The Top 12 Project Management Methodologies & When to Use Them

17 min read

Effective project management is crucial for your company, whether you manage a large corporation or a small business. A failed or inefficient project can ruin a thriving company. So, it’s important that you use a good project management methodology to guide your next venture toward success.

What Are Project Management Methodologies?

What are project management methodologies? The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a methodology as “a system of practices, techniques, procedures, and rules used by those who work in a discipline.” In simpler terms, a project management methodology is a system that guides how you approach a project and work toward its completion.

There are numerous project methodologies you can implement to achieve your goals, and each technique has its own principles and processes. Why do you need to use a project management methodology? The biggest benefits include: 

  • Systemizing your staff’s operations so they’re united by shared practices

  • Helping to avoid mistakes and confusion

  • Making complex projects more manageable

  • Mitigating wasted time and money 

  • Promoting efficiency and ongoing improvement

  • Providing the tools to empower team members

  • Reducing risks and inaccuracies 

  • Increasing likelihood of achieving goals

What is the difference between a project and a program? Programs are ongoing processes that guide a company’s internal operations over long periods. Projects are individual undertakings that focus on producing deliverables to consumers. In other words, programs create healthy environments for individual projects to succeed.

Methodology vs. Framework

Some people use the terms “methodology” and “framework” interchangeably when referring to project management, but are they the same? 

What is the difference between a project management methodology and a project management framework? Frameworks are broad, overarching tenets that can be flexibly adapted to specific situations. In contrast, a methodology is precise and prescriptive in dictating how all elements of a project should be handled.  

Can your company have a methodology and framework at the same time? Yes, as long as they don’t conflict with each other. Some project management frameworks can complement methodologies by providing a structure that supports their particular practices. 

It’s also important to understand the difference between project management and project execution. Execution is the third step in the four stages of the project life cycle, the others being initiation, planning, and closure. Execution involves the actual completion of the project, whereas project management oversees the entire span from forecasting to wrap-up.

You Have Plenty of Options

Choosing the right methodology can optimize the project management process and promote project progress. But which approach do you choose? You have many options, with each system offering different benefits. 

Three commonly used project management methodologies are: 

  • Scrum

  • Waterfall

  • Lean

However, there are more than just those popular project management methodologies. Here’s a look at 12 of the leading process-based management approaches and what they offer. There isn’t a “best” type of project methodology, so these are not ordered in a ranking. You can change your methodology based on your different projects and what works for your company.

1. Waterfall

How It Works

Waterfall is a traditional approach to project management.  As its name suggests, the flow of tasks cascades from the top down in a strict sequential order. The Waterfall method is a very linear approach to the development process, as every successive step has a dependency to be completed before proceeding. No backtracking or skipping ahead!

The stages of Waterfall project management are:

  • Requirements

  • Analysis

  • Design

  • Implementation

  • Testing

  • Deployment and maintenance

The project manager runs the show here, and they do much of the planning up front before anything is executed. The life cycle may stretch a long time, but it only needs to be completed once. 


The Waterfall approach follows an established progression of steps, goals are cemented early on, and provides clarity for every stakeholder involved. Everyone knows what came before, what’s coming after, and what they need to accomplish.

When to Use It

Choose this methodology if your project will involve a predictable, linear progression of phases. Have someone in charge with a calculated, confident vision of the outcome. The project goals should be clear and unlikely to change. Everyone involved needs to be on the same page, following tight regulations for predictability — with no surprises.

Waterfall methodology is ideal for large undertakings with many project teams who all depend on each other to complete their tasks.

2. Agile

How It Works

Contrary to popular belief, Agile methodology isn’t a specific methodology; rather, it’s a category of methodology. Agile approaches all have certain shared characteristics that overlap. That’s why it’s more accurate to call this an “Agile approach” or “Agile framework.”

An Agile approach has overarching principles but is highly adaptive to each project: 

  • Adaptability

  • Collaboration

  • Speed and efficiency

  • Individuals over processes

  • Uses iterative segments

Development teams can work out of sequence, change the order of steps, return to prior steps, and communicate freely with clients. Agile project management is a stark contrast to the strictness of Waterfall methodology, which follows a rigid, linear progression.


Agile project management methodologies encourage managers to empower developers rather than micromanage them. Agile principles can galvanize highly skilled and motivated minds to invest in your vision.

