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5 Steps to Identify the Right Project Management Methodology

February 9, 2017

Project management (PM) is an art. Creativity is essential to success for the team and especially for the leader who must communicate, listen, enable, motivate, and lead the team to meet the needs of the internal and external stakeholders.  A project manager lacking creativity is like a soft, lightly stuffed animal – he or she will just flop around, jumping from one idea to the next without any purpose.

PM is also a science. Understanding the hundreds of steps needed in a formal PM process is essential and steering it to conclusion – the estimating, planning, controlling and measuring needed at dozens of action stages over weeks, months or years – takes a highly trained and skilled leader.

With a decade of experience managing large-scale technology projects and initiatives in the higher education, association, and non-profit verticals, I’ve learned first-hand the importance of being able to effectively “coordinate all the things,” while building high performing teams, particularly in remote collaborative environments. This can be challenging, yet empowering. Imagine PM methodologies as the roadmap, directions that will guide your team to successfully navigate complex projects. With many different options, schools of thought, and ever-changing technology tools, how do you know which method is right for your project and organization?

First, let’s take a look at some of the most popular PM methodologies:


Waterfall - a sequence of tasks that lead to a final deliverable in a pre-planned order. Any deviation is generally discouraged. This tried and true method was the standard for decades and will still work in situations where constant, long-term testing is necessary and where leaders desire a more formal approach. Agility and the need to react to immediate changes in stakeholder needs will not be as important.

Critical Path Method (CPM) – a concept where you can’t start one task until a previous one has been finished. When you string these dependent tasks together you plot your critical path.  Initially developed as concepts in part by Dupont during World War II and formalized in the late 1950s, CPM required leaders to look at activities, timelines, relationships, and deliverables critical to success. CPM is another formal process often used for very large projects with many interdependencies.

In these traditional processes, customers agree on what exactly will be delivered through a full statement of work which requires progress to measurable as development is completed. These methods seem most appropriate for clients who have an established rapport with the company and clearly defined deliverables.

Modern Refinements

Agile – a refinement of earlier methodologies, Agile provides rapid continuous delivery while focusing on individuals, collaboration, response to change, and product vs. tools, contracts, plans, and documentation. Just as a dictionary defines agile as quick, active, or lively, a team focused on using Agile will be able to immediately respond to changes in stakeholder needs.  After all, internal or external stakeholder (customer) needs are the only reason for executing the project in the first place.

Scrum – an agile development framework that consists of short cycles called sprints where project deliverables are broken down into intervals.  Stakeholders and subject matter experts (SMEs) work collaboratively with great flexibility to deliver highest value business goals.  Continual communication is essential to success, often on a daily basis, if not more often.  Intense communication allows barriers to be broken before time is lost and ensures the team keeps its collective eye on the end goal.

Kanban – from Lean (just-in-time) processes developed by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota, Kanban is a visual approach that cue an internal or external supplier to realign inventory levels based on consumption by one or more production activities.  Some projects implement Kanban with cards and in a way that helps practitioners to visually limit the work in progress.

Modern refinements tend to work best when the end goal is still developing and faster timelines are critical.  The innate flexibility of this family of techniques creates the opportunity for an iterative process with clients that will benefit everyone.

Change Management

Event Chain – a refinement of CPM focused on risks that might be outside the project scope that could impact the schedule, deliverables, and overall success. Planning for events with triggers that can be employed manually or automatically when an unplanned event occurs can mean continued operation with less impact on customers.  

Extreme Project Management (XPM) - the opposite of waterfall, offering flexibility for a major change to plan, budget, and features while still moving forward to completion. Commonly used in complex projects with a high degree of uncertainty requiring flexibility and intense communication.  Projects with short timelines and less intricate scheduling are ideal for XPM.


Lean – developed by Toyota (referred to as the Toyota Production System [TPS] at one time), Lean focuses on reducing waste to streamline tasks and produce deliverables at the time, place, and cost desired by the customer. Think about doing more with less, but still getting the job done the way the customer wants.  A Lean organization strives to use fewer resources, resulting in more value to the client.  Lean can be applied to most organizations and is itself extremely flexible.

Six Sigma – an empirical, statistics and data-driven process-improvement methodology focused on eliminating defects and errors. Six Sigma is a formal, highly structured scientific and mathematical approach to problem solving. Ideal for many functions, it will not work everywhere and requires highly trained team leaders.

Lean Six Sigma (LSS) – combining the best of Lean and Six Sigma, LSS concentrates on what is critical to quality in a process while removing waste and reducing defects.  Employing the colored belt concept from martial arts, teams are generally supervised by a Master Black Belt and led by a Black Belt.  Teams usually include some Green Belts (less training than a Black Belt, but more training than a Yellow or White Belt) to help focus those team members with less training. An LSS team may exceed Lean team timelines, but is usually more flexible than a Six Sigma team.


Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) – learning-oriented hybrid agile/lean approach that builds a solid foundation from which to scale. This process decision, people and goal-driven framework addresses many of the gaps other methodologies purposefully ignore, taking principles from Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming, and others. DAD extends the short cycles, lean, and visual approaches found in the other frameworks and provides and non-prescriptive approach. This unique tactic allows teams to fully consider viable alternatives and their trade-offs. This ultimately results in finding an approach that works better for you while offering a more cohesive end-to-end lifecycle solution.

What Now?

Developing a thorough understanding of the different methodologies can help you focus on the right approach for each situation by evaluating the need, mapping out a plan, implementing, studying, and refining a process. Here are a few steps you should carefully consider when determining which approach to use:

1.  Determine business goals, objectives, and values

  • Why are you doing this project?
  • What problem or pain point are you solving?
  • How do these answers align with the goals, objectives, and values of your company?

When selecting new clients to partner with, Mediacurrent values the alignment of goals, objectives, and core values. This foundation helps to set the stage for a successful web development project.

2.  Identify customer and stakeholders

  • Internal?
  • External?

3.  Define scope, complexity, and budget

  • What are the boundaries of the project (scope)?
  • Determine complexities; do you have the staff and resources needed to complete the project?
  • What are the internal and external customers willing to pay for the project?  What value do they place on your work?

When determining complexities for a web development project Mediacurrent identifies potential professional development opportunities for staff to learn new skills, programming languages, and gain new experiences while keeping them invested and engaged through learning.

4.  Analyze risk assessment

  • Is your staff flexible enough and open to risk?
  • Is your customer open to the possibilities of risk?

At Mediacurrent we like to begin our web development projects with a discovery phase that outlines and documents requirements through a functional specification deliverable. This process highlights potential risks and helps to align expectations with the client.

5.  Monitor and modify as necessary

  • Continual testing at all steps to ensure the team is on track and within scope
  • Change – be flexible – as needed as challenges and obstacles arise

When addressing these steps and questions above it is important to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, even within the same organization or project. Maintaining flexibility is key, allowing teams to align to developing realities while respecting the organization’s culture and the needs of the customer. This will help tailor your approach for each project to maximize strategic benefits.

Additional Resources
What it Really Means to Run a Project the Agile Scrum Way | Blog