The top project management methodologies: which is right for you?
Kanban, PMBOK, Scrumban… no, these aren’t the names of villains in the newest Star Wars movie, but are rather some of the world’s top project management methodologies.
We’re not fans of clunky project management tools. Many of these products treat people as a resource, a byproduct, or a secondary consideration that gets lost in a web of hierarchies, dependencies, and endless subtasks. That’s a grave mistake—you don’t manage projects; you only ever manage people.
But that doesn’t mean we snub all project management methods. In fact, with monday.com’s work operating system, we ourselves use a variety of project management methodologies on a daily basis.
Which type of project management methodology is right for you? We decided to delve into the details and explore the topic in depth. Let’s go!
The top project management methodologies
Just as America’s founding fathers huddled together to pen the Declaration of Independence by candlelight, so was the level of drama when 17 software developers released their groundbreaking Agile Manifesto in 1981, intended to unshackle developers from the restrictive chains of traditional project management methodologies.
Agile, in fact, isn’t a methodology, but rather a belief system—one that many still subscribe to today. It turned all traditional values upside down and said that when approaching a project, we should be prioritizing completely different things. It’s now an umbrella term that encompasses several different project management methodologies, such as Scrum.
Agile throws all rigid planning out the door and says that teams needs to be able 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.
Pros: 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.
If you read the story of how our founders created monday.com, it’s clear that their philosophy was aligned in many ways with Agile. Speaking of a previous failed startup, our CTO Eran says: “I thought, ‘When I launch, it’s going to be perfect.’ It’s never like that. I had no idea that I should have shared it with users and gotten feedback really early on.”
Cons: Agile values responding to change over following a plan, and regards the Waterfall method as if it’s a dinosaur. But planning isn’t a bad thing, and the Agile method can feel fraught with unpredictability.
In addition, Agile planning requires close collaboration throughout each incremental change. That amounts to a lot of talking. If you’re working with clients, asking them to provide feedback every step of the way can be time-consuming and onerous for everyone.
Bottom line: There’s no escaping Agile in the workplace these days, so love it or hate it, you’ll benefit from being familiar with its principles. We ourselves are big believers in managing by time, and that is one of Agile’s greatest strengths. Interested in how you can use monday.com to implement Agile? Check out our new guide with tips and tricks from CS Manager Julia: 10 simple steps to Agile project management.
2. Waterfall model
This is an old-school method that originated in the manufacturing and construction industries. It’s dead easy: just list out all the tasks that lead to your end goal, and work on them in order. Progress cascades downwards from one phase of the project to the next. Each phase must be completed before you move on to the next.
But similar to Niagara, once your project is underway, there’s no going back, no time to reflect, and no real option to change course. You’ll drown before getting a chance to start over and make tweaks. (OK, a little dramatic, but basically true.)
Pros: Do you work in construction? Do you build airplanes with your bare hands? Do you manage complicated construction schedules? The Waterfall methodology is great for anyone who makes expensive, physical things in a process that repeats itself. And in terms of smaller endeavors, if you’re an excellent planner working on a project where the scope and requirements are extremely clear, the Waterfall method can help you land on a successful, predictable result. You do it once and you do it right.
Cons: The Waterfall methodology is a rigid approach to project management. It assumes you have all the requirements upfront and no surprises will come up forcing you to deviate from the plan. For most teams, this simply isn’t a realistic way to work on a daily basis. People get sick. Things change. You need to be able to work dynamically and quickly pivot into new directions.
Bottom line: It’s easy to knock the Waterfall approach as stale and dated, and it’s true that in the age of speed, it’s probably not the right fit for many teams. But have you ever visited the Pyramids or walked along the Great Wall of China? Or how about the more mundane wonders of the world, such as the bridges you drive on and the energy grids that give us electricity? These feats of humanity were likely accomplished thanks to project management methodologies akin to the OG Waterfall.
PRINCE2 stands for Projects IN Controlled Environments and was developed in the late 80s by the British government as the standard for the IT environment. What about the number 2? It came about in 1996 when the methodology got a little facelift.
(That means it can actually be referred to as the Project Management Methodology Formerly Known as Prince! Ba-dum-ching. 🙂 )
PRINCE2 is one of the process-oriented waterfall project management methodologies that emphasizes clear steps and well-defined responsibilities. PRINCE2 places heavy emphasis on planning, business justification, cost analysis, and risk mitigation, and is an incredibly thorough framework for running large and predictable enterprise projects.
Pros: PRINCE2 is 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.
Cons: Like the waterfall method, PRINCE2 is a very rigid and and highly controlled methodology. It’s not the right fit for small projects or smaller teams or agencies, who likely don’t have the time or resources to go through a lengthy certification course.
Bottom line: If you work in the UK, Australia, or Europe and are handling large-scale corporate projects, you’ll likely need to be well-versed in PRINCE2. If you’re just a regular (American) Joe looking for ways to work better as a team and increase your productivity, then it’s not worth shelling out the time and money for a PRINCE2 certification.
4. PMI’s PMBOK
Some say that PMBOK isn’t a methodology, but rather a set of standards—but we say potato potahto. 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. It’s another type of waterfall methodology that has you follow these phases from start to finish.
PMBOK is considered a direct competitor of PRINCE2, in that they also offer their own certification course to become a Project Management Professional (PMP). (So many PMP jokes…so little time.)