When to Use It

Consider following Agile principles if you have a team of proficient, motivated workers who can collaborate effectively. When you need a quick turnaround on a project and aren’t exactly sure what the outcome should be, use an Agile approach to leave it up to your innovative developers. Agile tends to work best for small teams that are adaptable and highly collaborative rather than siloed. 

3. Scrum

How It Works

Have a goal but are unsure how to reach it? Scrum is your solution. The Scrum methodology focuses on creating specific deliverables when you don’t have a well-defined project scope beforehand.

This project management approach helps your team navigate through ventures that involve lots of uncertainty. How? By promoting these principles: 

  • Control of empirical process 

  • Self-organization

  • Collaboration

  • Value-based prioritization,

  • Time-boxing

  • Iterative development

The Scrum approach is popular because it strives for efficiency while empowering the contributions of individuals through teamwork. It values people and outcomes while providing the flexibility to pursue continuous improvement.

Elements of the Scrum approach include:

  • Sprints: Short achievements that break down the project into value-oriented increments.

  • Scrum master: Oversees the team’s adherence to Scrum principles.


Many product development companies use the Scrum methodology because of its focus on quick projects to produce specific, value-oriented deliverables. It cultivates an environment with clearly defined expectations and goals while encouraging collaboration and flexibility. 

When to Use It

Scrum is helpful when the outcome and process of your next project can’t be fully defined from the onset. A software development or IT firm requires this freedom to quickly and efficiently adjust its practices to reach the desired outcome. 

4. Kanban

How It Works

Kanban is another of the many project management methods that values efficiency and continuous improvement. 

The defining characteristic of the Kanban methodology is visualization. Kanban boards visually depict project backlogs, workflows, and progress. These diagrams allow all stakeholders to clearly see what’s going on. This mitigates misunderstandings, multitasking, redundant work, and bottlenecks.

Like Scrum, Kanban breaks down projects into smaller tasks, enabling continuous improvement and encouraging collaboration. While Scrum follows an established process involving roles and sprints, Kanban has no pre-defined roles and allows major changes to occur as needed.


Regardless of which framework you follow, Kanban board software can still be a useful project management tool. It’s great to have a visual aide to identify gaps and inefficiencies.  This story-boarding technique is useful for everything from marketing to human resources. 

When to Use It

Consider employing the Kanban approach if you have a short timeframe on your project and can follow a flexible structure to achieve your goal.

However, Kanban isn’t a fitting approach for complex projects within organizations that follow rigid, defined structures over long stretches of time. 

5. Scrumban

How It Works

As its name suggests, Scrumban is a hybrid methodology that blends characteristics of Kanban and Scrum approaches. Their merger is not surprising given how much they already overlap. 

Scrumban combines the flexibility of Kanban with the reflective adjustments of Scrum. Scrumban allows teams to complete tasks as they’re able, staying on task and replanning as needed. In other words, Scrumban is Scrum without the sprints but with the sprint retrospectives. 


While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, Scrumban offers the best of multiple Agile development methodologies. It’s clear and simple. Scrumban allows you to adapt your process to fit your needs without being constrained by rigid methodologies. That flexibility makes Scrumban a good entry point into methodologies before you find one that suits you better. 

When to Use It

Uncertain of which methodology is best for your project? You may want to consider Scrumban. 

As with Kanban and Scrum, turn to Scrumban when you lack a clear project roadmap and aren’t pressured by strict deadlines, processes, or operational constraints.

6. Lean

How It Works

The Lean methodology prioritizes the optimization of workflow and removal of excess. Its name refers to cutting any “waste” off your processes — excess spending, inefficient operations, ineffective flows, etc. 

The bottom line for any company that follows a Lean approach is value, value, value. That requires a clear understanding of your goals and operations. Know what you’re bringing to customers and what it will cost you to produce. 

The Lean methodology has its roots in manufacturing, as its roots are in the Toyota Production System. Toyota innovated this approach in the late 1940s to make its production processes more efficient. Since then, Lean has become a go-to approach for many companies outside the automotive industry.


Lean project management uses value stream mapping to project all possible costs. The project only moves forward when customers demand it; that’s pull work, as opposed to push work. It helps you avoid doing extra or unnecessary work that could undercut profits.

When to Use It

Use a Lean approach to help increase your profits and produce better-quality deliverables.

