Project management methodologies can get a bad wrap as processes scattered and riddled with grunt work. While projects can range from simple to complex, the most successful ones have a clear and consistent project management approach.
When it comes to choosing the best course of action for your team members, it’s best to start with a baseline understanding of both project methodologies and their respective frameworks.
In this blog, we’ll cover the distinction between these terms, popular project management methodologies and examples, and of course how to manage it all with the right project management tools.
Let’s get started!
What is the difference between project framework and methodology?
In general, frameworks outline what to do but lets the doer decide how to get it done. A methodology is more precise, specifying: what to do, when to do, how to do it, and why.
Projects in controlled environments—that require you to map details out from the start— might differ from those that allow for continuous improvement, but more on that soon.
Why is using a project management methodology important?
There are several reasons you may want to opt for a project management methodology. We’ve outline a few below:
Project management methods allow teams to clearly define roles, which helps improve the decision-making process and ensures accountability. This reduces confusion down the line, saving your teams time and frustration.
Whatever project management methodology you follow, you’ll implement a process for monitoring and controlling the project as a part of the project lifecycle. Project management methodologies set standards for how often these project checks take place, as well as any resulting actions incorporated into the workflow.
Whether there is a decision up front as to what the project deliverables are, or they emerge as the project progresses,
“following a project management methodology makes it almost 20% more likely the project will deliver what it’s supposed to.”
Using a project management method that’s been tried and tested means you can accurately plan the project initiation phase and the overall project timeline and budget from the start.
You can also incorporate lessons learned from other projects, increasing the chance of success.
Before jumping into specific project management methodologies and frameworks, let’s take a high-level look at the project management lifecycle. As most frameworks and methodologies use these steps in their own way, this will help put all approaches into context later on.
Quick review: 5 steps of the project management lifecycle
Below, you’ll read terms like ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Agile’ —we’ll explain these more in the following section. For now, here’s a quick summary of the project management lifecycle.
This is the very start of the project when teams put the business case together and senior stakeholders sign off on it. During project initiation you can identify a project sponsor and the project scope— what’s in and what’s out — in the project charter.
In this phase, the project manager will create the project plan. In the Waterfall methodology, this will be comprehensive, with all stakeholders agreeing on project deliverables and identifying milestones. In an Agile framework, the project planning phase is shorter and combined with the project execution phase.
For Waterfall projects, the project execution phase is all about following the project schedule and putting into action what was agreed on in the planning phase. In an Agile project, sprints start at this stage. Each sprint informs what will be delivered next, edging the project closer to the end goal.
Monitoring & controlling
Projects following a Waterfall model document their governance processes within a project charter. The key thing the project manager and other stakeholders will look out for is scope creep during project monitoring. While changes in scope happen, they should be formally documented through a change control process.
For Agile projects, a sprint retrospective at the end of each sprint gives the opportunity for a quick and dirty review of what is and isn’t working and what should be prioritized next.
Hooray, you made it to the end! Whether your deliverables were agreed upon upfront, or they emerged during the project life-cycle, it’s time to hand them over to the business and during project closeout.
Okay now back to our main topic: frameworks and methodologies. Next, we’ll quickly cover two of the most popular project management methodologies.
Two of the most popular project management methodologies
The two main project methodologies are Waterfall and Agile. Again, we will get more granular about each later on. For now, here’s an easy way to think about each one:
- Waterfall methodology: a linear, sequential process where each step in the project waits for the previous one to finish before it can start
- Agile methodology: functions in an iterative way, meaning work is completed in planned increments and each increment brings greater clarity as to what the final outcome will be
Here’s a more in-depth look at both methodologies, starting with Agile.
We started outlining Agile in a section above, but let’s get deeper into this method. Agile is an umbrella term that encompasses several different project management frameworks, such as Scrum, but it’s worth mentioning a few more details here.
It rejects rigid planning and says that teams needs to operate flexibly and iteratively—meaning you don’t “do it once, and do it right,” but rather you work on something small and execute it quickly, evaluate what’s working and what’s not, and then change and adapt from there.
