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A Complete Guide to Project Management Methodologies

A Complete Guide to Project Management Methodologies

11 minutes

July 18, 2022

The Top Project Management Methodologies

Project management is not for the faint of heart.

You're juggling deadlines and budgets, dealing with stakeholders and team members, and trying to keep cool through all the chaos.

So, how do you stay on top of it all?

And most importantly, how do you prevent a project from flying off the rails and becoming a complete disaster?

Project management methodologies might just be the answer.

In this post, we’ll look at:

  • Popular project management methodologies like Waterfall and Agile
  • Proven project management frameworks like Scrum and Kanban
  • How to choose the best project management method for a given project

And lots more.

Let's dive in!

What is a Project Management Methodology?

A project management methodology is a system for planning and managing a project from start to finish.

Methodologies vary, but they all serve the same basic function: to help a project come together.

That said, some methodologies work better than others, depending on the type of project and industry.

For example, construction projects are better served by the more linear Waterfall project management methodology since each step in the project is sequential.

In other words, you can't start the next task until you finish your current task — it's impossible to install a roof on a new house without framing the walls first.

In contrast, software development projects are more suited for iterative Agile project management because project requirements, features, and priorities can change as the project progresses.

Besides, with the Agile methodology, you expect uncertainty, so it doesn't make sense to plan out every project detail upfront.

Why Should You Use a Project Management Methodology?

Successful projects require a clear and consistent approach to project management.

That's where project management methodologies come in:

They provide a set of principles, tools, and practices to help teams plan and manage their projects.

Visual of a project management plan

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), using a project management methodology increases the likelihood of delivering a successful project by 20%.

The bottom line: a project management methodology can help you avoid project failure and deliver a viable product.

Methodology vs. Framework: Main Differences

A project management methodology is the philosophy behind how to approach the project.

It’s not a rigid set of rules but more a set of high-level principles that guide how you set up and deliver the project.

The two main project management methodologies are borne out of the practice and experience of thousands of project managers, which means you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to your own project.

Project management methodologies are valuable because they provide a common language between practitioners, give a clear indication of how the project is going to be approached, and provide some best practice advice.

Differences between a methodology and framework

On the other hand, a project management framework provides more structure and direction. They offer guidelines as to what tasks should be completed at each stage of the project lifecycle and how the project should be organized.

Both methodologies and frameworks can be adapted to suit the specific needs of your project and the way your team best likes to work. Hybrid models can be adopted if that will deliver the best outcome.

And finally, frameworks are customizable and adaptable and give project teams more liberty to do things their way. But frameworks may lead to problems like defects or inconsistent outcomes if the project team is inexperienced.

The Three Most Important Project Management Methodologies

Now that you understand the basics of project management methodologies, let’s explore what options are available.

1. Waterfall (Linear)

The Waterfall approach is an oldie methodology but a goodie!

Here's how it works:

First, you design the entire project in detail. Then, once the design is finalized, you execute the project according to your plan. And after the project is finished, you review, test, and deliver the final result.

The Waterfall method is popular because it's a very structured and rigid process, making it suitable for projects with clear requirements and deadlines. It’s also the preferred methodology for projects involving a lot of bureaucracy and red tape, like government-funded infrastructure projects.

However, this rigidity can also lead to setbacks. For example, if changes need to be made during the project, they can be difficult and time-consuming to implement.

Another downside of Waterfall is that due to its linear nature, it can be inefficient when it comes to dealing with uncertainty.

That said, the Waterfall model has its place and isn't going anywhere.

2. Agile (Iterative)

Unlike Waterfall, which treats projects like a straight line from start to finish, the Agile methodology works more like a fast-paced roller coaster ride.

Here's how it works:

Projects are broken down into several short iterations, where project teams focus on delivering a single tangible product increment or goal.

At the end of each iteration, teams reflect on progress to date and plan what they’re going to tackle next based on stakeholder feedback. They’ll also consider how the team is working as a whole and make any modifications required to improve their efficiency.

This constant cycle of feedback means that Agile projects are more flexible and responsive to change than Waterfall projects.

Visual of an Agile project methodology

However, this also means that Agile projects can be less structured and more chaotic. And since requirements and priorities often change during an Agile project, costs and timelines may be difficult to estimate.

