Subscribe to

The Unconventional Guide to Work

Life’s too short to be bored at work. We can help.

Choose Your Project Management Methodology: Pros and Cons of Agile, Waterfall, PRiSM and more

Projects come in all shapes and sizes, from small, highly-focused jobs requiring only a few tasks, to complex, multi-faceted enterprises requiring input from everyone in your office. In order to successfully tackle any project, you need some kind of plan in place. This plan is more than just a schedule of who does what and when - it defines your whole methodology - how you plan to tackle the project, deal with risk factors, manage your resources, and test each iteration.

Enter project management methodology - the framework for building a project from the idea stage to a completed enterprise. By choosing an established project methodology, you don’t have to reinvent the process every time you start a new project - you can just set out the steps and go! In this article we look at some of the most popular project management methodologies, and the pros and cons of each. Armed with this information, you can choose a methodology that fits your project management style.

What is a Project Management Methodology?

We talk about project management a lot on the blog, but we tend to focus on the tools needed to make a project a success. Having the right tools is vital, but it’s not the whole story. The way you approach the project and organise your process - ie. the methodology - will have a tremendous impact on a project’s success.

Originally, projects in the business world were managed in an ad hoc, unofficial manner. It was up to the individual manager to figure out a way to run the project that ensured the desired outcome was met. Large civil engineering projects were managed by the architects or master builders themselves - famous names like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Christopher Wren and Vitruvius all managed their own epic projects.

It was around the 1950s where companies started developing project management techniques to make managing large engineering and construction projects more streamlined. Many core engineering fields needed to be brought together into one project, so it started to become necessary for one unifying methodology to cover all the different disciplines. Originally, project management as a discipline only applied to these types of engineering projects, but now the methodologies are used across a wide range of industries and teams.

So, lets take a look at some of the major project management methodologies, and what differentiates them:

Waterfall

Waterfall was one of the first project management methodologies to come into being. It offered a difference from more “traditional” approach to projects, where everything was worked on in sequence and each stage of the sequence was defined as the project went ahead.

In contrast, Waterfall aims to eliminate risk by outlining all the steps of the project from the beginning. The crux of the methodology is that if you spend more time in the beginning of a project outlining the design and requirements, then the actual project will flow fast and smooth, like a waterfall. Each project phase is 100% completed before moving on to the next.

  • Pros: Is your project mission-critical? Is it highly complex? Do you need an exceptionally high level of fault tolerance? Waterfall is for you.
  • Cons: Waterfall can be quite a rigid system, and can lack the flexibility to deal with faced-paced and changeable projects.

Agile

While Waterfall is probably the most widely used and understood project management framework in use today, Agile is fast catching up. Agile was designed with the tech industry in mind, and like its name suggests, it focuses on a speedy turnaround and an ability to adapt to changing parameters throughout the project’s timespan.

The other advantage of Agile is the way it focuses on people and collaboration within the team. Many teams find Agile helps them to both improve productivity while allowing them to boost creativity and create unique solutions.

  • Pros: Flexible and modifiable goals mean that Agile is a great methodology for creative and software projects, where new ideas and innovations can be quickly adapted into the existing framework.
  • Cons: Agile is a very hands-on approach, especially for stakeholders and project managers. If you prefer to step back and let the process work for itself, this might not be the methodology for you.

Six Sigma

Originally developed by Motorola, Six Sigma is a project management framework designed to be driven by data. At its heart it aims to improve quality across a project by reducing defects and bugs. The name refers to the fact that a “Six Sigma” rating indicates that a product is 99.99966% error free. It is another methodology requiring certification.

  • Pros: Six Sigma doesn’t just take into account one aspect of the process - it looks at everything, and will often suggest improvements before defects even appear.
  • Cons: Being a data-driven quality-assurance system, Six Sigma can be extremely rigid, which some teams find limit their creativity.

Critical Chain / Path

While Waterfall and Agile focus more on schedules and tasks, Critical Chain / Path aims to solve resource issues and is designed for teams where people have flexible skillsets with a lot of crossover. Each project begins by setting out a chain of core elements (the critical chain / path) necessary to complete the project, and then estimate milestones and completion dates based on those elements.

  • Pros: With resources mapped out, you know exactly who is available for what part of the project, and collaboration on tasks is made easier.
  • Cons: Because additional time buffers are built into each stage of the plan, Critical Path doesn’t work very well for small-scale projects with a quick-turnaround.

PRiSM

PRiSM stands for Projects integrating Sustainable Methods, and, as the name suggests, it aims to take environmental factors into account. Developed by GPM Global, the PRiSM methodology is used primarily on large-scale construction projects, such as real estate developments, where adverse environmental impacts are a very real danger. PRiSM actually requires project managers to gain accreditation, ensuring the methodology is administered properly and retains its value.

  • Pros: If your company wants to walk the walk when it comes to sustainability and environmental consciousness, then this is the project management methodology to choose. Show stakeholders that you’re serious about your eco-ideals, and reap the benefits of reduced energy, waste management and distribution costs.
  • Cons: PRiSM cannot work in isolation. Every level of the company needs to be on board with sustainable principles, or the methodology will fall flat.

