Explore the Top 4 Project Management Methodologies

Explore the Top 4 Project Management Methodologies

As discussed in the previous project management article, creating a project is a unique activity, meaning that it cannot be standardized. However, the process of project management may be standardized by using certain well-proved and predefined models for designing, planning and implementing the project. These models are called project management methodologies. Some methodologies can be used for all types of projects, i.e. across all business domains. Others are suitable only for specific project types. For example, one methodology would be used for a road construction project and a different methodology would be more suitable for a software development project. The most frequently used methodologies will be discussed below.

Traditional (Waterfall)

This traditional methodology can be used across all industries, but it is the most common in the construction industry. It is also called the Waterfall Model, because it defines the sequence of phases to be completed, which resembles a waterfall. This methodology divides the project management process into 7 consecutive phases:

  1. Requirements specification
  2. Design
  3. Construction (coding)
  4. Integration
  5. Validation (testing)
  6. Installation
  7. Maintenance

The project can only move to the next phase once the previous one has been completed and verified. This method is preferable for projects in which the outputs are physical objects (such as construction projects, hardware installation projects, etc.), as well as the projects in which tasks need to be completed in a specific sequence. Also, the project plans are re-usable for other projects in the future.

On the other hand, the waterfall model requires a significant amount of work to be invested in planning. It is generally estimated that 20-40% of the time for the total project is invested for the first two phases. Due to its structured approach, scope changes are very slow, which makes it unsuitable for projects where the client is not sure about what he or she wants.

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PRINCE2 (Projects in Controlled Environments) is also a structured approach to project management. It is one of the most popular methodologies and is extensively used in the private sector, as well as in the government of the United Kingdom. PRINCE2 is a process-driven project management method that focuses on high-level activities, such as management, organization and control ??but not lower level activities, such as work breakdown or scheduling. It is based on seven principles, seven themes and seven processes. Principles are the core of PRINCE2 methodology ??if only one of them is not applied, the project is not a PRINCE2 project. The PRINCE2 principles are1:

  • Continued business justification?-?is there a justifiable reason for starting the project that will remain consistent throughout its duration?
  • Learn from experience?-?PRINCE2 project teams should continually seek and draw on lessons learned from previous work.
  • Defined roles and responsibilities?-?the PRINCE2 project team should have a clear organizational structure and involve the right people in the right tasks.
  • Manage by stages?-?PRINCE2 projects should be planned, monitored and controlled on a stage-by-stage basis.
  • Manage by exception?-?PRINCE2 project have defined tolerances for each project objective to establish limits of delegated authority.
  • Focus on products?-?PRINCE2 projects focus on the product definition, delivery and quality requirements.
  • Tailor to suit the project environment?-?PRINCE2 is tailored to suit the project’s environment, size, complexity, importance, capability and risk.

Themes are the aspects of project management that need to be addressed during the project. The PRINCE2 themes are as follows:

  • Business case?-?What value would delivering the project bring to the organization?
  • Organization?-?How will the project team’s individual roles and responsibilities be defined in order for them to effectively manage the project?
  • Quality?-?What the quality requirements and measures are and how the project will deliver them.
  • Plans?-?The steps required to develop the plans and PRINCE2 techniques that should be used.
  • Risk?-?How the project management will address the uncertainties in its plans and the project environment.
  • Change?-?How the project management will assess and act on unforeseen issues or requests for change.
  • Progress?-?The ongoing viability and performance of the plans and how and whether the project should proceed.
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Finally, the seven processes divide the project lifecycle into different phases, where each phase has its own recommended activities, products and responsibilities. The PRINCE2 processes are:

  • Starting up a project
  • Directing a project
  • Initiating a project
  • Controlling a stage
  • Managing product delivery
  • Managing stage boundaries
  • Closing a project

PRINCE2 is a good methodology because it standardizes the procedures to coordinate people and activities in a project, how to design and supervise the project, what to do if the project is not being executed according to plan, etc. However, it is not a good solution for small projects or projects where requirements and scope of work are expected to change.

Agile Project Management

Agile project management is an incremental and iterative project management methodology. Its main characteristic is that the end product’s features and project lifecycle are not clearly defined at the beginning. Instead of that, the work is carried out through a few iterative phases called “sprints”. Each sprint is composed of many tasks and has a small part of the end product as its output. Agile project management allows project managers to constantly gather feedback and refine the requirements between two iterations.

When using this methodology, project responsibilities are divided among three roles2:

  1. The Product Owner?-?handles setting project goals, handling the tradeoff of schedule versus scope, adapting to changing project requirements and setting priorities for product features.
  2. Scrum Master?-?guides the team to prioritize their tasks and removes impediments to handling their tasks.
  3. Team Members?-?directly handle most of the task assignment, daily detail management, progress reporting and quality control for the product.
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Agile methodology is very flexible and allows easy scope changes, which is best for service-oriented projects such as software development and graphic design. However, this methodology is not good for projects with strictly defined requirements and scope.

Rapid Application Development (RAD)

Rapid application development is a project management methodology often used in software development where the main goal is to develop applications faster and with high quality. It divides the project management process into four phases:

  • Requirements planning
  • User design
  • Rapid construction
  • Transition

Rapid application development can improve quality of the deliverables and risk management. On the other hand, it is not suitable for large software projects, may lead to poor code quality and requires the client to be involved in project execution all the time.


  • There is no “best” methodology ??the choice depends on the type of the project and specific circumstances.
  • If working on a project with few scope changes, such as a construction project, choose the waterfall method.
  • For software development, graphics design and other service-oriented projects, choose agile project management.
  • Use a rapid application development methodology for small software projects with a tight deadline.
  • If risk minimization and a structured approach are needed on any medium or large project, use PRINCE2.
  • Don’t be afraid to consider the other, less popular methodologies if they suite your needs best.

More Articles in This Series


1. [“What is PRINCE2?”, Retrieved January 26, 2015, from]?

2. [“Agile Project Management”, Retrieved January 26, 2015, from]?


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