Despite these drawbacks, the Agile method is popular because it allows for quick iterations and rapid turnaround times. This makes it ideal for companies working within fast-moving industries where products need a quick speed-to-market time.

3. Hybrid

If neither Waterfall nor Agile feel like a suitable methodology for your project, you might consider a hybrid approach.

At a high level, a hybrid methodology combines the best features of Agile and Waterfall.

Generally, hybrid approaches are used when project teams need to be adaptive but also require well-defined milestones and project outcomes.

Just like an Agile approach, hybrid project methodologies are used in situations where requirements may be subject to change.

However, they're also useful for projects that require a high degree of precision, like product development, where endless iterations can result in project drift.

Hybrid projects might sound like a dream come true, but fair warning, combining methodologies may result in roadblocks or problems like:

  • Training: Project teams must be trained on this new methodology to avoid confusion, delays, and conflicts.
  • Confused stakeholders: Stakeholders may struggle to understand your hybrid approach, causing communication issues and tension.
  • Pressure to revert: Teams may lose faith in the hybrid approach and ask to revert to a more defined methodology.
  • It may not work: An inexperienced project manager or team may bungle project execution, causing the project to fly off the rails, wasting valuable time and money.

Popular project management methodologies

How Can You Choose the Right Methodology for Your Project?

Choosing the right methodology for your project depends on several factors: project requirements, resources, stakeholders, and the project team itself.

Let's dissect each of these considerations and see how they can help narrow down your methodology decision:

Project Requirements

If project requirements must be fully defined and tasks must be completed in a fixed order, you’ll want to consider a Waterfall methodology.

However, if requirements are flexible and can be clarified over the project timeline, you'll get better results with Agile.


Projects requiring specialized resources must have firm timelines to ensure resources are available when needed and costly delays are avoided.

If your project fits into this category, you'll need a methodology that allows for detailed upfront planning.

Stakeholder Involvement

Are your stakeholders highly-involved and want to be engaged and make decisions at all project phases? If so, using an Agile framework may work.

High levels of stakeholder engagement and collaboration are critical for the success of Agile frameworks due to their need for constant refinement and replanning.

Don’t forget to leverage the tools of whatever project management software you’re using to deliver your project. For example, in SmartSuite, collaborating with stakeholders is super simple with our in-platform conversation tool.

Chat box showing conversation between teammates

Share documents, @tag team members or business stakeholders for their input, and review the conversation history to keep decision-making in context.

If your stakeholders would rather define project requirements during the planning phase and address project roadblocks and conflicts only when needed, Waterfall may be better.

As requirements are defined upfront, and there is an extensive planning phase before the project gets underway, Waterfall projects should require much less stakeholder engagement.

Project Team Experience

Is the project team experienced and able to work with minimal oversight? Do they want autonomy with project decisions?

If so, the more hands-off management style of Agile frameworks may be appropriate.

If your project team has less experience and would benefit from guidance from a hands-on, veteran project manager and thoroughly defined project requirements and milestones, Waterfall is the way to go.

Popular Frameworks for Project Management

Now that you’re familiar with the different project management methodologies, let’s switch gears and talk about project frameworks.

There are a lot of different options, and it can get confusing when people start talking about Lean this and Six Sigma that. And don’t even get us started on Extreme Programming. That sounds, well, extreme.

In the interest of clarity, here are some of the most popular options:

1. Scrum

Scrum is an Agile project management framework used frequently in software development, but its tools and processes can be applied to many types of projects in different industries.

Scrum is all about continuous learning and adapting to the ebb and flow of a project, making it an ideal framework choice for complex projects or projects where features and requirements aren’t well-defined.

The Scrum framework breaks a project into short, two-week “sprints” where each sprint has a specific deliverable. And at the end of these sprints, teams receive feedback from stakeholders that guides the next sprint.

Scrum defines three roles:

  • Product Owner: A Product Owner is a single individual and usually the project team’s primary stakeholder. They act as a mouthpiece for the rest of the business. The Product Owner defines the product’s features based on customer and market needs, prioritizes the work to be completed (known as the product backlog), and evaluates project progress.
  • Scrum Master: Individuals who motivate the project team, discuss the backlog with the Product Owner, and remove roadblocks that impede progress. Scrum Masters also hold the daily fifteen-minute “stand-up” meetings to get updates on tasks and keep everyone on target.
  • Project Team: Small teams of about seven people or less responsible for building and delivering the product.


