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How to pick a project management methodology

Moira Alexander | July 23, 2015
There’s an overwhelming choice of different project management methodologies. Knowing which ones will work best for you can be as challenging as the project itself.


Think of project management (PM) methodologies as blueprints, step-by-step instructions that guide your team on how to build a successful project. With so many different -- and in some cases, overlapping -- approaches to managing the complexities of any given program, how can you know which one is right for your project, team or organization?

Let's start by taking a look at some of the key PM methodologies:

  • Agile was developed for projects requiring significant flexibility and speed and is comprised of "sprints" -- short delivery cycles. Agile may be best-suited for projects requiring less control and real-time communication within self-motivated team settings. Agile is highly iterative, allowing for rapid adjustments throughout a project.
  • Waterfall methodology is sequential in nature; it's used across many industries, most commonly in software development. It's comprised of static phases (requirements analysis, design, testing, implementation and maintenance), executed in a specific order. Waterfall allows for increased control throughout each phase but can be highly inflexible if scope changes may be anticipated later.
  • Critical Path Method (CPM) is a step-by-step methodology used for projects with interdependent activities. It contains a list of activities and uses a work-break-down structure (WBS), a timeline to complete and dependencies, milestones and deliverables. It outlines critical and non-critical activities by calculating the "longest" (on the critical path) and "shortest" (float) time to complete tasks to determine which activities are critical and which are not.
  • Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM) differs from Critical Path Method (CPM) in that it focuses on the use of resources within a project instead of project activities. To address potential issues with resources, buffers are built in to ensure projects are on-time and that safety is not compromised.
  • Six Sigma was originally developed by Motorola to eliminate waste and improve processes and profits. It is data-driven and has three key components: DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve and control) DMADV (define, measure, analyze, design and verify) and DFSS (which stands for "Design for Six Sigma" and can include the previous options, as well as others, like IDOV -- identify, design, optimize and verify). Six sigma is sometimes debated as a methodology in the PM community.
  • Scrum (named after rugby) is a part of the agile framework and is also iterative in nature. "Scrum sessions" or "30-day sprints" are used to determine prioritized tasks. A Scrum Master is used to facilitate instead of a Project Manager. Small teams may be assembled to focus on specific tasks independently and then meet with the Scrum Master to evaluate progress or results and reprioritize backlogged tasks.

There are also several other methodologies like Event Chain Methodology (ECM), Crystal, FDD (Feature Driven Development), DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development), Adaptive Software Development and RUP (Rational Unified Process), Lean Development (LD) PRINCE2 and others.


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