PRINCE2

PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments) isn’t just a methodology for managing projects, it’s actually a de facto standard used by the UK government since 1996 (which might explain its royal title). This means that PRINCE2 is quite widely recognised throughout the UK. PRINCE2 is quite process oriented; Projects are divided into stages, and each stage has its own plan and process to follow, and is heavily documented.

A project manager requires a thorough knowledge of this complex methodology to understand if it will scale properly for a particular project, but luckily PRINCE2 requires accreditation in order to become a facilitator.

  • Pros: In large corporate entities, the extensive documentation required for PRINCE2 helps with performance appraisals and corporate planning, as well as mitigating against certain risks.
  • Cons: When something changes in a PRINCE2 project, it can take some time for the team to adapt, as the process is quite cumbersome with lots of documentation to be amended.

Scrum

Do you need a methodology that will quickly adapt to shifting requirements? You need Scrum. Named after the rugby play, Scrum focuses on short, sharp delivery of projects - allowing time for rapid feedback and speedy response to changes. There’s a huge focus on tight team dynamics and close collaboration; teams come together to work on a “sprint” - a short period of time. At the end of every Sprint, the team must have produced a usable product.

  • Pros: Scrum is one of those iterative methodologies developed for the software world - as such, it’s all about productivity and quickly adapting to changing parameters.
  • Cons: Scope-creep is a huge issue in Scrum projects - they can easily bloat out of control if not reigned in.

Spiral

Named after the spiral pattern the project manager uses to arrange activities, Spiral is a methodology designed for long-term projects. Each loop of the spiral is divided into four phases - analysis, risk evaluation, execution, and planning - and for every phase you undergo multiple review processes and risk assessments. Because of this emphasis on planning and analysis, Spiral works great for high-risk or volatile projects.

  • Pros: Spiral is great for mission-critical projects requiring a high level of risk analysis and control.
  • Cons: The risk analysis element of Spiral requires specific expertise, which may only be available through additional training. Spiral can be a more costly model and is not ideal for smaller projects.

Lean

Lean project management is all about empowering the team to produce awesome results and delivering a ton of value while producing little project waste. Project managers who are dealing with tight budgets and other constraints use Lean to drive self-accountability in the team. There’s an emphasis on processes that help to streamline workflow, such as standardisation and work breakdown structure.

  • Pros: When budgets are low, resources are scarce, and deadlines are short, Lean can help you make the cuts you need while still deliver quality work.
  • Cons: Lean relies on decisions being made quickly and decisively - and dilly-dallying will corrupt the process.

Rational Unified Process

Invented by Rational, a division of IBM, RUP is another iterative methodology perfectly suited for software development projects. RUP divides the project into a life cycle of four phases: Inception, Elaboration, Construction, and Transition. Each task within those phases is divided into nine disciplines. Each phase must be completed before moving on to other phases. The project team can actually take which phases and disciplines meet their needs, and discard the rest.

On the surface, RUP appears quite similar to Waterfall, however it has more of an iterative developmental approach. Each stage includes frequent stakeholder feedback, and time spent defining requirements and exploring different ideas.

  • Pros: RUP takes the best parts of Waterfall and incorporates them into a more iterative process that allows for changes.
  • Cons: Like Waterfall, RUP is also process-heavy, and can rely too heavily on stakeholder feedback. Even as an iterative process it can be too slow for certain types of projects.

Event Chain Methodology

Event Chain Methodology is an interesting technique, because instead of focusing on tasks, it focuses on planning for potential risks. Many project managers feel pressure by stakeholders to create optimistic targets for timelines, budgets and milestones. But these targets can create tension within the team as everyone fights to meet unrealistic deadlines. And the moment something goes wrong, the whole project is doomed.

Event Chain Methodology acknowledges and recognises the risks, and plans for what to do in situations when external events impact the project.

  • Pros: Event Chain Methodology enables managers to examine the relationship between tasks and external pressures. This creates more realistic projects.
  • Cons: Sometimes, project managers can get caught up in identifying threats, they can forget that external events can actually be beneficial and present opportunities.

Kanban

Kanban is an interesting methodology designed for teams who output a slow and steady stream of deliverables in a continuous workflow.

  • Pros: With Kanban, you and your team can instantly get an idea of where your time is really being spent. This helps teams improve efficiency.
  • Cons: Because Kanban is designed for a regular, steady output, major variations in customer demand - Christmas being a great example - can make Kanban fall down.

Extreme Programming (XP)

Like its name suggests, Extreme Programming is like productivity on acid - short cycles of development, constant collaboration, and frequent releases keep the project team always on the edge of their seats. XP is designed with software development in mind - as it can be quickly adapted with new ideas and features.

  • Pros: For a team that demands a high production level, XP can do wonders for productivity. Certain types of people thrive under this environment, which uses collaboration and simple structures to avoid overwork and burnout.
  • Cons: While some people will enjoy this work environment, others will find it too unstructured and unfocused. Often, the success of a UX team relies not so much on the process itself but on the ingenuity of the individual members of the team.

Whew! That’s quite a few different project management methodologies. Which one is right for your project or company? It will all depend on the different factors at play and how you want to structure projects for the best results. What is certain is that there is a methodology out there to suit your industry, your project style, and your team.

Do you use a project management methodology? What are the advantages of your chosen method?

New Call-to-action