Large-scale companies with influential managers and rigid processes use Lean. They can survive the loss of employees now and then without disrupting projects or operations. A focus on adhering to established processes supports the overall system rather than elevating individual contributors within it. 

7. Six Sigma

How It Works

The foundation of Six Sigma is to continuously strive to achieve stable, successful results — and team members are valuable for achieving that. Six Sigma aims to establish sustainable practices that can be replicated in the future.  

Six Sigma uses the DMAIC model to shape processes. These steps are:

  • Define

  • Measure

  • Analyze

  • Improve

  • Control

Motorola developed the Six Sigma approach to improve its processes and product quality by eliminating errors. This approach to perfection has inspired many other companies to follow the Six Sigma approach.


Six Sigma is more of a guiding principle rather than a methodology. Thus, it can easily be paired with other approaches to enhance them. For example, you can hybridize Six Sigma principles and Lean practices to create Lean Six Sigma. 

When to Use It

Consider Six Sigma if your company creates products that have a history of defects that impede your financial performance. This principle can direct you in the pursuit of perfection — optimizing internal practices to minimize mistakes in external deliverables. 

This technique is best for large companies with at least a few hundred employees. And, it’s wise for someone with a Six Sigma certification guide your project.


How It Works

The Project Management Institute is a long-established association that’s a leader in project management. They produce the Project Management Body of Knowledge, a book to help organizations establish best practices to achieve their objectives. PMBOK® is more of a broad framework than a methodology.

The PMBOK® approach consists of five phases:

  • Project initiation

  • Project planning

  • Project executing

  • Project performance

  • Project closure

Following the directions outlined by the PMI for each of these steps will prepare you for an entire project life cycle.


PMBOK® is another simple, useful system that provides an approachable onboarding point for companies unaccustomed to applying project management methodologies.  

When to Use It

Any company big or small can use the principles outlined in PMBOK®, as they’re made to be broadly applicable. It reflects a more traditional approach to project management than others on this list. 

Because of its broad structure as a framework, consider pairing PMBOK® with a methodology that provides specific processes. 

9. Extreme Programming (XP)

How It Works

Extreme Programming is yet another Agile methodology that focuses on simplicity and efficiency to achieve short turnaround times on urgent projects. What makes XP different from other Agile approaches like Scrum or Kanban is a strict adherence to a prescribed structure. 

While other Agile methodologies allow for flexibility and adaptability, XP has a very disciplined approach. It involves five values that guide the interpersonal aspects of projects, while the five rules and 12 practices for programming dictate the technical tasks.

XP also follows an iterative process with sprints and retrospectives. This encourages adherents to strive for maximum efficiency. 


As you’re debating among Agile methodologies for your IT company or department, consider what Extreme Programming specializes in: a strict system that allows developers to continually refine and alter the product as needed based on customer input. It also comes in handy on projects when the customer doesn’t know what they want.

When to Use It

Extreme Programming was originally developed to allow developers to change code as needed within development projects. So, XP is still a valuable method for software development teams and companies with IT projects that involve computer programming. 

This makes XP ideal for small teams of experienced programmers who have constant contact with your customers.


How It Works

PRINCE2 shares a lot in common with the PMBOK® Guide, the basis of many of its process-oriented principles. This methodology takes them a step further by organizing the concepts into organized guidelines. 

Seven principles are the core of PRINCE2:

  • Continued Business Justification

  • Learn from Experience

  • Defined Roles and Responsibilities

  • Manage by Stages

  • Manage by Exception

  • Focus on Products

  • Tailor to Suit the Project Environment

PRINCE2 is very popular in the United Kingdom and was actually developed by the U.K. government. Its name is an acronym for “PRojects IN Controlled Environments.” There is a rigorous accreditation process for employing PRINCE2, and it is a revered methodology for enterprise-wide projects. 


PRINCE2 uses themes to guide how projects should be administered by roles like the product manager. This methodology focuses on components of processes that are most crucial for completing projects — with the aim to reduce risk and promote the highest chance of success. 

When to Use It

Consider using PRINCE2 if you’re planning a company-wide undertaking and want to reduce risk and encourage confidence among stakeholders. The methodology can also help you tie up loose ends, something most methodologies neglect to address.

