When you’re planning a project for your team, how do you lay it out?

Some people make lots of lists; others set hard deadlines and let the chips fall where they may. In casual parlance, this is called “managing the project.” However, project management is actually a well-established science, and if used correctly, it can exponentially improve your team’s efficiency.

Thankfully, there are several key project management methodologies that you can implement to help things run more smoothly. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel: when you use an existing project management methodology, you benefit from faster turnaround times, clearer milestones, and better output.

And if you’re exploring a career in project management, you’ll need to know the most common project management methodologies. There’s no right or wrong methodology. Like any scientific method, your results depend on how you use them.

The top project management methodologies

It’s tempting to think of project management systems as plug-and-play solutions for your team’s work. Don’t make this mistake. Project management is a science, so you can choose from various frameworks that best suit your workflow and goals.

These methodologies are well-defined by years of implementation. All they have in common is that they’re designed to best use your resources and minimize gaps or delays. 

Without further ado, let’s explore the most popular project management methodologies.

Agile

It’s not just a methodology, it’s a philosophy: Agile is a set of principles derived from the world of software development. However, it’s one of the most popular and influential frameworks for project management. This is largely because it is, as the name suggests, flexible and adaptive.

Agile always refers to an iterative workflow in which tasks are regularly cycled through the processes of planning, creation, review, and revision. Don’t confuse “agile” with willy-nilly: this isn’t a matter of doing work whenever circumstances call for it.

Rather, Agile project management is the guiding theory beyond your team’s well-established processes, allowing you to incorporate feedback and make incremental progress. Every team’s Agile workflow is unique (that’s the beauty of it) but the core idea is that projects don’t have to move through hard phases to get done. One of the core principles is “done is better than perfect.”

It’s a way to accommodate unpredictability and adjust more quickly than you could if you went the ol’ hierarchical route. If you get client feedback that changes the copy but the UX design is all ready to go — great! You bounce the revision task to the copywriting team while UX works on another project. Or better yet, you have cross-functional teams so copywriters and designers can collaborate rather than waiting for the endless approvals process to cycle through again.

In short, creating these “iterations” that you can act on as needed saves you time and resources. While you may have an overarching plan, you focus on the ways you can respond to change rather than shoving a square peg into a round hole, as it were.

In its pure form, Agile makes the most sense for the development of software, websites, or any complex project where tasks likely won’t happen in a nice, neat order. However, any team with clients (marketing, legal, etc.) can potentially benefit from Agile.

Agile includes key elements that might better be described as methodologies: Scrum and Kanban.

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Jonathan Rasmusson on Udemy

In this online course for agile project management, you’ll learn everything you need to setup, execute, and successfully deliver your own Agile project.

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Scrum

As we mentioned above, Agile benefits from cross-functional teams. That flexible process works best when you don’t have to cycle a project component through five different departments every time. A “scrum” is a way to get your team on the same page so they can do their best work.

Scrum project management almost sounds like a religion, with concepts such as a “scrum master” and “scrum” ceremony. The core idea is that all team members show up to a common place, where they can swap ideas, share their progress, and get their assignments. From there, they focus on their work until it’s time for the next ceremony. See? Iteration.

A scrum framework has three main components:

  • Backlog: the set of undone tasks that will be assigned to team members and achieved as part of the project’s incremental process.
  • Sprint: a cycle of 2-4 weeks of tasks, meant to achieve a key initiative in the project
  • Retrospective: the postmortem after a sprint in which the scrum master and their team identify opportunities for improvement

Like Agile, Scrum is derived from the world of software development but can be applied to any team where tasks are done as part of larger initiatives.

For example, a marketing agency could use Scrum to push progress on product launches, then do a retrospective to gain insights for the next campaign.

To be most effective, Scrum should be used with relatively small teams who can easily collaborate and support each other’s progress.

Kanban

Thanks to popular project management tools such as Trello, “kanban” has become a household name. However, like Scrum, it is derived from Agile, where it serves as a key visual tool for project progress.

The idea here is to benefit visual learners and help the team instantly understand a project’s phases and next steps. The typical Kanban board is quite simple, dividing tasks into three categories: “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.”

Of course, your team may prefer different statuses. For example, a publishing office may use something like “Drafting,” “Review,” “In Design,” and “Published.” As long as the Kanban flow is progressive, it can be whatever you’d like.

Kanban was originally used to map out the next steps and cut down on in-progress tasks. The goal was to overcome project delays and identify gaps in the development process. If your tasks are mostly in “Doing,” you’ve got a problem.

As part of Agile, Kanban’s chief benefit is ensuring that your team isn’t overloaded — or missing critical steps. As its own project management methodology, Kanban provides organization and motivation to clear tasks out of that middle status and into the “done column.” Otherwise, you should de-prioritize the task until your team can actually work on it.

It can be difficult to perceive the current workload until it’s shown visually, which makes Kanban a powerful “reality check” tool if nothing else. But ideally, you’re seeing how tasks can move forward once other tasks are complete — and you avoid filling up your team members’ plates too high.

