Project Management Methodologies and When to Use Them

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You may be asking yourself, “What are project management methodologies and why should I care?”

I’m so glad you asked!

Project management methodologies are simply the ways you structure your project to get it done.

That’s it. In tech and software worlds, project management methodologies can be subject to intense debates and rivalries.

In the creative space, project management methodologies are less frequently formally studied and implemented. That’s a tragedy.

Most project managers I’ve worked with in the marketing and design world do not formally follow any project management methodology. Analyzing their work and workflow, as well as my own, most projects fall somewhere between traditional waterfall project management with some Agile sentiments incorporated for good measure.

Not sure what those mean? Keep reading, my friend!

At a high level, the major differences in project management methodologies the level of detail planned from the beginning. Is the project is fully mapped out in detail prior to the project beginning? Or is it planned in smaller sections as work progresses?

Project Management Methodologies and When to Use Them | new series @

Traditional Project Management Methodologies

Traditional project management methodologies include Waterfall and the Critical Path Method (CPM). These methodologies scope out an entire project, with tasks listed in order, from the beginning. The Critical Path Method also includes which tasks are dependent on another in order to start.

Pros of Traditional Project Management

  • Every single task is clearly identified at the beginning of a project.
  • Roles & responsibilities are clear, and each task has a clear owner.
  • The timeline is set, and each team member can plan for their portion of the work.
    There is no ambiguity.

Cons of Traditional Project Management

  • Lack of ambiguity also means lack of flexibility.
  • When project priorities or requirements change, or when a task doesn’t go as planned, the entire remaining project plan must be re-created or the project must proceed without the changes incorporated.
  • If changes are made in the middle of a project, there can be a significant increase in cost and/or time to delivery

When to use: For projects that are straightforward and unlikely to change. This works best for small, extremely well-defined projects with a single stakeholder.

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Agile Project Management

Agile project management was born in the software industry and emphasizes flexibility within a framework. The Agile Manifesto identifies four key tenants:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

Agile project management divides the work into short “sprints” Variations of the Agile method continue to evolve, and include Scrum and Kanban, among others.

Pros of Agile Project Management

  • Flexibility
  • Phased approach provides a built-in mechanism for testing and feedback before committing large amounts of time and money

Cons of Agile Project Management

  • Scope creep is easy. Scope creep = adding more and more to a project compared to what was originally planned.
  • Risk for minimal documentation to end up being no documentation

When to use: For projects where full requirements are not known at the beginning of the project, or where priorities are likely to shift. This encompasses many larger projects in the creative and marketing space!

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Lean & Six Sigma

Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma are manufacturing-based project management philosophies that focus on reducing waste in all areas. Waste applies to any input, such as wasted time, defective product, excess materials and more.

Fun fact: Lean Six Sigma was the first formal project methodology I was trained on in my corporate career. Our team’s pilot project was revamping a supply chain process, which was fun. In nerd-like fashion, we even had a terrible rap to accompany our work. It ended in “Get down with DMAIC.” 🎉

Pros of Lean Six Sigma

  • Focus on waste elimination requires questioning every step of a process, and is more likely to lead to extreme change that saves significant amount of money, leading to increased profits.

Cons of Lean Six Sigma

  • Lean Six Sigma’s focus on reducing waste has potential to cramp creativity.
    Unless time management is an extreme challenge, Lean Six Sigma is less relevant in the digital and information product space.

When to use: Most effective with physical products (Hi Esty shop friends!) or where excess time waste is a challenge.

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Related Project Management Information

  • PMI, the Project Management Institute, is the the world’s leading project management organization. Their website and related resources are a wealth of knowledge. If you want to go crazy in-depth on project management, the PMBOK guides are the resource you need. These aren’t ‘sit down and read cover to cover’ books, but they are excellent reference manuals that should be part of any serious project management practitioners library.

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