Agile accepts uncertainty as a given and aims to empower project teams to be super flexible, execute their work quickly, and respond to change without a hitch. This could be a disadvantage to teams working with a tighter budget or timeline because the Agile method can feel fraught with unpredictability.
It also requires close and frequent communication—which is made easier with a Work Operating System. We’ll get into more on the Work OS further down, but here’s an idea of what Agile planning looks like on the software:
Again, this isn’t technically a framework. This old-school method asks project managers to list all the tasks that lead to the end goal and work on them in order. Progress cascades downwards from one phase of the project to the next.
Teams must complete each before moving on to the next. The Waterfall methodology is great for anyone who makes pricier, physical products in repetitive process itself.
And in terms of smaller endeavors, if you’re an excellent planner working on a project with clear scope and requirements, the Waterfall method can help you land on a successful, predictable result.
However, it’s a pretty rigid approach to project management. It assumes you have all the requirements upfront and doesn’t account for any surprises that force you to deviate from the plan. For most teams, this isn’t a realistic way to work.
If you’re unsure when to use Waterfall vs. Agile, we’ll break it down in the next section.
When should I use Waterfall?
Waterfall project management works best for projects with long, detailed plans that require a single timeline. It works best in a less volatile project environment, and where there can be an upfront investment from the client to ensure a high level of certainty around the final deliverables.
Check out some of the pros and cons:
Next up, Agile. Here’s when to use it and what you can gain or sacrifice from this method.
When should you use Agile?
Agile project management methodology works really well when the product vision or features don’t need to be well-defined. Agile allows product owners to tweak requirements and priorities throughout the project to take advantage of opportunities and ultimately deliver a better product to all of the project stakeholders.
Here are some advantages and disadvantages of the methodology:
If neither Agile nor Waterfall seem like the perfect fit for your project, there’s another solution.
Let’s meet in the middle: hybrid project management methodology
Otherwise known as a hybrid methodology, this approach combines the best of both Agile and Waterfall project management methodologies.
Be warned, however, that combining them into one methodology can be challenging. Teams may have to work in ways they aren’t used to, or comfortable with.
Senior stakeholders may need some guidance as to how to get the data they need from unfamiliar metrics. Decisions may take longer, information may need repeating several times, and teams may miss something if responsibilities are unclear.
But, for an experienced project manager who understands the challenges, the potential for increased efficiency and flexibility, the hybrid approach may just be worth it.
Now that we’ve gone over a few methodologies, here’s how to know which project management methodology is right for you.
4 factors for choosing the right project management methodology
Aside from understanding the pros and cons of each methodology, you can use these four factors to help you decide on your ideal approach.
1. Requirements: The first question you have to answer is whether you need to define project requirements upfront, as part of a scope statement, or whether they’re more flexible and can become clearer over the course of the project. Your answer will influence the project management methodology you choose.
2. Resources: If your project needs a specialist resource with limited availability, you need to be clear when in the project timeline you are going to use them and make sure you book them. Otherwise, you risk adding a significant delay.
3. Client culture: You’ll need to identify the client’s non-negotiables. If the project scope needs to be tightly controlled, but time and budget aren’t set in stone, you’ll need a different approach than when time and budget are fixed, but the end deliverable can be more flexible.
4. Level of stakeholder engagement: How is the client expecting to work with the project team? Will they be close to the project and on-hand throughout to make decisions and offer direction? Or do they want to provide all that at the start and then let the project run with minimal input?
If you’re still unsure of which methodology to use, let’s examine frameworks. We’ve gathered the top project management frameworks below, giving an in depth explanation of each.
What are the top project management frameworks? An in-depth explanation
While the project management field continues to evolve, there are several project management frameworks project managers and their teams favor. Keep reading to get the 411 on each.
PRINCE2 stands for Projects IN Controlled Environments and is one of the process-oriented Waterfall project management frameworks that emphasizes clear steps and well-defined responsibilities.
