10 May 2021

Project management methodologies and approaches (explainer + examples)

Methodologies
Project management methodologies and approaches (explainer + examples)

A common challenge faced by project managers is deciding which project management methodology to select to ensure your project is managed well from start to finish.

Adding to this is the great debate around what should be classified as a “project management methodology”. For instance, when we asked our followers on LinkedIn how they would describe Agile, 46% said they would label it as a mindset, 26% an approach, 22% a methodology and 7% a framework.

 

“One of the most problematic words in the project management field is ‘methodology’. While it doesn’t have multiple meanings in the dictionary, in project management it is interpreted in many, often misleading ways. After a quick google search, you’ll find many incorrect project management methodology articles that are the equivalent of comparing Granny Smith apples with the latest Apple iPad.”

Adrian Dooley, the creator and lead author of the Praxis Framework

 


With so much variance in what people perceive as a methodology, in this article we’ve spoken to a range of experts for clarification. Let’s get to know some of the project management approaches available, so you can choose which is right for you.
 

What is a project management methodology?

According to Associate Professor Julien Pollack, Interim Head for the John Grill Institute of Projects at the University of Sydney a project management methodology is “a structured set of guidelines for action, with room for interpretation in response to local delivery models.”

Similarly, Dr. Fatima Afzal, Associate Lecturer at the School of Project Management at the University of Sydney defines a project management methodology as a “set of principles that guide you to achieve your project goals, with both linear and iterative methodologies available.”

As Afzal explains, “if you manage projects with clear goals, such as you often find in the construction or engineering industries then planning and delivery using a linear approach is likely to be your best option. Whereas projects with unclear goals, for instance in software development or new product development, usually need an iterative planning and delivery approach.”

 

5 of the most common project management methodologies, methods and frameworks

When working with projects, the approach you choose will be the glue that holds your planning and processes together. The below methodologies, methods and frameworks are designed for managing the project lifecycle.

1. PRINCE2 

PRINCE2, which stands for PRojects IN Controlled Environments is a method that provides you with principles, themes and processes to follow when it comes to the planning and the execution of your project. With a clear outline of how you should approach your project, PRINCE2 will support you in your planning stage by stage.
 
According to Allan Thomson, Axelos Propath Product Ambassador, PRINCE2 is generic in nature so that it can be applied to any project regardless of scale, type, organisation, geography or culture. “The specialist aspects of any type of project are easily integrated with the PRINCE2 method and provide a secure overall structure for the project by focussing on describing what needs to be done, rather than prescribing how everything is done.”

2. Praxis Framework

Launched in 2014, Praxis is a free framework that also includes a body of knowledge, method, competency framework and capability maturity model. As part of its framework, Praxis provides a pathway for individuals, teams, and organisations to help support project delivery.

Adrian Dooley explains that the Praxis Framework lifecycle is fundamentally the same lifecycle as that used in PRINCE2, the PMBoK Guide, ISO 21502 and all other guidance. “Each phase of the lifecycle has its own process and these collectively make up a method for managing the lifecycle.”

3. The PMBOK Guide

Published by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and in its sixth edition, PMBOK is a body of knowledge, which supports good practice in project management and is used by many professionals internationally for developing project management processes.

According to Associate Professor Julien Pollack, while it bears many of the hallmarks of a methodology, “the PMBOK Guide (PMI, 2017, p.28) terms itself as a ‘body of knowledge’ and states that it is not a methodology, however it considers ways of tailoring methods and techniques to lifecycle and industry concerns.”

4. TenStep

The TenStep Project Management Process is a flexible and scalable methodology. As the name suggests, TenStep will take you through ten processes from the beginning of the project to the end. If you’re looking for a different structure, TenStep also offers a second option, which is similar in approach to the PMBOK Guide.

As described on its website TenStep will support you in managing projects of all sizes and “the basic philosophy is a ‘large methodology for large projects, small methodology for small projects’”.

5. ISO 21502:2020

ISO21502 is a document in its first edition published by the International Organization for Standardization, which replaces its predecessor ISO 21500:2012. It is an international standard that provides guidelines for best practice in project management.

Similarly to TenStep it promotes itself as providing the flexibility to be tailored to any size of organisation, whether large or small, or whether you’re working in the public sector versus private. It also is aimed at both project managers and senior leadership and executives.

 


 

Agile frameworks and product delivery methods

Before we wrap up this article it is important to cover one of the most common project management terms - Agile.

What is Agile?

Agile is not a methodology in itself, instead it is a set of principles and values that came to life in 2001, created by 17 technology leaders.

According to Dr. Fatima Afzal, "Agile is an umbrella term used for many iterative methodologies and techniques. Amongst these, Lean and Six Sigma are appropriate for manufacturing and product development. Whereas Scrum, Kanban, DSSM, and Extreme Programming are more suitable for IT projects.”

Unlike the methodologies, methods and frameworks listed above that will support you in managing the lifecycle of a project, Agile frameworks and methods generally do not manage the project lifecycle, rather provide a flexible and iterative solution.

As Adrian Dooley from the Praxis Framework suggested at the beginning of this article, it is important to compare apples with apples. “It is perfectly valid to compare and contrast lifecycle management methods and discuss their various merits. Unfortunately, many articles that compare such methods under titles like The 10 most popular project management methodologies then go on to include things like Scrum and Kanban in the same list. However the latter are actually project delivery methods,” says Dooley.

Examples of Agile frameworks and product delivery methods:

  • Scrum: The concept of Scrum originated from a paper published in the Harvard Business Review titled The New New Product Development Game. Scrum is known to be suitable for IT projects and uses the metaphor of the rugby scrum and applies it to software development. Scrum is highly collaborative, involving both the team and the customer and involves responding quickly to change with frequent feedback cycles.

  • Lean: Developed by manufacturer Toyota as a way to improve business processes, Lean is an approach typically used for manufacturing and product development. It has a focus on value, eliminating waste and continuous improvement. It’s important to note that its definition is open to interpretation with the Project Management Institute (PMI) stating “Lean is a business philosophy, not just a tool set or method for improvement.”

  • Six Sigma: Another project management approach that is best suited to manufacturing and product development is Six Sigma. Similarly, to Lean it has a focus on improving processes, and removing waste, whilst understanding the customers’ requirements. As explained by Aziz Moujib in this PMI Conference Paper, one could consider “Lean and Six Sigma principles as a common methodology to reach excellence in projects”.

  • Kanban: An extremely popular method for software and IT teams, Kanban is a Lean method which originated on the Toyota factory floors and is also known to fall under the Agile umbrella. The method involves project teams mapping out work to be completed on a Kanban board, so that work is transparent and easy to visualise. Once a task (or item) is completed, the product owner will pull the next priority to be actioned from the product backlog.  

 

How to decide

The project management methodologies, methods and approaches mentioned in this article provide just a sample of the ways of managing the lifecycle of a project. For those in IT and product development there is also the option of Agile frameworks and product delivery methods to choose from. 

This list barely scratches the surface. So, you need to do your homework to find the best option for your needs. Here are a few things to keep in mind when making the choice:

  1. Know your project goals. 

  2. Determine the variables, dependencies and activities that are crucial for your project and the impact they have on achieving your goals.

  3. Identify the metrics and success factors the chosen methodology will impact the most.

  4. Compare your shortlist of project management methodologies with one another based on how closely their features and approaches align with your goals, variables and impact points. You may choose to mix the project management methodology with Agile delivery techniques.

  5. Engage your team in the decision-making process. Consult with them on their familiarity and experience with different methodologies.

  6. Apply the selected methodology, method or approach - and stick to it! But make sure to measure its performance. 


 

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