both small and large teams, but it mostly helps solve project efficiency problems. It can also be a great way to report work in progress to leadership. 

10. Lean

What it is: The lean project management methodology aims to cut waste and create a simple framework for project needs. This ultimately means doing more with less in order to maximize efficiency and teamwork. 

While reducing waste originally referred to a physical product (which dates back to the method used by Henry Ford and later by Toyota and Motorola), it now refers to wasteful practices. There are three Ms that represent this:

  • Muda (wastefulness): Practices that consume resources but don’t add value  

  • Mura (unevenness): Occurs through overproduction and leaves behind waste 

  • Muri (overburden): Occurs when there is too much strain on resources 

As a project manager, your job is to prevent the three Ms in order to better execute projects and streamline processes. This is similar to the approach of rational unified process (RUP), which also aims to reduce waste. The difference is that RUP aims to reduce development costs instead of wasteful practices. 

Who should use it: Since lean is all about reducing waste, it’s best suited for teams struggling with efficiency issues. While this will have a greater impact on large organizations, it can be helpful for project teams of all sizes. 

11. Project management institute’s PMBOK® Guide

What it is: While the PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge is associated as a project management methodology, it’s more closely related to a set of best practices that take into account various development processes. 

This framework focuses on implementing the five project management phases, all of which help easily manage a project from start to finish in a structured phase approach. The five phases include:

  1. Project initiation

  2. Project planning

  3. Project executing

  4. Project performance

  5. Project closure

While this is a good foundation to keep in mind, the PMBOK® Guide isn’t necessarily as specific as other approaches. This means you’ll need to decide which tasks to complete in each phase. 

Who should use it: The PMBOK® Guide can be used on its own for small teams on standard projects, though it’s a good idea to pair it with a more detailed methodology (like CPM) for large teams handling complex projects. 

12. Extreme programming (XP)

What it is: As the name suggests, extreme programming is used for fast-paced projects with tight deadlines. The approach works by creating short development cycles with many releases. This makes for quick turnaround times and increased productivity

Extreme programming (XP) project management methodology

Extreme programming has a few core values, which include simplicity, communication, feedback, respect, and courage. It also includes a specific set of XP rules which includes all phases from planning to testing. 

Who should use it: Extreme programming can be used for individual projects with tight deadlines, most commonly with small to midsize teams. Since XP is a fast-paced method, it should be used lightly in order to prevent burnout

How to choose the right project management methodology for your team

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to project management methodologies. Each one offers unique principles to take a development project from an initial plan to final execution. 

The main aspects to keep in mind are the size of your team and how your team prefers to work. Here are some additional tips to consider:

  • Your industry: Consider if you’re in an industry that changes frequently. For example, a technology company would be an industry that is ever-evolving. This will affect project consistency and should be paired with either a flexible or stagnant methodology. 

  • Your project focus: Consider the objectives of your projects. Do you value people over efficiency? This will help pair you with a methodology that matches a similar objective. 

  • The complexity of projects: Are your projects on the more complex side, or are they usually straightforward? Some methods aren’t as good as others at organizing complex tasks, such a CCPM.

  • The specialization of roles: Consider how niche the roles within your team are. Can multiple team members alternate the same type of work, or do you need a method that focuses on specialization?

  • Your organization’s size: The size of your organization and team should be weighed heavily when deciding on a methodology. Methods like Kanban are universal for team size, while options like CPM are better suited for small teams. 

Whether your team members prefer a visual process like Kanban or a more traditional project management approach like the waterfall method, there’s an option for every type of team. To take a project management methodology one step further, consider a work management tool to better track and execute development projects. 

Choose the right project management methodology for your team

Methods to help manage your projects mindfully

With the right project management methodology in place, you’ll be able to take your projects to new levels of efficiency and implement processes that are right for your team, your organization, and yourself.

Looking for ways to better manage projects? Check out Asana’s project management software. 

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