PRINCE2

Let’s break away from the Agile school of thought for a moment. One of the original project management methodologies was Waterfall, which we’ll discuss in a moment, but today, it is more commonly used as PRINCE2, which stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments.

This is definitely a capital-M Methodology, in which large-scale projects are painstakingly broken down into stages. Each stage has thoroughly defined plans and processes. Unlike in Agile, if a PRINCE2 project phase is not complete, no further work can be done.

This may sound rigid, but it’s for a good reason: the goal is to make sure that no resources are misused. So, each phase has clearly marked inputs and outputs. It’s like a PA system: if there’s no microphone hooked up, there’s no way to use it. And if there’s no one speaking, there’s no point for the PA.

PRINCE2 was developed for IT projects with no external (read: client) feedback, so we wouldn’t recommend it for software development, web design, or marketing agencies. However, there are some elements you can borrow:

Key Performance Indicators: PRINCE2 heavily emphasizes data as a measure of success. You can absolutely use this in any industry as a means of evaluating progress and guiding future tasks.

Clear Assignments and Responsibilities: Not to say you can’t use cross-functional teams, but the idea here is that your project is like a theatre production: everyone has their role to play, and you shouldn’t mess with it too much. (And there are no small roles!)

Risk Mitigation: The entire purpose of the PRINCE2 project management methodology is to cut down uncertainty. If your chief goal is simply to get your massive project done, consider using PRINCE2-type project planning and milestones.

Other project management methodologies to consider

The frameworks/methodologies/life philosophies described above are widely regarded as the best, but they are by no means your only options. 

As long as you stick to a process, you can cobble together the most important elements from the popular systems. Or, choose an entirely different one altogether. Here are a few extra options that might be more relevant to your project, company, or existing processes.

Waterfall

We mentioned Waterfall above, and while we appreciate this project management methodology for its historical importance, most companies won’t find it useful. That’s because, despite the name, Waterfall is extremely rigid.

The idea is that you pre-define all stages of a project, then deliver the work necessary for each stage. Every step must be completed before the next can begin. It’s a cascade of tasks, like — you guessed it — a waterfall.

The problem is that there is little to no room for adaptation. If a client requests revisions, you can’t simply cease the process: it’s a waterfall! You’ll  

have to go back to the beginning, or at least reorder or postpone a bunch of work until you make the revision.

Obviously, that’s usually not feasible, so most Waterfall projects don’t ever receive client feedback until it’s 100% done. That is quite risky: if the client doesn’t like it, you’re back to the drawing board — literally! And that could incur a huge cost that can’t be recouped.

Waterfall can work for companies that have honed their processes and know exactly what’s needed with minimal client input. Otherwise, it’s best to use one of the Agile frameworks or the more flexible PRINCE2.

Scrumban

You gotta love a portmanteau! That’s exactly what Scrumban is: a combination of the work-balancing Kanban method with daily team sessions from Scrum. Essentially, the Kanban is the backlog, and at each scrum meeting, team members grab a task from the “to do” column.

In a pinch, this is the quickest and most efficient way to just get s*** done. Tasks aren’t organized into sprints, and the Kanban board doesn’t languish with a bunch of “in progress” tasks. It’s simply a matter of shuffling work from “to do” to “done” as quickly as possible.

Obviously, Scrumban doesn’t work for a long-term initiative where a guiding plan would be helpful, or for complex projects where there are task dependencies. If your company is working on projects where things can change any moment, though, Scrumban is a good project management methodology for staying organized without getting overwhelmed.

Lean

As the name suggests, Lean is all about “trimming the fat” from projects. It emerged before Agile and helped shape a lot of the core principles about maximizing resources and avoiding delays. Derived from Japanese software development, the Lean project management methodology identifies three components that drag down projects:

Muda: Waste that does not add value to the customer, e.g. extra revisions or feedback from stakeholders, or features that don’t suit the end-user

Mura: Variations that inevitably occur in standard development processes and lead to bloat and time delays

Muri: Work overload that impedes productivity and creativity

Lean is also called the 3M methodology because it aims to eliminate these 3 types of waste. As you can probably see, Lean bears a lot of similarities to Agile, but even if you don’t use it per se, it’s worth examining your projects to see which “Ms” you can eliminate.

Wrapping up

So which project management methodology is right for you?

It depends on your industry, company size, the projects you do, and many other factors. As long as you stick to your chosen framework and implement it consistently, you should reap the benefits of project management science. 

Some companies use different systems for different departments: perhaps your IT department would do well with PRINCE2 but your social media team prefers Scrumban. it’s up to you.

In general, we find that the Agile family of methodologies/frameworks (Kanban, Scrum, Scrumban, Agile itself, and to some extent Lean) are the most flexible options. The beauty of these systems is that you can adapt them to your needs.

Ultimately, project management is about making work easier and more sustainable, and it’s hard to beat the Agile methodology in that regard.

If you’re ready to take your career to the next level (or start a new one), the quickest way to develop your skills is with online project manager courses. You’ll learn from the best, and get a certification that’ll qualify you for more senior roles!