11. Critical Path Method (CPM)

How It Works

The Critical Path Method was developed in the 1950s by DuPont and Remington Rand. They used this mathematical, algorithm-based approach in endeavors like the Manhattan Project. This method is a straightforward, time-honored approach to project management. Its techniques are simple and reliable, designed to organize messy, unfocused projects. 

The core of CPM is its namesake: the critical path. This approach requires you to outline a project by identifying all of its involved needs, tasks, durations, and dependencies. Use project management software to diagram these factors. 

Having this information, you’ll make the critical path for the project. This is the longest sequence of interconnected tasks stretching from now to the project’s completion. What’s the purpose of this? To ensure that nothing inhibits the completion of these important tasks so that progress is always facilitated and achieved. 


CPM allows some wiggle room for unexpected delays by incorporating float — the amount of time a task can be delayed without postponing the overall project. 

When to Use It

CPM has been employed in construction, aerospace, engineering, and other projects with interdependent components.

Have a small or mid-sized project that you want to ensure doesn’t get delayed? Use the Critical Path Method. It can help you visualize dependencies and organize them into an optimized process.

12. Critical Chain Project Management (CPPM)

How It Works

This project management methodology sounds very similar to the Critical Path Method. While they do have some similarities in how they approach task organization and completion, there are some key differences between CPM and the Critical Chain Project Management:

  • CCPM has greater consideration of teams, resources, environments, and external factors than CPM does, which focuses most on task dependencies and completion.

  • CCPM is more flexible with scheduling than CPM is, adding buffers to ensure milestone scheduling is pragmatic. Its timing is an estimate rather than a prescription.

  • CPM discourages multitasking and multiple simultaneous projects, whereas CCPM encourages overlap to work ahead and bank extra time.

Other than that, CPM and CCPM are very similar, looking at a central chain of task dependencies.


Many organizations like the idea of the Critical Path Method but find it to be unreasonable when forecasting a completion timeline. The Critical Chain Project Management allows for greater completion time and more delays than CPM does.

When to Use It

Utilize CCPM if you’re in an industry that often suffers from unexpected delays due to forces beyond your control. This methodology is also useful for managing multiple projects at once that can overlap and strain limited resources and staff. Managers who prefer to overestimate timelines gravitate to CCPM.   

Choosing the Right Project Management Methodology

There is no single best project management methodology out there, so you have to assess your particular needs. Start by building a roadmap and considering your long-term objectives before choosing your methodology. Make notes of the following factors when choosing the right methodology for your team.

Industry & Products

The type of work your company does plays a huge part in finding a well-matched methodology. Your particular industry, goods, and services can limit which approaches work for you. 

Take a look at the IT industry. A traditional approach to projects is incompatible with how most software development companies build their products. Find a system that fosters a streamlined workflow and yields quality deliverables. 

Team Size & Needs

Some methodologies are more suitable for larger companies with multiple teams or departments, while other approaches work better for projects with only a few stakeholders. Consider how many people are working on the project and choose a method that can scale to your crew.

Also, consider how closely your team needs to collaborate and if you’ll be hiring freelancers to work alongside your employed staff. Each project team needs a methodology that fits its unique situation.

Nature of the Project

The project itself should factor into your choice of methodology. Do you need to judiciously monitor every step in the process? Is it a high-risk venture? How long will the project take to complete? Will the project change over time and need a flexible methodology? 

Budget & Expectations

How much money do you intend to spend or make on this project? Can you afford a flexible method that allows you to spend as needed, or do you need to be as frugal as possible? What do you expect to accomplish by the end of your project?

Get Your Team Together

In addition to choosing the right methodology, you can also promote your project’s success with the right team. Having the best developers and project managers makes all the difference — and the easiest way to find them is to contact MVP Match. We’ll find skilled freelancers for your company from our network of independent contractors.

Are you a freelancer with a project management certification? MVP Match is always looking for more freelancers to join our global network. We’ll connect you with companies around the world who need your expertise on their next project.

About the Author

Match wants to bridge the perspectives of talents and companies, and Marta’s job is to blend all the elements without burning the engine. She translates backstage know-how into practical insights and stories. What can’t be written on a blog will land on socials as a meme. She believes that shaping the #futureofwork is all about transparency and courage in communication. While collaborating with writers and authors from all over the world, she makes sure that everything that ends up on the Match blog makes the bridge stronger than ever.