“Agile”, “kanban”, and “waterfall” are more than just buzzwords — they’re roadmaps to success.

Understanding what a project management methodology is and how to select the right one can make a huge impact on the success of your project, and the happiness of your team. 

However, with so many project management methodologies to choose from, how do you know which one is the one?

In this article, we’ll define what exactly a project management methodology is, walk you through the six of the most common project management methodologies, and provide tips on how to choose the right one for your project, your team, and your organization. 

What is a Project Management Methodology?

There are different beliefs and myths about what a methodology actually is. Project management methodologies are also often confused with project management frameworks.

A project management framework provides structure and direction to a project as well as a project team. Unlike a project management method, a framework is more high level. 

Project management frameworks don’t overwhelm project managers or teams with too much detail, yet they also aren’t too rigid. Project management frameworks are more flexible, and allow project managers and teams to adapt to the changing business needs as well as the ever-changing business climate overall. 

Aside from being a buzzword, “project management methodologies are practices that are rendered consistent within and across an organization, allowing for greater continuity from a project to project, and team to team.” (Risk Management Concepts and Guidance, Fourth Edition by Carl L. Pritchard, PMP) 

To put it simply, a project management method is a body or system of methods used to manage a project.

Why Are Project Management Methodologies Important? 

Think of it this way: You are planning a cross-country road trip. One of the essential tools you would likely need for your trip is a road map to be sure that you reach your final destination successfully.

Imagine if you traveled cross-country blindly without a roadmap. Sure, that might be part of the exciting adventure, but taking this risk might mean that you spend more time on the road figuring out the right direction. It also increases the risk that you might not finish your road trip successfully. 

They provide a path to guide project managers and teams to successful project completion. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), project management methodologies give more control over their projects, and help them to manage the unknown.

In fact, without a methodology, project risks are seriously heightened. 

What Are the Different Project Management Methodologies?  

Through the years, project management principles have evolved to fit modern-day business needs. As a result, the number of methodologies has grown. Here is a list of the different types of project management methodologies:

  1. Agile
  2. Waterfall
  3. Hybrid
  4. Kanban
  5. Traditional
  6. Six Sigma


Now, let’s take a look at each:

1. Agile

The agile project management methodology is a modern and iterative approach to project management. It allows agile teams to receive and evaluate feedback, and also respond to change quickly. The results? Delivering more value to customers—and faster.

Agile project management has grown into its own hub of methodologies and frameworks. For example, the “scrum methodology” leverages pieces of Kanban (which we will get into more about this below), such as a visual workflow via a Kanban board. This involves appointing a “Scrum Master” to oversee the project backlog, tasks, and velocity. These are just some examples of project management methodologies that sit under the larger agile project management methodology umbrella.

Agile is often best suited for software development and product development projects, and creative teams.

2. Waterfall

You’ve likely heard the term “waterfall” associated with project management, but what is it exactly? The Waterfall methodology is a more traditional project management method. It involves mapping out a project into linear and often sequential phases. These phases only begin when the prior phase is completed (kind of like a waterfall).

The Waterfall method is best suited for highly-technical, complex, and “mission-critical” projects that need to keep track of the critical path. 

Some use cases or project types that often use the Waterfall methodology include architecture, construction, or manufacturing projects, and teams that work best in a “linear” fashion.

3. Hybrid

As you might guess, the Hybrid methodology is a mix between two other methodologies (usually agile and waterfall) to create a truly customized project management approach. 

Similar to Agile, Hybrid is best suited for software development and product development projects that require iterations but that also take a linear approach. Additionally, similar to the Waterfall methodology, Hybrid also allows project managers and teams to follow the critical path. 

4. Kanban

If you’ve spent any amount of time Kanban is part of the Agile family. It is a lean methodology that provides a visual workflow, usually on a board, which can help teams manage work easily and more efficiently as well as limit work in progress.  

Kanban is best suited for projects that involve working on and delivering knowledge work, such as UX design or marketing collateral design and production. It is also a great workflow for team members who like to see, organize, and manage their work visually.

5. Traditional

Some confuse Waterfall and Traditional methodologies, thinking the two are the same. They aren’t. Although they are both “traditional” methodologies in the literal sense, they are two very different approaches. Projects that follow the traditional project management methodology run in a sequential cycle, which involves the following phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closure.

Similar to Waterfall, Traditional is best suited for highly-complex, highly-technical, and also high-risk projects. 

6. Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a methodology centered around improving business processes and reducing errors or risks by using various tools and techniques. Six Sigma is also divided into two “micro-methodologies”: DMAIC and DMADV. 

DMAIC is a data-driven technique that uses statistical modeling to reduce errors. DMADV is used for process design, specifically related to product development or manufacturing. 

Six Sigma is best suited for companies or projects that are highly technical in nature, product development projects, or any business transformation project or initiative. 

How Do I Choose a Project Management Methodology?

Now that you have a fair understanding of the different types of project management methodologies, how do you make sure you choose the right one for your projects and team?

There are three crucial elements that determine methodology fit:

  1. Project factors (specifically complexity and uncertainty)
  2. Organizational cultural factors
  3. Governance and compliance factors

It’s important to ensure that a project management methodology is the right fit for your organization. You can accomplish this by:

  • Analyzing project success rates: Compare historical project success rate with current project success rate after implementing the new methodology.
  • Asking team members for feedback: Is the new methodology useful? Does it help them be more productive? Are they collaborating more effectively?
  • Performing an assessment: Are projects running more efficiently and smoothly, and with fewer mistakes?

All in all, before you switch your methodology or adopt a methodology simply because that’s what other organizations are doing, it’s important to have a baseline understanding of current project success rates so you have something to compare it to. 

One of the greatest project risks is not having a detailed project plan mapped out properly and completely in a project management tool. 

Not sure how to put together a project plan? The good news is there are many project management tools out there that can help you. You can also work with a firm that specializes in project management or work with a dedicated project manager to help you.

Set Your Project Up for Success with the Right Project Management Methodology

Choosing the right project management methodology is a big decision. And we know that choosing among the different types of project management methodologies can be overwhelming. Many project managers and project champions are under pressure to ensure that their long list of projects get completed successfully. However, now that you have a better understanding of the different types of project management methodologies, you are one step closer to setting your team and project up for success.

If you still have questions about specific project management methodologies, choosing the right one for your projects and team, or how to implement a methodology or project management framework altogether, book a call today to speak directly with one of our experienced and certified project managers.