It is also the most widely practiced project management methodology in the world, which means that a lot of people are familiar with it, know how it works, and understand its terminology.
It’s a tried-and-true classic for mapping out stages of a large-scale project from start to finish, clarifying what will be delivered, by whom, and when. It’s also pretty rigid and poses similar challenges most Waterfall projects have.
2. PMBOK methodology
Created by the Project Management Institute (PMI), PMBOK stands for Project Management Body of Knowledge, which breaks down project management into five phases: conception and initiation, planning, execution, performance and monitoring, and closing.
Although the PMBOK Guide doesn’t dictate methodology, many software project managers associate it with the Waterfall model. Just as there isn’t a PMI methodology (it provides project management practices and guides), PMBOK leaves it up to the team to decide which processes are best in their situation.
Scrum is the Agile project management framework of choice of most product development teams today, and it’s one that we loosely follow here internally at monday.com.
Scrum is famous for buzzwords such as “sprints,” “scrums,” “backlogs,” and “burndowns.” With Scrum, you don’t focus on projects per se, but you instead focus on time: what can you achieve as a team in the next two weeks?
Small teams (no more than nine people) divide work into two-week milestones known as “sprints” or “iterations.” They meet for daily 15-minute “stand-ups” led by a Scrum Master to discuss where things stand.
The Scrum Master acts as a facilitator whose job is to clear away obstacles and help the team work more efficiently. This Agile approach is great for creative projects where you can modify goals midway without derailing the entire project. Take a look at this example Scrum Sprint Planning board:
This philosophy focuses on achieving more by working with less. It’s mostly attributed to the Toyota Production System (TPS) who defined three broad types of waste: muda, mura, muri.
Lean aims to systematically eliminate all forms of waste so you’re working as efficiently as possible. It encourages you to strip away all the fluff of your day-to-day so you’re only left with the essentials that deliver real value.
Lean is easy to follow if you work in a manufacturing or production environment delivering a physical product, such as a Toyota car. Unfortunately, Lean is an old-school methodology that’s not as relevant teams working digitally.
The Kanban board is used to visually manage processes with several different columns that represent stages in your workflow. The stages could be as simple as “To-do,” “Working on it,” and “Done” or far more complex, as tailored to your process.
You then represent work via cards or sticky notes, moving them from left to right as they progress through your workflow—this way you can easily evaluate points of inefficiency: where are sticky notes building up?
Like Agile, Kanban was specifically developed for software development, but it people love it because it can be applied to basically any workflow that follows a predictable process.
People love Kanban for its simplicity and flexibility, but it doesn’t particularly help you strategize and plan ahead. You’re focused on what’s urgent, which may be different from what’s actually important. In addition, many projects follow non-linear processes that can’t be managed by a flat, single-layer display.
Whatever project management framework or methodology you choose, a key project success factor is using the right tools. If you’re using a Waterfall approach, you know that means to plan, plan, and plan some more. This is where monday.com Work OS comes in.
Manage any project with monday.com Work OS
As we mentioned earlier, monday.com Work OS is a Work Operating System. On our software, teams can create and customize any work solution for faster, more agile, and customizable workflows.
Our drag and drop capabilities mean anyone with permission can easily account for customer feedback or add another item to the product backlog for extra agility.
No matter which framework or methodology you use, we have a view or template to make planning and executing projects easier. More specifically, our project management planning template shows the tasks, timeline, and progress for each stage of the project lifecycle.
Plus, we integrate with the tip-top collaboration, communication apps, and organization tools to prioritize tasks, assign workflows, and seek feedback from stakeholders.
With the monday.com Work OS, working together is friction-free, plus it integrates with all those other communication tools you already use so there’s no need to change from what’s already working.
For a hybrid approach, you can mix and match from our wide range of templates.
Start your project management engines
Choosing the right project management methodology is all about careful consideration and the right tools to match. If you’ve read this article, you’re already headed in the right direction.
To see how you can achieve your project management goals, get started with our free, 2-week trial—it’s on us! Be sure to try our customizable templates built for these project management methodologies and more.