Pros: Like PRINCE2, PMBOK is a highly respected methodology, but is far more popular in the USA. It applies universal standards to the Waterfall method and is a very thorough approach to managing large-scale projects. It can also be helpful for large enterprises who want all departments, or even companies, to work in one standardized way, using the same vocabulary and best practices.
Cons: All the same criticisms of Waterfall and PRINCE2 apply to PMBOK. Are you a small agency who works at a rapid pace? Is your team just looking for a way to better sync and stay organized? PMBOK is likely too cumbersome, complicated, and clunky for you.
Bottom line: If you work as a project manager, PMP is a globally acknowledged certification that will probably enhance your resume and may even lead to a pay bump. But if you’re just looking for a better way to work together as a team, the PMI/PMBOK approach may be jargon-filled overkill for your daily needs.
Scrum is the project management methodology of choice of most R&D teams today, and it’s one that we loosely follow here internally at monday.com. Scrum is famous—some might say infamous—for buzzwords such as “sprints,” “scrums,” “backlogs,” and “burndowns.”
The essence of Scrum is that you work in a small team (no more than nine people) and divide your work into two-week milestones known as “sprints” or “iterations.” You 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.
Manage your sprint iteration planning with our scrum management templates
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? You set your goals, buckle down, and “sprint” to the finish line. Another key principle of Scrum is that testing occurs frequently and simultaneously throughout the iteration—it’s not a separate and distinct phase as it is in Waterfall.
Pros: This is great for creative projects where goals can be modified midway. For many teams these days, change is a given. The Scrum method allows them to stay agile (hence the name) and make changes midway through without derailing the entire project.
Cons: See all of the criticisms we made about Agile.
Bottom line: “It’s in the backlog.” “I’ll add it to the next iteration.” “Gotta go—time for our stand-up.” The jargon and lingo of Scrum is ubiquitous, and the methodology is the darling of R&D teams around the world. In this video, CS Manager Anna and our Head of R&D Daniel discuss how we use Scrum to manage our R&D processes in monday.com:
Just as with Agile and PMBOK, Lean isn’t so much a methodology as it is a philosophy. It’s all about 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.
Muda is defined as any process that does not add value, and the original Lean philosophy outlines seven types of muda: transport; inventory; motion; waiting; overproduction; overprocessing; and defects. Mura is the inconsistency and unevenness in your workload that causes waste. (For example, when you work like mad during certain parts of the month and then things are dead at other times.)
Finally, muri is all the unreasonable burdens that are imposed on people that cause stress and burnout. Muri qualifies as its own form of waste, and is directly linked to the daily BS that wastes your time—muda—and the unpredictability and chaos of your day-to-day—mura.
Lean focus on systematically eliminating all these 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.
Pros of Lean: Lean is easy to follow if you work in a manufacturing or production environment delivering a physical product, such as a Toyota car. The benefits are clear: it’s about working as efficiently as possible, eliminating obsolete inventory and waste, and building strong customer relationships.
Cons of Lean: Lean is an old-school methodology that’s not relevant for most teams working digitally these days.
Bottom line: If you work in manufacturing, you’re only as fast as the slowest point on your production line. Work on improving that weak point, and your entire operation will be faster, less wasteful, and more profitable.
The original Lean philosophy only applies to physical manufacturing, but its tenets have been extrapolated into more modern methodologies, such as Lean Startup. Many people even consider Lean to be the godfather of Agile and Scrum. Efficiency FTW!
Speaking of Lean offshoots, Kanban is one of them. Kanban literally means “board” in Chinese and Japanese, and the Kanban board is used to visually manage processes.
A Kanban board is divided into 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. Kanban is essentially a more conceptual assembly line, allowing you to visually evaluate points of inefficiency: where are sticky notes building up? That’s where you need to improve.
Like Agile, Kanban was specifically developed for software development, but it can be applied to basically any workflow that follows a predictable process.
Pros: People love Kanban for its simplicity and flexibility. Reprioritizing and changing course is as simple as moving some sticky cards around. Even better, it’s a totally visual way to manage your work (we love that!). It’s a great way to immediately see the status of where everything stands in a single glance.
Cons: Kanban helps you manage a steady stream of to-dos, which is helpful only for the realm of task management. But it doesn’t help you be strategic and really 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.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for an easy and visual way to manage your tasks, Kanban can be helpful. But it has its limits, and if your day-to-day involves any level of complexity or substantial change, the Kanban method is likely to crumble.
How to choose the right project management methodology for you
The list we provided above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of types of project management methodologies. There’s no one-size-fits-all method, and what will work for you really depends on your industry, workload, and personal preferences. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself that might be helpful:
- Is my project complex or is it relatively straightforward?
- Do I work in a flexible, dynamic environment like a startup?
- Am I open to taking risks?
- Am I willing to let the workflow change or evolve?
- If working with clients, what are they like? How do they work best?
Some project management methodologies will immediately jump out to you as obvious “yays” or “nays,” but others will require experimentation and time to see what works best for you.
No one ever said project management methodologies were sexy or exciting, but behind all the dry acronyms and mind-numbing jargon are human experiences we can all relate to: the stress of an upcoming deadline. The frustration of miscommunicating with other people. The rush of completing a huge project. These issues are at the core of every project management methodology, and are also why we do what we do: to simplify the way your team works.
Whatever method you choose, chances are you can implement it in monday.com. We don’t take sides, and instead created a product that’s versatile and customizable, allowing you to work exactly the way you want. Give it a shot and see how it works for you!