PRojects IN Controlled Environments ("PRINCE2”) is one of the world's most practiced Waterfall project management frameworks. Beloved by the UK government for things like complex defense projects, there are over 1 million certified PRINCE2 professionals worldwide.

Even though PRINCE2 is a scalable and versatile project management tool, it’s best suited for linear projects with predictable timelines, milestones, and outcomes as a Waterfall framework.

In other words, PRINCE2 is better for projects where limiting uncertainty through detailed project planning and defined requirements is key to success.

So, how does it work?

PRINCE2 revolves around several principles, themes, and processes.

PRINCE2’s principles and themes guide the “why” and “what” behind the framework and its processes provide the tangible “how” concepts that show how the framework handles a project’s life cycle.

Let’s go through the key processes:

  • Starting up a project: Determine the project’s purpose, who will complete it, and how to execute it.
  • Initiating a project: Figure out what tasks are required to complete the project, defining scope, benefits, risks, quality, timelines, and costs.
  • Directing a project: The “project board” authorizes the project and provides direction and control when needed.
  • Controlling a stage: Project managers authorize work, assign tasks to team managers, address conflicts, and monitor progress.
  • Managing product delivery: This management process dictates how team and project managers communicate and covers activities like how project tasks are accepted, executed, and delivered.
  • Manage stage boundary: Project managers update the project board and make plans for the next stage. Finally, the Project Board reviews performance and decides whether the project is still viable, and if it is, approves the next stage.
  • Closing out a project: Reviewing the project, ensuring project goals are met, handing it over to the customer, and decommissioning the project.

3. Kanban

Kanban is a visual project management framework that uses cards fixed to a "Kanban board" representing specific project tasks.

The Kanban method is more focused on project workflow than project scope and is often used for Agile product development. However, Kanban has also been successfully applied to service delivery, IT projects, marketing management, HR, and software development projects.

Visual of a Kanban project workflow board

Kanban is based on four principles:

  1. Visualize work: Use a Kanban board to track project tasks and statuses.
  2. Limit work-in-progress (WIP): Restrict the number of tasks that a team can work on simultaneously to avoid overwhelming team members and improve flow.
  3. Manage flow: Streamline the flow of tasks through the project by limiting bottlenecks and identifying areas for improvement.
  4. Continuous improvement: Use project data to measure progress, then use that information to continually improve processes.

4. Scrumban

Scrumban isn’t just the coolest word you’ll hear today — it’s also the fusion of Scrum and Kanban, a hybrid framework that combines the best of these two project management approaches.

Scrumban was originally created to help project managers and teams transition from Scrum to Kanban.

But the structure of Scrum, coupled with the visualization and flow-based flexibility of Kanban, has proven to be a worthy combo. And as a result, you'll find Scrumban used in different product development projects.

Scrumban has several advantages like:

  • Time saved: Scrumban uses "on-demand planning," eliminating the need for constant estimating and sprint planning.
  • Improved product quality: Time saved planning means more time for quality control. Plus, the increased product quality will likely result in higher customer satisfaction.
  • Reduced bottlenecks: Scrumban boards give project teams a visual overview of their workflows, making it easier to spot and address slowdowns and stoppages before they explode into bigger problems.

Like all frameworks, Scrumban has some disadvantages too:

  • Sparse best practices: Scrumban is a relatively new concept, and its best practices aren't as defined as more mature project management frameworks.
  • Hard to track productivity: Scrumban allows teams to choose their tasks, which, combined with the lack of meetings, can make it challenging to track progress.
  • Loss of control: No daily meetings mean project managers or Scrum Masters have limited insight into project progress.

Project management framework

The Right Project Management Methodology Awaits

No project management methodology is a one-size-fits-all deal.

And choosing the right methodology boils down to multiple factors, including your type of project, as well as how much time and money you have at your disposal.

Hopefully, now you have enough information to start.

And, if you’re looking for a platform that makes your project management more efficient, then SmartSuite is a first-rate option.

To start, you can try out our project management template.

It’s fully customizable, and you can adapt it to your project needs in minutes.

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